Talk to anyone deeply into extreme metal for long enough and you’ll walk away with a list of new bands to check out and a full playlist of stuff you’ve missed or haven’t gotten around to yet. Extreme metal fandom, and music fandom in general, is a mapping diagram of bands leading you to other bands leading you to other scenes leading you to entirely new discoveries that are so far away from the band you initially started with that you can easily forget how you got there. That passion of discovery, and sharing that passion, is what got a lot of us into death metal or black metal or doom metal or what have you in the first place and it’s also what keeps us coming back for more. It’d be honestly kinda hard to take a band seriously if they didn’t get extremely excited about whatever brand of extremity fits their particular style. Talk with Tampa death dealers Vacuous Depths long enough and you’ll come away with a list of shit you’ve gotta check out and a deep certainty that these dudes are doing this first and foremost for the love of the music.
After starting in 2017, Vacuous Depths has had a bit of a ride to get to their 2022 full-length debut, Corporal Humiliation. That being said, it’s a ride that fans should be more than happy the band weathered because that debut fits in quite well within the vaunted field of Tampa death metal releases. If you’re a fan of the genre, you know just how high of praise that is. I recently caught up with vocalist/guitarist Austin Thomas and bass player Arturo Palomo to chat about the history and future of one of death metal’s most promising new bands.
First off, what is the origin of Vacuous Depths? What made you want to tackle this kind of band and how did you all meet?
Austin: I’d like to say thank you for inviting us to chat with you, first. So, thank you for having us.
Arturo: Thank you so much for the space and time for this interview. I moved to the U.S. back in March 2017 from Guatemala. And from the very moment I was in the area I started looking around to start my music projects. It wasn’t until August 2019 that I found the chance to join Vacuous Depths. Austin was looking for a bass player so I decided to get into it. Considering I was only a guitar player through all my life, I definitely wanted to take the challenge of playing bass and why not, play real-raw-old school Death Metal. And that’s how everything started for me.
Austin: Vacuous Depths has had a rocky beginning with membership, but it’s primarily been me through it all. The band formed in 2017 with Chris, the original drummer and an old roommate of mine. Doug, the original bass player, was a friend prior to the band and a fantastic dude, but we always struggled to keep him motivated. After a handful of shows and recording the demo, I found out I was going to be a father. The band lost their steam that was hardly there to begin with so it was put on hold and once my kid was about a year old I started to put the idea back together with different members.
I tried a couple different people out, and eventually landed on a drummer, Joey, and bass player, Olivia. The problem was that both were very novice in music in experience and with playing. I basically was giving lessons to Olivia in the beginning. It was hard, but I was trying anything to get things going again. As we gathered momentum, there was an issue between them and I had to ask Olivia to leave the band and found Arturo who was friends with Joey.
At that point, the worst shit happened…immediately after recording this full length with them, we got news that Joey was in some seriously fucked up legal trouble. We immediately pulled the plug with the record at our expense, and scrapped the recording entirely. Arturo and I kicked him out immediately after finding out the details of the charges. It was a huge blow to all the work we put in. So Arturo and I set out and I reached out to Dustin [Rogers], a very old friend from the early days from my first shitty bands. Dustin was a great drummer, a good dude, and a good fit. He agreed to play on the record and help get the record finished. After a handful of shows, and tons of practice, we recorded the full-length AGAIN, added the Sepultura, “Troops of Doom” cover, and wrote another song with Dustin and that is where we are today.
How did you decide on the name and what does it mean to you? Were there others considered?
Austin: The name was important to me being the main writer as well as the “theme” of the band. We had a huge list of dumb garbage we came up with, but this one really stood out from it. The initial meaning was to mean the “depths of hell” in a few words. The word “vacuous” means “empty” or “void” so I imagine it as a huge fucking hole of emptiness.
Some others we played around with were some referential names like “Rotting Ways” after the demo by Sentenced from Finland. Some of our early song titles were in there, and other stuff I can’t remember. I am still really happy we went with Vacuous Depths. It’s different and fits our sound pretty well.
What got you into death metal in the first place and who are some of the bands that got you into the genre? You’re definitely in the right place for it!
Austin: Death metal when I first started listening to it in high school (2003) was At The Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. Early on I also heard Cradle of Filth’s Midian on Tampa Metal Radio and was pretty blown away by it. As I’ve grown through my taste I have come to love certain scenes around the world. I am a specific listener, so I have come to prefer all death metal from 1987 to 1993, most of it was the best we have ever seen to this point. As well I found myself to be a “regional listener”, so Finland, very early Sweden, Midwestern U.S., Mexican, and South American death is my favorite shit. Huge emphasis on Finland and Mexico. I found their scenes to be more raw, heavy, and more brutal than any of the others. Finnish bands like Anguish, Sentenced, Convulse, Abhorrence, Amorphis, Adremelech, and Phlegathon are the big ones for me. They had an enormous impact on me and my playing/singing. The Mexican scene, although not nearly as popular as the Finnish scene (now), is an unbelievably raw and gnarly scene. Shub Niggurath, Ripping Flesh, Bloodsoaked, Leprosy, and Cenotaph are massive bands to me and us. I keep them especially close when I write. I’ve always been a fan of the U.S. scene, but I am a little more choosy about those bands. Rottus Corpus, Deceased, Death Strike, Eulogy, Resurrection, Possesed, and Incantation are all top of mind, but the European scenes are the tops for me. The early British scene was a fucking nasty one that no one really talks up. Malediction, Impaler, Desecrator, Gutted, and the earliest Benediction shit was all so tough, bruising, and masculine. Gnarly stuff.
