There are seemingly countless ills in today’s world. Staying informed and fighting for a better future can be tough, taxing work, and in the face of the gargantuan obstacles society is facing, it can seem like a mere drop in the ocean. In a world plagued by environmental collapse, the rise of neo-fascism, a growing rich-poor divide, systemic racism and widespread bigotry, a fairer and more altruistic society seems far off even in our most optimistic imaginations. But to turn away from our problems, to give in, is to induce apathy, and to be apathetic is to accept this troubled world as it is, both on a personal level and in a wider sense. There is always much we can be doing to better ourselves and the world around us.
If there’s a single outlook that defines the career of Ontario duo Vile Creature, it is that striving for positive change is better than simply detaching yourself from the world and pretending that you don’t care. It is a throughline of their output thus far, as evidenced by their uniquely impassioned and evocative strain of gargantuan sludge. Their music is heavy and confrontational but also poignant and cathartic, and never anything less than intensely passionate. Most notably, it is raw, often in a musical sense but more commonly in an emotive sense – where metal is so often about putting up a facade, pretending to be “evil” or acting like life itself is meaningless, Vile Creature’s music is so effective because it has a palpable humanity fuelling it.
This much is true even of the band’s last album, 2018’s Cast Of Static & Smoke, an expansive concept album based on a short sci-fi story penned by the band. It was an album that utilised science fiction’s ability to address contemporary issues in a futuristic landscape, providing a compelling narrative whilst simultaneously offering some means of escape from the world around us. On the follow-up, the band are returning to more introspective conceptual territory.
“We try to stick with what we know and our perspectives,” drummer/vocalist Vic (they/them) tells us over the phone. “The last album we wanted to go totally escapism with writing our own science fiction story. And with our new album we wanted to explore the dark realms of apathy within ourselves, and figure out, through music, a meditative way to try to be better people and fight this growing apathy within us.”
That goal is made clear in the album’s tongue-in-cheek title – Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!. “It’s kinda meant to be said with a wink,” guitarist/vocalist KW (he/they) explains. “Forcing yourself to get up every day and manoeuvre through the world in a positive way is really fucking hard. And it’s not even a positive way, it’s just about making positive changes and interacting with the world in a way that is trying to make it a better place. And also combating moral nihilism and that trope of ‘It’s cool to not care’. It’s not. It’s lazy to not care. It’s way more rad to actively try to make the world better not for yourself but for everyone around you or anybody who’s ever been put down or oppressed.
The duo’s music has always been created through a political lens, with the band being a key cog in the growing movement of anti-fascist and anti-capitalist metal bands. But political music is often thought of as angry and pessimistic, focusing on the world’s ills as it, by definition, must. When that anger is justified, though, and focuses on the very real problems in society, then addressing those problems is in itself a hopeful act, one that envisages the world as it could be, rather than accepting it as the shitshow that it is.
“I would argue that everything we’ve done has a backdrop of positivity, for lack of a better word, to it,” KW tells us. “No matter what we do and no matter what we’re talking about, we’re still here and we’re still fighting and that’s positive in and of itself. Positivity isn’t just all ‘smiling and thumbs up and everything’s okay’ – everything we’ve ever written is done with positivity and with hope as a backdrop.”
One thing sludge has over perhaps any other subset of heavy music is the ability to offer unbridled catharsis to its performers and its listeners. The all-encompassing atmospheres, the overwhelming riffs and thunderous percussion, the distressed vocals – nothing offers quite the same degree of purgative release. After all, in a relatively niche but vibrant underground scene that sees most musicians make little to no money from their creative endeavours, the music must be offering something productive to those creating it.
“I would definitely say that for us this whole band is just a process of catharsis,” KW admits. “This is our creative outlet, it’s not what we do for a living, it’s what we do for fun and to be creative, and to process our own emotions and our own way through life. This is our third record, and we also have an EP thrown in there, and every time we ever finish something there’s always a weight taken off the shoulder, before inevitably five more are put on that we have to deal with a few years down the road.”
Despite the band using the brutal sounds of doom metal as a means of catharsis, their music cannot be as easily pigeon-holed as some of their contemporaries. As their sound has grown more and more adventurous over time, fans, journalists and PRs have taken to utilising the reliably vague but very much appropriate “experimental” tag to describe it. “As much as sludge and doom has been an identifier for us, I feel like sometimes it doesn’t represent the sound,” Vic agrees. “So I like ‘experimental’ because it gives us a little more room to be ourselves essentially.”
This time around, the experimental tag is more fitting than ever. It’s earned by the way the initially formidable assault of opener ‘Harbinger Of Nothing’ soon gives way to something more atmospheric; the way ‘When The Path Is Unclear’ slowly unravels using a mournful pace and bouts of spoken word; and the way ‘You Who Has Never Slept’ uses synths and a melodic undercurrent to stagger onwards – this is doom, but not quite as we know it.
Perhaps most impressive is the two-part closer, where the album’s themes come to the fore on a choral movement that eventually grows to become something more expansive and yet much more corrosive. It is one of the band’s most ambitious compositions to date (complete with piano and organ contributions from Tanya Byrne of Bismuth) and excels because of it. But the album as a whole hosts more experimental embellishments than ever, so what’s changed behind the scenes?
“Every time we’ve ever recorded it’s always been just Vic and I playing live in a room together,” begins KW. “And we’re always very conscious about being able to translate what we recorded into playing live, and I feel like this time we were very specific about not having that worry in our heads. We just wanted to go in and make as rad of a studio record as we could, and then just kinda figure out the live stuff after – which is what we’ve been working on since we finished the record in February. There’s a lot of synth throughout the record, it’s the first time we did a couple overdubs… We just really wanted to make a record as a time capsule of our time in the studio, as opposed to being thinking forward to live music.”
For the duo, this meant a change in mentality as well as a change in approach. “When we started writing we knew we wanted to do extra things,” KW tells us. “We demoed out the whole record before going in to record it, so like three months before we had most of the record recorded at our house, and we just started coming up with ideas of things to add and I think at that point we knew we had to go into this with a studio mentality instead of thinking ‘we’re a live band, make it raw’. I’m really glad with how it turned out.”
It’s not hard to see why. Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is, musically speaking, the band’s grandest effort to date, and one that reveals itself further with each repeated listen. Like all of the band’s albums, it is a heavy and taxing listen, but boasts a much wider sonic palette with which to deliver its message of hope.
It is an album that envisages a brighter future – it’s a reminder to stay positive, stay angry and keep fighting no matter what. A better world is possible, so long as we don’t give in to the apathy that threatens to arise in us all.
Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is out 19th June on Prosthetic Records. Order here.
Words: George Parr