Some bands take their sweet time getting it together. Those first few releases can be rough but promising, showing listeners what could be in store for them if they stick with the group for a few outings while they figure things out. Putting together kickass records, and doing it consistently, takes time and effort. It’s not easy to write, record, and produce music that stands out in whatever crowded field a band plays within. Doing so from the underground, without big label support, just makes it that much more of a tricky proposition to navigate the early stages of a career as you struggle to figure out how to knock out enough killer songs to make a cohesive album. Vacuous Depths, however, is the other type of band, the kind that knocks you over the head with their debut and makes you thank Satan that these dudes hopefully have a full career ahead of them.
With their debut outing, 2022’s Corporal Humiliation, Vacuous Depths have set a high bar to clear on future recordings. There is a lot that could conceivably jump out to you about why Corporal Humiliation is one of the best death metal debuts of the last few years and most of them probably have to do with vocalist/guitarist Austin Thomas. Thomas’ vocal performance here is, quite frankly, unbelievable at times. Death metal vocals, by nature, don’t lend themselves to the most variety in the world but Thomas’ here run the gamut from the creepy laughs in “Gold Crosses” to the demonic, growling, not-quite-spoken bit in “Exteriorization” to the raspy growls of his main delivery style. It provides great variety to go with his simple yet effective riffs that get to the heart of the songs without loading them up with a ton of solos and fancy shit.
While the vocal and guitar work of Thomas are both stellar, his lyrics are what impressed me the most with this release. Don’t get me wrong, I love digging through the discarded organs and ripped apart flesh just as much as the next person but Thomas’ real-world lyrics are quite refreshing for modern death metal. You don’t really need to invent a bunch of psycho killers stalking the streets when the real world out there offers more derangement and brutality than you could come up with in fifty Ti West movies. Thomas hits on all kinds of ripped-from-the-headlines topics such as pedophile priests marking their victims with crosses (“Gold Crosses”), predatory capitalism chewing workers up (“Gaunt Reflections”), the Seminole Heights serial killer (“Exteriorization”), and the gut-wrenching true story behind the Dozier School for Boys and the history of rape, murder, and pedophilia that went on there for decades and decades (“Corporal Humiliation”).
Musically, Corporal Humiliation is a pretty simple affair. You won’t find songs bogged down with solos and fancy guitar work galore but that’s not a complaint. I love guitar heroics and fancy fretting as much as the next person but that just doesn’t feel like it would work here. These are meat-and-potatoes death metal offerings that are chock-full of memorable riffs and heavy, furious basslines laid down by Arturo Palomo. Sometimes, particularly on early releases, I’ve noticed that bands have a tendency to overwrite compositions to incorporate every idea they’ve ever had and impress you with the sheer amount of what’s going on. Vacuous Depths doesn’t feel the need to do that and, when the compositions and performances are this strong, I would agree with that call.
Track sequencing and album flow aren’t always skills that bands master early on but that aspect of Corporal Humiliation really jumped out and impressed me. Take, for instance, the way that track three, “Exteriorization,” winds down into dying feedback that rises perfectly into track four, “Gaunt Reflections,” and that killer, atmospheric drum intro from Dustin Rogers, who turns in a Hell of a performance on the kit throughout the whole album. There’s not a second of dead air between the tracks and I legitimately checked my phone to see if a new song had started. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor little touch but it’s weird little shit like that that gets me excited and that shows me just how much effort these guys put into this release. This is a band that clearly has something to say and that cares deeply about how it’s presented to the listener. Honestly, that much care can be refreshing when there are, conservatively, 5,234 new death metal albums every week with around 5,231 sounding the exact same.
Corporal Humiliation is a short record, clocking in right around a half-hour, but there’s more than enough time to leave an impression. This trio knows how to make no-frills death metal with lyrical content that will make you think a little more than your average group within the genre. As big as the classic death metal revival has been in recent years, it’s hard to imagine these guys staying unsigned for too long. If Corporal Humiliation is what these dudes have to put forth for a first outing, and one without a major label behind them to boot, then there’s really no limit to the depths of depravity that Vacuous Depths may take us to for years to come.
Final verdict: 4/5
Photo at top: Corporal Humiliation album cover.