Vile Creature may have only been around for six years, but in that time the Canadian duo has achieved things that some bands can only dream of. They have toured, released music that moves and works as catharsis, injected that music with personal experience, played Roadburn and were even invited back to play a commissioned piece of music for the festival in the future. They have spoken out about human rights issues, supported those in positions of inequality and given a voice to the oppressed. It does not come without its hardships and both members are doing what they can to engage and interact with the scene and the wider world on their own terms. Their take on doom is complemented by elements of blackened metal, sludge, and on their new record a surprising choral appearance lifts it to intense new heights.
Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is the sound of a band who have evolved their sound and turned it into one of personal action. Where previous works, of course, touched upon their past – both individual and collective – their third full-length moves Vile Creature firmly into the now and into the minds of the two people behind it. Cast of Static and Smoke from 2018 was instilled with human feeling yet there was an overarching science-fiction element (so much so that the band released an accompanying short story alongside it) and their latest work feels much more personal, more relevant and more prescient that ever. When asked about whether this shift to songs that felt more like a call to arms or a call to action was intended or a more organic shift, Vic (drums/vocals) explained:
“I don’t want to tell people what to do. I just want to be able to encourage people to find ways to battle apathy, directly help their communities in whatever way they can. It's like a mediation on feelings of despair and apathy in our own lives. Figuring out ways to battle things such as oppression has been a thing we have been talking about since the band started.”
KW (guitars/vocals) adds, “We’re both political people by nature and even though this record's contents are more personally-based lyrically, our personal is political so it was going to come out that way. I think Vic actually put it really well, a meditation on those things.”
Photo: Danika Zandboer
As the world has been changing, the ability of people to affect change has been gaining more traction in recent times. Bands and musicians are using their voices to show their fans that there is a better to do something, anything, to push for new ideas in a safe and responsible manner. With the events of the last weeks weighing on our minds and the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, do Vile Creature see themselves being a part of that change and helping people pay more attention to the horrendous things that are happening in our world?
“It's really easy to succumb to the feeling of apathy and to feel just so downtrodden, that there's nothing you can do so you just internalise and it's the easy thing to do, is to not fight,” KW explains. “I see that there's definitely a lot of people who are like, "Ugh, the world is shit, fuck this all, I can't take it, I'm just gonna do me." Self-care is super important and it's very valid but also taking care of one another, taking care of your community and making sure the world -- for us right now, as well as people in the future -- is a better place. There's got to be a balance in there. On the other side I see the trends of the world: people are getting a lot more, not necessarily radicalised, but they're a lot more dialed-in to what's currently going on in the world. Especially if you put the focus into metal in the last five or six years. People are getting a lot more vocal about their political beliefs and where they stand and that's always heartening to see and it’s just a matter of keeping that up. Being a tourist and being political and saying "Black Lives Matter" today and then never mentioning it again, it's a cop out and it’s performative as opposed to living your life every single day in a means that is anti-oppressive.”
To expand on this idea, Vic says, “You can't control what other people are doing. For me, I've been thinking a lot lately about what a lifelong commitment to anti-oppression looks like because I've been involved in different ways, community-wise, and it's definitely changed. I’m figuring out ways to use my skills and resources: financially with donating, and with our band how to be vocal and try to dismantle systems of power. I guess my thoughts -- my advice for a younger me -- would to be: go a little bit slower so you don't get burnt out. Realise that if you're going to commit to something lifelong, for justice, you're going to be around for a long time so you do need to take care of yourself and you need to battle apathy at every corner. Figuring out ways to not be performative is important.”
As people who are personally very political, does Vile Creature feel that the band has a responsibility or job to be vocal about oppression and the abuse of power?
“I would probably step that back and say that it’s all of our jobs, just as people,” KW points out. “I'm sure readers are going to roll their eyes because I'm going to use the word privileged, but to recognise the privilege that you have, if you have it, and to utilise it to make sure that not only the world is a better place but the world is getting moved in a direction that is going to be easier for those without privilege, to be able to just live - not in fear. We need to stand-up against oppression and it comes from the state, it comes from individuals, it comes from everywhere. It comes naturally to us, as musicians, and that’s what our band is going to put out because that's who we are as people.”