Arturo: The first Death Metal dosis I ever had was probably some Pestilence, Morbid Angel, Mortification, or Cannibal Corpse – very classic stuff. Back in those years in school (2010-2011) I would totally isolate myself (still do that) and would just listen/discover music as much as I could. Discovering these energetic strong notes and melodies throughout the music itself felt almost unreal. And as years went by I still think that Death Metal is the strongest/heaviest sounding genre of all spectrums of Metal in general. Along with time I’ve discovered so many bands, and unlike Austin being a regional specific follower, I find myself a pretty open listener. And if anything comes up to me and it’s good, I’m taking it. From the classic U.S. stuff from Deicide, Vital Remains, Morbid Angel, Immolation, Master, Death Strike, Massacre, Exhumed, Impetigo, Possessed… to other regions: Carcass, Pungent Stench, Dismember, Entombed, Catacomb, Asphyx, Pestilence, Convulse, Krisiun, Vader, Bolt Thrower… New school stuff: Necrot, Cannabis Corpse… many to mention and I’m glad the list grows and grows every day…
What’s the writing process like for the music side of things?
Austin: When we write, I typically come to practice with as many ideas as I can. I show the guys, then I take the “keepers” home and work them into a skeletal form, go back to practice and flesh-out the remaining structure to make sense of it all. I find this to be helpful for writing and pushing it in directions I wouldn’t typically go without input, making it a better and more concise and composed idea.
Arturo Yes, usually Austin brings up ideas of how a song should go kinda in the skeletal form, and as we play we will figure what it fits better to our sound and I can tell we definitely take the time to make sure it sounds right, dynamic, entertainment, but most important, Death as fuck.
What’s the writing process like for the lyrics side of things? What do you try to do with the words to a Vacuous Depths song and is there anything that you turn to in particular for inspiration?
Austin: We are a vocally-heavy death metal band, so lyrics are pretty important to me. We don’t do fancy solos and shit so I do my best to make our vocals special or unique in some way. The content of our lyrics is something I use from my personal experiences of loss, cultural topics that I find important and particularly fucked up, and Florida-centric themes. Another thing I try to keep in mind is that I don’t want songs to be SO personal that there isn’t a connection made. Inspiration has been easy for a while now; life is hard and has been really rough. My life is good, but for a lot of people, life is dark and complex, and full of fucked up humans making it worse. I constantly write lyrics so I pull from a stash of shit I have compiled and use what fits best.
What was the process like to record the debut record LP? Were there any challenges with that first record and what did you learn from the process that you’ve used on records afterwards? It’s a killer album and I imagine that you guys have to be pretty happy with the final product.
Austin: Thank you for the compliment! We are super fuckin’ happy with how it came out! The thing about this band having to do everything over again means that we had a chance to sit with the original mix and perfect what we wanted tonally and even structurally. The way the record is supposed to feel is that it has a “live” component. Sonically, it’s pretty identical to how we sound live. Some songs blend with feedback in between with no room for a breath. Some songs are separate from the rest to give some impact of the abrupt starts and ends. The record plays through as if it is watching our live set. We recorded with all of our own amplifiers and nothing you wouldn’t experience with us live. I’d say the only thing added to the mix was extra volume for the ultra low vocal parts.
Arturo: Glad you liked my first studio album. As Austin said, having a first recording helped to find out what we could work on this next recording session to make it sound better, and this session was the final one and after two years of the whole initial process… it finally came out. It was my very first time recording/doing a full album professionally, so as far as it went I enjoyed the whole process and definitely learned a lot through it, even through all the challenges. I feel proud of this record, since I think it has all the elements you expect in a Death Metal album and in a record itself too.
I wanted to ask about the musical and lyrical inspiration for a few songs on that most recent album. How did you come up with the idea for “Gold Crosses?”
Austin: “Gold Crosses” is a beast and we felt that it was a strong start to the record. Lyrically, the song is a true story about the priests in a catholic diocese that had pedophiles using gold crosses to mark their victims to signify they were “fair game” for more abuse by the other pedo-priests. It’s an absolutely brutal story and it sickened me to hear and read about it.
Musically, the song is our most challenging to play and has a ton of changes. I feel it stands out from the rest of the songs in a good way, but it holds a multitude of sounds we play as a band. The song has elements of more traditional guitar riffing, some death-doom Incantation style riffs, and even some war metal simplicity in the end.
How about the story behind the lyrics and music for “Gaunt Reflections?”
Austin: “Gaunt Reflections” was actually the band’s first song we ever wrote. I was working in a day-job that was absolutely draining and one-sided. I worked endlessly, I was successful at what I did, but was inherently unhappy with my existence of constantly working for a company that ate people alive. We can all relate to that feeling, I think. The song is basically about the virtues of the predatory capitalism we all experience.
