When an album comes across my desk with a press release bearing words like 'sodomy', 'filth', and 'vile', a small part of me has already started writing my opinion before I ever hear a note of the music. It's a lousy form of jurisprudence, but it's one I won't pretend to ignore. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but we all know that it happens all the time. There are plenty of reasons why we should know better, why we should try to be more enlightened, but in the end, it's difficult to fight our baser tendencies.
And so it is with Morbid Executions “Vulgar Darkness”, an album I had formed my opinion on before I pressed the play button. In my mind, I had already begun composing my thoughts for how I would articulate to you what I was feeling while listening to the album. But, as is often the case, as the album played out, I found myself needing to reconsider my approach.
What I had anticipated hearing was different than what I was actually experience, the image the band tried to portray putting in my head a vastly different expectation. It was this preconception I was dreading, a slogging malaise of noise and brutality for the sake of it, so I was taken off-guard when the music was anything but. “Vulgar Darkness” is, if anything, so completely devoted to the old-school aesthetic that it comes across as kitsch. That word carries with it horrid connotations, but in this case I use it to mean that the “alcohol fueled Satanic evil” is quaint, and has long been outpaced by bands offering far more disgusting efforts at what they call music.
Twenty years ago, “Vulgar Darkness” would have been extreme. That it no longer falls into that category isn't an indictment of the band, but a statement of how much we have drifted away from musicality. The seven songs on offer here all manage to maintain a sense of rhythm and flow that let them exist as something other than a backdrop for explicit lyrics you have to read to both understand and believe. Instead, the musicians harken back to the first wave of death metal, when the bands still had enough rock and roll in their sound to appeal to a larger base of metal fans. The guitars on “Twisted Maniacs” and “Wizards Of Silesia” aren't far removed from a slightly slower version of Motörhead, a rollicking and cutting sound that is more aggressive than it is abrasive.
The wisest decision made by the band is to eschew the clichéd double-bass drumming attack for much of the album. The production muffles them the few times they do show up, but this is a brand of death metal that doesn't need or require a constant assault of noise to make its point. In fact, that sort of approach would destroy what the songs are trying to accomplish. Trying to add extra doses of brutality to the swinging opening riff of “Deadly Romance” would be foolish, as the room left for the riff to sway lets it stand out, and makes the song the most immediate number on the album.
While the old-school approach to writing is laudable, there are problems with the sound of “Vulgar Darkness” that can't be ignored. Vocally, there isn't enough going on to be interesting. The harsh but not comically guttural performance is nostalgic and not an issue, but the vocal patterns lack creativity, and anything that can be memorable. There are ways to be true to the death metal experience while still giving the listener something to grab onto, but it wasn't done here. Likewise, the production itself is old-school, but too murky. The vibe is right, the detached from reality approach that makes death metal sound inhuman, but the attack is muffled and the sound never cuts through. It sounds, at times, like listening to an album while having a bad head cold.
It's a shame, because there is far more potential on “Vulgar Darkness” than I expected.