That sense of standing-up against those who would harm us comes across in much of Vile Creature’s work, especially in the lyrics. “Harbinger of Nothing,” which opens Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! was first heard on Adult Swim’s Metal Swim 2 compilation (it was re-recorded for the album) and features a line that is palpable in its defiance -- “Tell me who I am” is repeated several times and reads not as a question but as a statement, a dare. Vic tells us about this line and its personal meaning to them.
“I think a lot of people don't ever want to be told who they are, they want to be an autonomous person and figure out their own lives for themselves. That was about my family, especially one of my parents. Feeling like they need to control every aspect of my life so it’s definitely, I guess it’s a sarcastic line, daring someone to tell me who I am when I'm my own person.”
"The middle section of that song when Vic was recording it -- I burst into tears in the studio because it was really hard to listen to and to witness them doing it."
The emotion that comes across in this song is visceral. It cuts through you and it seems that many of the vocals on Glory, Glory! are first time takes -- there’s a pure and electric feeling in much of the music as both Vic’s and KW’s vocals are woven with humanity and rage, which “Harbinger of Nothing” certainly amplifies. Everything is in the moment and it breathes with that vibrancy.
“When we started the band, Vic was vehement about not wanting to do vocals,” KW explains. “Vic didn't believe that they could scream, could do vocals in that way, and then after a couple of years they decided to start trying at practice. For me, Vic's vocals are so raw and they hit me in the gut because they are so emotive. We went back in a re-recorded all the music for “Harbinger of Nothing” but when we originally recorded it -- the middle section of that song when Vic was recording it -- I burst into tears in the studio because it was really hard to listen to and to witness them doing it. It was really intense and emotional. So the original vocals from the first session we did for that song are the vocals that you can hear on the record. It’s the only thing we didn't re-do on that song, were Vic's entire vocal take. I would say probably 80% of the vocals on the record are first takes. Vic's growth as a vocalist, to me, has been one of the most exciting and encouraging parts of being in this band. It really is just cherry on top of the cake as far as pushing forward the feelings and visceral emotion that we're tying to the songs.”
While Vic’s comfort and growth on vocals is part of the story, it has been documented that Vile Creature essentially began in order for them to learn to play the drums. In the six years since then, Vile Creature have toured North America and have played Europe as well as being a part of Roadburn Festival 2019. Their performance at Roadburn last year led to them being asked to create a new piece of music and alongside British band Bismuth; they were due to play A Hymn of Loss and Hope as a special Roadburn commissioned piece for the now-postponed 2020 festival.
How then, do Vile Creature view their past, and how do they think that Roadburn 2019 changed the trajectory of the band? Vic lets us in on their thoughts as to this progression:
“It was one of our goals in life, to play Roadburn, so I think being given the opportunity to play such a globally respected festival just gave us more confidence to keep doing what we're doing. The fans, the people who have reached out to us after seeing our shows there have been really, really supportive and it just reinforces our ideas and vision for music and our band.”
KW goes on to tell us how the collaboration with Bismith came into being and how the piece will sound when it (hopefully) premieres at Roadburn Festival 2021.
“Tanya (Bismuth) and I had been talking about writing some version of music together and Walter (creative director of Roadburn Festival) knew about the close relationship between our bands. At the 2019 festival, I think we were all in like a dining hall eating and he came up and we were chatting. I don't remember how, but it got mentioned that we were planning on making some music together. Then, I think six weeks after, I got an email from Walter that said ‘I would love for you guys to do a commissioned music piece for Roadburn in 2020.’ It blew our minds and we had been already working on writing music together. We just took that and that and it became A Hymn of Loss and Hope which we will now be playing at Roadburn in 2021.”
Does KW see that piece of music changing at all before it gets to the stage next year? Well, yes and no, as the piece is already fairly set in stone but there should be something exciting to look forward to which was talked about off the record.
"Laurel Minnes doesn't come from a heavy background at all - she plays poppy folk music and yet it was a beautiful mix and it was so much fun"
Most fans would undoubtedly feel that the band has achieved a lot in a pretty short space of time. How then, does Vic does view the band’s development?
“It's really surreal to see what we've been able to do in six years as a band and we're just so happy,” they explain. “We are still a part-time, I guess hobby band. We take it very seriously and don't treat it as a throwaway thing at all, but we don't do this full-time.”
