Before we go too far in to this review, let’s make one thing clear: Vile Creature are one of the best, most vital doom bands active today. Their music is filled with a sense of pain and emotion that is deeply personal, which lends it an importance and that raw, cathartic edge that is to be found in practically all the best doom. Latest album Cast of Static and Smoke builds upon the foundations laid by debut A Steady Descent into the Soil and 2016 EP A Pessimistic Doomsayer to construct a world of apocalyptic, dystopian fiction that is only one button-press away from our own, its tale told through some of the most searing, emotionally charged metal you are likely to hear this year.
The album opens spaciously, with ‘Water, Tinted Gold and Tainted Copper’ beginning with sparse, clean guitar and birdsong providing the background to the narrator, telling a tale of nuclear obliteration that is joined by bleeding feedback and pounding drums as the song gets going properly. Funeral doom-slow, and heavier than Vile Creature have been before, the pain and hurt of the song oozes out of the speakers like fallout, and it is all-but impossible not to picture yourself in some blasted wasteland. It is bleak, hard-hitting, all wrapped up in a delightfully raw production that’s not far removed from making the album sound like a live recording.
As this might imply, there’s a punk rock spirit running throughout Cast of Static and Smoke, with some of the riffs – such as the one that kicks in around the seven minutes mark of the opening track – having a hardcore-esque grit to them. Vile Creature use this to give their doom metal a feeling of honesty and desperation that many other bands lack, meaning that even if the album’s lyrics are based upon a work of fiction, the end result is an album that feels incredibly personal, as if the band are casting out their personal demons one slowed-down riff, one pummeled drum-beat, one throat-shredding scream at a time.
It’s this that makes Cast of Static and Smoke so vitally important, and so impressive a listen. The fictional narrative of the record soon comes to feel secondary to that of the cathartic, emotional one being woven by the band, which is what made their previous records so compelling, and makes this one so addictive and rewarding. It is an album that is ugly and raw in the most beautiful of ways, full of human suffering and pain, and yet still seeks to make things better in whatever way it can. There might not be a single stand out moment, such as the shouts of “this world has no safe space for me” during previous EP A Pessimistic Doomsayer, but this is only because the quality of Cast of Static and Smoke is such that picking out individual highlights feels counter-productive – the album is one of consistent, superlative quality.
It’s also one that’s easy to leave running for hours at a time. Its stripped-down sound and emotional, cathartic qualities make Cast of Static and Smoke hugely addictive, and also welcoming. Whilst some segments of underground metal can revel in their perceived exclusivity and elitism, with an air of “this is not for you, I don’t care about you”, the music and ethos of Vile Creature is one that provides comfort to those who are feeling alone and lost. It’s also interesting that previous EP A Pessimistic Doomsayer was based upon finding comfort in works of fiction, and that Vile Creature have now constructed their own for this record, which should say a lot about the aims here. Cast of Static and Smoke is an intelligent album, finely crafted and filled with a personal, cathartic edge that gives it universal appeal. It’s also an early highlight for 2018, and the best record Vile Creature have made to date. Given that it’s only January it’s a little early to be talking about albums of the year, but Cast of Static and Smoke must surely be in the running come the end of 2018. This is phenomenal.
Cast of Static and Smoke is due for release on 9 March 2018. It can be pre-ordered on vinyl via Halo of Flies and Dry Cough Records; the vinyl version also includes a booklet and audio recording containing the full story, as well as lyrics and credits. Follow Halo of Flies and Vile Creature on Bandcamp for details of digital versions.