“Corporal Humiliation” is another one that I dug a lot. What’s the inspiration behind that one?
Austin: The title track, “Corporal Humiliation” was written about a school here in northern Florida called, The Dozier School for Boys. It was open over 100 years and its history of severe abuse, rape, pedophilia, and murder is currently under investigation and the school campus is being dug up by investigators to find unmarked children’s graves.The school closed a handful of years ago after being in operation for over 100 years.
There is a great book written by the victims of the abuse called The White House Boys [by Roger Dean Kiser]. It is written as a fucking unreal firsthand account of true terror. Most of the lyrics of the song were paraphrased quotes from their testimonies and stories.The boys tell of urinating themselves in terror waiting for a beating, or lashes on their back from an administrator with one hand that whipped the boys in the White House. The White House, pictured on the cover of our record, is the building where most of the abuse and torture was dealt. The University of Tampa is leading the investigation and they’ve found 90 graves so far. Some kids as young as 7 years old have been uncovered.
Lastly, how about the inspiration behind that closer, “Carnival of Venom?”
Austin: “Carnival of Venom” is about my father and who he is. We have always had an incredibly challenging and very broken relationship. Over the last couple years, my sister and I have had major issues with him, and more importantly my kids. We decided to sever ties with him and my step-mom for good recently so the subject was top-of-mind. The break was a long time coming, but it was the right thing to do for us and the kids. Essentially, my sister and I have come to the conclusion that my father is a sex addict. He has an ability to turn every encounter into a sexual innuendo and it’s made it impossible to have a normal relationship with him.
This addiction has scarred every relationship it’s come across, and it has come to light more with our kids’ presence around him. Without getting super detailed, it never turns off, his narcissism and denial of anything is wrong is completely ignored. When we do confront him with these issues, it’s been all gas-lighting and finger pointing without any self awareness. It’s weird as fuck, but its pretty daunting. I wanted to write about it and the song fit well with the shit I had to say about it.
That cover to the album really jumps out to me as well. Who did it and how much direction did you give them? To you, why does that image best represent this album?
Austin: Thank you! Artwork is crucial to extreme music and it gives a face to the music. Karl Dahmer, the illustrator, absolutely fucking crushed it. His unmistakable style and ability to portray violence through the paper is uncanny. Without getting in the way, this was definitely a collaborative work. I was hitting up a couple different artists at the point of recording the album. Karl’s ability to make vicious and nasty looking art with heavy influences of Pushead helped me make the decision to go with him. The image is a depiction of the title track, “Corporal Humiliation”. It’s truly the perfect vision or real life horror we wanted to put out there.
Arturo: Considering the concept given by the title track “Corporal Humiliation” the way that Dahmer was able to represent the artwork, it’s simply fascinating, brutal, and has all the details to expect, including some other aspects and details from other songs on the album. Even the back cover artwork looks fantastic. Get a copy so you can have that full visual art experience!
What’s the scene like for you guys in Tampa and how has that affected the growth and development of the band?
Austin: This is a touchy subject for us, but until the record came out this month we have not been offered much. We don’t catch a lotta love in Tampa. It feels a little weird to be one of few bands in the area and still not get on national shows coming through, not really get much support locally. The promoters in the area don’t give us the opportunity to do it, so we have always booked DIY shows with friends instead. I heard a rumor that Autopsy never plays locally and I kind of love that [laughs]. We have been focusing more on out of town shows instead of local shit.
Arturo: Specifically talking about us I truly feel there’s a need to do more shows than what we usually do. But we all are slaves to the life-system. But talking from my own experience, you gotta go out and find your own people. As an artist, it’s a matter of playing shows and hitting up as many places as possible. Always bringing the best performance that you can. Take all the advice that you can and play your set like if it was the last one. As growing up as a band, I definitely think time will tell as people listen to the record and that hopefully will open more doors in the future.
Lastly, what’s next for Vacuous Depths? What are your goals for the future of the band?
Austin: The record has only been out for a month and shows are starting to line up now, so that is a start. The vinyl is in production and expected to land early-to-mid 2023. New merchandise will be out in between as well. I have been writing new material without a firm idea for what, but just keeping at it and trying to take our music to people around Florida as much as possible. We have some killer shit lining up for 2023 so far.
Not announced yet, but by the time this gets published we are making an announcement this week that we will be playing in Miami with Monstrosity, our label mates Hibernus Mortis, and Virulence, and Beast Plague. Another show is in the works for our first Tampa show in mid-February as well. If your readers don’t have the record yet or want to know more our website has all of our links to buy and listen. Thank you for having us on the site, and we appreciate the support of the record and the band!
Arturo: Definitely the vinyl pressings of the record, excited for that Monstrosity show in Miami (will be my first Miami show ever) . We never stop writing as we are slowly doing new stuff that hopefully we’ll put out one day and we’ll have more people following and expecting the successor of Corporal Humiliation. Thank you all for the support and space with us on your site. Music is always my biggest support in life, I do appreciate the love and support.
Photo at top: Corporal Humiliation album cover.