KW adds, “I have multiple full-time jobs, Vic has a super full-time job and we've got a lot of stuff that we do and we’ve kept this band as our cathartic, wonderful outlet since day one, without having any expectations and just utilising it as a creative and personal outlet. I think keeping it that way instead of ever trying to put pressure on it to be a full-time thing has contributed to its longevity. Six years isn't a long time but we can do it as much or as little as we want and not having the pressure on top of it allows us to just enjoy being musicians, when we're musicians.”
The title track(s) of Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! are split into two and feature a grandiose choral segment (although KW does view these two separate tracks – Glory, Glory! and Apathy Took Helm! as one whole piece). This creativity and new outlook is a huge boost to Vile Creature’s sound and something that the duo have worked hard on. KW feels as though it’s a piece they were always meant to write, that was always inside them and through the help of Laurel Minnes and her choir, Minuscule, that vision finally came to fruition. As for playing a version of those songs live, the logistics of taking a choir on the road are probably not the easiest to navigate but rest assured, a playable version is being worked on for the future.
“I am a huge musical theatre nerd and I love things being grand and larger than life,” he says. “It’s something I always gravitated to and I knew when we were kind of conceptualising doing the record that I wanted to do a big choir piece. Laurel, who co-wrote that part of the song with me, she was on A Pessimistic Doomsayer and we've always known we wanted to work with her again. We sat down together and had the music, as far as the guitar lines and some melody ideas and we hashed it out in a few days. It was a very seamless process because I feel like Laurel and I are very much on the same wavelength when it comes to how to turn something simple into something emotional. Laurel doesn't come from a heavy background at all - she plays poppy folk music and yet it was a beautiful mix and it was so much fun. And I could not be more proud of it.”
As Vile Creature have shown in the past, their art is an extension of themselves and this is something that is particularly apparent on the cover artwork for Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! The shocking image of a woman with worms filling her mouth contrasts sharply with the powder blue background and vibrant make-up. This subversion of the norm in terms of the metal scene is something that Vile Creature are all too aware of and something they actively wanted to embrace.
“I feel like the album cover is a perfect middle ground for what both Vic and I wanted. I can't see colour so Vic was 100% on the side of the aesthetic, the colour choices.....,” KW starts.
Vic expands, "Pastel doesn't go hand in hand with metal."
“Vic did all the make-up, picked out the colours of the flowers,” KW continues. “I knew I wanted something that was ‘70s horror inspired and I feel like my side of it was trying to figure out, emotionally, what we wanted to get forward. I knew I wanted have that juxtaposition of completely horrific and undeniably beautiful which is a really thin line to walk and I feel really confident that we fell on the right side of it. Brianna, the cover model, was super down to do it.”
“We talked to her every step of the way,” Vic explains. “We didn't want to pressure her at all, she knew exactly what she was getting into. She's a film student and is very much all about the art and wanted to use this a mediation for her own personal life and I feel like it was a really good collaboration on everyone's part.”
Is she vomiting the worms or swallowing the worms?
“There is something to say about the nuance,” he says. “We put that cover art out and we're always happy to talk about the process of it and the emotions that we get from it but when it comes down to that minute specific, I feel like that's where the importance of people taking what they can and what they feel out of it. Their own meanings. I feel like people's own individual reaction to the art is what has made the art special. I love that about it because we've got our own personal meanings to it. Bri definitely has her own personal journey through it and I feel like the purpose of it is for people to find their own peace with what is happening and why they feel the way they feel about it.”
"When it comes down to that minute specific, I feel like that's where the importance of people taking what they can and what they feel out of it. Their own meanings."
Vic also has their own thoughts as to what the purpose of the art is and why it relates back to their own personal politics.
“I think that's why I gravitated towards surrealism. When you look at surreal art or you experience it, it could be a political experiment because it makes you think about the world in different ways. I think that since we are a political band putting a weird image out into the world that is letting people extract their own meaning could be a cool experiment.”
Vile Creature have this to add: we just urge people to look up grassroots organisations in their own communities that are doing their best to give back and fight injustice.
Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! will be released on June 19th via Prosthetic Records. Pre-order here.