New Zealand Music Month: Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus
It’s New Zealand Music Month this May. New Zealand’s annual celebration of homegrown music. Generally, that involves a lot of mainstream media highlighting a lot of mainstream acts. So I’m here to try and redress the balance a bit. I’ll be posting a link to some rowdy New Zealand music for you to check out every day over the next month. Some bands will no doubt be familiar; others I hope will be fresh to your ears.
Death and doom metal colossus Sinistrous Diabolus, and black metal titan Vassafor, are two of the most esoteric, misanthropic, and monolithic metal bands to have ever existed on New Zealand’s shores. Both are renowned for their unwavering commitment to crafting formidable music. Both have released some of the most commanding and cryptic music ever issued from this end of the world. And both create dark, diabolic, and decimating heavy metal.
Below is my review of the Sinistrous Diabolus and Vassafor’s self-titled split from 2014, originally published on the pages of Metal Bandcamp.
Vassafor / Sinistrous Diabolus –– S/T
Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus make merciless and mind-crushing metal, from a uncompromising standpoint. The New Zealand-based bands are part of that increasingly rare breed of bloody-minded underground artists that put the integrity of their music before anything else. Technology might well have transformed the way bands promote their music, and revolutionised the way we access it, but you’re not going to find Vassafor or Sinistrous Diabolus waving a flag to get your attention.
You discover Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus; they don’t seek you out.
When you listen to either band, you’re listening to artists that are compelled to create, regardless of who is listening. That’s how it’s always been for Vassafor founder VK (aka Phil Kusabs) and Sinistrous Diabolus overlord N.K.S (aka Kris Stanley), and in recent years, both of their bands have released full-lengths that have shown an unwavering commitment to crafting meticulously arranged yet wholly murderous art.
The history of Sinistrous Diabolus is inextricably bound to the release of the band’s 1993 demo, Opus One. That cassette is the most influential death/doom recording released in New Zealand’s early extreme metal history, and you can find it on Sinistrous Diabolus’ Bandcamp page to download for free. However, on that very same page, you’re also going to find the band’s first full-length release, 2013’s Total Doom//Desecration, and that album proves that Sinistrous Diabolus’ best work doesn’t reside in the dusty annals of extreme metal history.
Total Doom//Desecration, which I’ve reviewed here before here on Metal Bandcamp, was a monolithically heavy album. Spilling over with pulverising doom and churning death metal, the album channeled feedbacking noise through mangled melodies, resulting in a deeply unnerving and demoralising ambience. All of that is brought to bear on Sinistrous Diabolus’ 20-minute contribution to this split release, “Aeon Tenebris – Aeo Lacrimis”.
“Aeon Tenebris – Aeo Lacrimis” drags desolate soundscapes over godforsaken landscapes, and it’s a hypnotic dirge, bringing torment and torture, monstrous guitars, and wretched vocals. It all makes for traumatizing funeral death/doom, but while the song’s harsh lurching movements pile on the ominousness, the vast chasms between notes are of equal importance. “Aeon Tenebris – Aeo Lacrimis” builds layers of oppressive sound across plunging depths of despair, and Sinistrous Diabolus ensures that the all-important and discomforting feeling that you’re about to plummet to your demise is always there.
Traumatic depths are something Vassafor’s multi-instrumentalist and vocalist VK knows all about too. In 2012, Vassafor released the Obsidian Codex, and the album was a masterpiece of Stygian and esoteric black metal. The 96-minute double LP was an absolute tour de force of doom-drenched tremolo pickings, pitch-black aberrant death metal, inhuman snarls, and suffocating occult atmospherics.Obsidian Codex was grand in vision, complete in realisation, and made zero accommodations. It was one of black metal’s most strident releases, and Vassafor brings that same sense of pitiless, unyielding power to their two songs on this split release.
Vassafor provides one original track here, “Ossuary in Darkness”, and one cover, “Son Of The Moon”, which was originally performed by Greek black metal legends Varathron. The 15-minute “Ossuary in Darkness” threads sepulchral wrath through a diabolic requiem, with grinding black metal and beastial vocals bursting, recoiling, and attacking again through a thick brume of spine-chilling doom. “Son Of The Moon”, sees Vassafor keep the raw Hellenic riff of the original song front and centre, while tearing another ritualistic rent in reality around it with an extraordinary level of iron-fisted intensity.
Aesthetically, Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus’ alignment on this split makes perfect sense, on many levels. Ideologically, the two bands are equally dedicated to crafting uncompromising music, and each has a legacy of recordings that show a total commitment to that. You’re either on board with this eldritch duo or not, and there are no accommodations made for weak-willed or timid souls on this split release. Sonically, both bands revel in apocalyptic sounds and visions, welcomingly embracing chaos, devastation, and malevolence. Black, death, or doom metal are portals for Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus. They’re gateways to other dimensions, other states of being and understanding. All to be fearlessly torn open, with catastrophic noise.
Ultimately, what is most important about this split release, is that Vassafor and Sinistrous Diabolus underscore that true integrity imbued in true art makes for mesmerising creativity. That ensures this release feels like a genuine trip to hell, although, keep in mind, there’s no guarantee you’ll be making the return journey