For Fans Of
“What’s old is new” is the MO that much of the underground metalcore scene today operates within. What was seen as generic or uninspired ten years ago is now relevant and back in vogue. For some newer acts out there, that’s seeing the genre making some real waves. However, the same issue that plagued this style back in the 2000s will rear its ugly head again for this current wave of artists: over-saturation and repetition of ideas. In fact, we’re already approaching the same impasse just as quickly as we were back in 2009, and I’m honestly not sure how long novel nostalgia will sustain a lot of these bands. Yet there’s still some merit, still some quality, to be excavated from the modern metalcore mines.
Enter Georgia’s Vatican, who merge the panicked harmonics, heavy chugs, and syncopated breakdowns of metalcore from the late 2000s, with smaller hints of melody breaking through; the extremity and darkness of deathcore from the same era sans overused blast-beats; as well as some minor, subtle nu-metal aspects to top it all off. Ergo, a plethora of venomous screams, dissonant down-tuned riffs, aggressive grooves, meaty-ass breakdowns, gloomy cleaner guitar passages, some spoken-word vocals, and more all abound here. It’s a completely unoriginal sound, to be sure, and to argue anything stating otherwise would be downright silly. But “unoriginal” also doesn’t mean “bad,” as Vatican nicely proves with their violent-sounding new full-length, ‘Sole Impulse.’
After two EPs – 2015’s ‘Drowning The Apathy Inside‘ and 2017’s ‘Ache Of Eternity‘ – Vatican know exactly what they are; they know what they wish to sound like. And in many ways, in terms of what they set out to achieve here, they nailed that sound on ‘Sole Impulse.’ As such, the title track kicks things off in precisely the manner you’d expect from a band such as themselves. The overly dissonant and chugging guitars, speaker-rattling breakdowns, vehement screams, and the pingy, mid-tier production that whilst sounding a little under-cooked, lends it that charmingly raw 2000s feel. Vatican wastes zero time with said opening title track. The pummeling, down-tuned riffs paired with high and low double-tracked vocals give it a filthy deathcore vibe on top of the metalcore schtick. To say this opener represents the sound and tone of the remaining ten songs to go would be a gross understatement.
With a quintessentially quick metalcore drum-fill just minus the obligatory ride bell hit, ‘Blades Of Sepia‘ storms and lurches along, with its only real highlight being the wickedly angular breakdown that helps wrap the song up. Lead single ‘Thirty-One Staples‘ – based on an accident sustained by vocalist Jonathan Whittle in his youth that left – is Vatican’s whirring, dark, and informed-by-the-past aesthetic encapsulated into a single two-minute nutshell. The dissonant minor chords of ‘Beneath One‘ begets a sluggish, discordant mid-tempo piece whose only real distinction is the distinguishable bass lines, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it clean guitar passage, and the brief, dead-pan spoken word parts. Clocking in at under two minutes, the speedy ‘Color My Grave Mine‘ has a stomping spring in its simple but satisfactory step; savage blast beats and noisy, purposefully messy-sounding guitars included. Although, the final 30 seconds of its 1:48 run-time is just wasted on a fading feedback outro that’s just kinda there.
These first five tracks fully embody what Vatican do well – acrimonious and confronting metalcore – but this first batch also doesn’t push their sound further much either. It’s simply another confirmation of what they can do as a unit, also acting as a decent introduction for any and all newer ears out there too. As this is their debut on the still young label, 1126 Records, one could do much worse. Yet once you get through the first half, which can honestly feel a little like a chore at times, you suddenly strike the golden bed-rock for what Vatican can really offer.
As it’s the middle, stronger portion of ‘Sole Impulse‘ that hits the hardest; that stands out the most. The album’s longest serrated cut, ‘Cognition Rendered Dead‘ sees the American outfit properly fleshing out their melodic and dynamic moods as opposed to just using them for quick detours from the chugga-chugga, gifting listeners with something new for the record’s tone and pacing. There’s an air of larger scope, of deeper levity to ‘Cognition…‘ and that results in one of Vatican’s most compelling songs. Right after that, ‘Assemblage‘ highlights ‘Sole Impulse‘ at its darkest, heaviest and most urgent. Pushing only just past the two-minute mark, this seventh song is a brutal, driving mid-album gem that shows-off exactly why bands like Vatican are getting real attention lately.
With a foreboding electronic intro, ‘Cyanide Divinity‘ erupts with a single snare hit, and Vatican settles into one of the strongest versions of their sound, with pulverizing riffs and racey melodic metal leads. Then, out of nowhere, this bouncy rapping section hits with clean vocals moving in the background, before switching back to Vatican’s punishing brand of dissonance-loving, palm-muted metalcore. This structure repeats itself as the song moves onward, and is a solid injection of variety and layering for the U.S. band’s style – the kind of differentiation that they’ll hopefully progress further into down the line. Then ‘Ex Nihilo‘ shifts up and down in rhythm and tempo with savage double-kick-laden breakdowns and harmonic-obsessed riffs that slice and dice. (Its “music video” is just a compilation of games the band likes, set to the song. It’s like those old-school YouTube gaming compilations of Call Of Duty kills underscored by awful dubstep, except much less insufferable. Now that’s hardcore.)
This is where the best part of ‘Sole Impulse‘ ends, but by no means are its final two songs a downhill march in quality for the record. The manic ‘Your Prison Within‘ sees the album getting a little bit more “produced” and layered, with some more melodic, higher-octave atmospheric over-dubs flying above the brooding brutality below, before wrapping up with some 808 kick drums and the most basic electronic cymbals you’ll hear outside of a Fruity Loops session.
The album then concludes with a new, updated version of ‘Xeo Line Crisis,’ originally from their ‘Spawn of All Pain Taken‘ two-track. This redux doesn’t have the sampled FX intro as the original but is for all intents and purposes, sonically tighter and more smoothed out to how Vatican sound now. And it’s a good thing that the LP finishes here, as Vatican just do not have the songwriting legs to carry this kind of metalcore for much longer than 30 minutes. Hell, I’m sure for some people out there, that would at least be ten minutes longer than ever deemed necessary.
On ‘Sole Impulse,’ Vatican channels the seething sonic frustration, violence, and hatred of metalcore’s past very well. It’s a harrowing-sounding time trip to the older, rougher mania of its past from the previous decade or two. At only 11 songs, it’s a straight-to-the-point metalcore record with deathcore overtones and some nu-metal subtleties. It’s a no-nonsense listen, yet it’s incredibly safe for this realm of heavy music – both in its current forms and its nostalgic returns. If you’ve been loving the likes of Sanction, Vein, SeeYouSpaceCowboy, and newer acts like Bloodbather, and you just can’t get enough of this resurging underground sound, then Vatican are absolutely for you. But if you’re already feeling worn-out by this recent wave of metalcore bands, you most likely won’t find anything refreshing or inspiring on their new LP. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. ‘Sole Impulse’ is fine, it’s fun, but its also extremely familiar-sounding to many others on the market and is a facsimile of what allowed metalcore to rise so fast, and what made it fall just as quickly. Though I sincerely hope Vatican survives the genre’s next nose-dive.
- Sole Impulse
- Blades In Sepia
- Thrity-One Staples
- Beneath One
- Color My Grave Mine
- Cognition Rendered Dead
- Cyanide Divinity
- Ex Nihilo
- Your Prison Within
- Xero Line Crisis
‘Sole Impulse’ is out now: