REVIEW: VULVODYNIA – “Praenuntius Infiniti”
Even the most diehard fans of a particular subgenre can get swamped with the sheer amount of new content being put out throughout the year. Add other subgenres and genres and a consumer is bogged down by a fatigue of abundance. A direct consequence of this fatigue is bands not getting their fair shake before they are shelved for the newest shiny metal band. Unfortunately, for me slam/brutal deathcore bands Acrania and South Africa’s cheerily named Vulvodynia fell by the wayside. When offered the newest entry Praenuntius Infinti I endeavored to give Vulvodynia another spin.
Praenuntius Infiniti (Latin for “The Forerunner of the Infinite”) is a fourteen track, hour long extravaganza, so listeners better strap themselves down, because this is a long one! Opener and title track is a spooky ambient lead-in with a boiler plate ominous spoken-word proclamation of an approaching entity, very reminiscent of Aborted’s horror movie samples. It is apparent from the intro, the song titles, and the Par Olofsson themed album artwork (courtesy of Daemorph), that this is a themed record with a running storyline. Not long after, “The Shadowy Descent of Gaia” propels us into sweep picked leads coiling around large chords not entirely unlike something off a Rings of Saturn record.
Listing every enjoyable section on Praenuntius Infiniti is a fool’s errand, and would make this word dump even more fatiguing to read all the way through. However, certain highlights must be mentioned: the intro breakdown to “Eternal Wasteland of Galaxies” hits like a freight train, and even for a record plastered with slams, this is the breakdown that got the blood pumping. “Whispers of Calamity” brings back the central theme laid out in the album intro, this time adding the rest of the band giving the entire record a more cohesive and even cinematic feel. This was an extremely intelligent choice, which more bands should definitely consider mimicking. “A Cosmic Betrayal” opens with a cheeky chug-squeal breakdown, before surprising everyone with a staccato riff which anyone would swear came hot off a Soreption record! This iteration of Vulvodynia is throwing everything including the kitchen sink at us: brutal riffs out of the Ingested playbook, chugs out of Void-era Within Destruction, Thy Art is Deathcore stereotypical riffs, and the trademark Vulvodynia slam arrangements. Extending and distancing itself away from their previous release Mob Justice, Praenuntius Infiniti now includes goodies like ambient aliencore synth layers (we all miss Tyrant-era Aversion’s Crown) which would not be amiss on a Shadow of Intent release, as well as a heightened focus on guitar solos (possibly owing to the addition of a third lead-focused guitarist).
This record has every single member putting in extra-time to put out every single idea, every play in the book, on top of each other, like a claustrophobic crowd, which is not a bad thing. Drummer Thomas Hughes provides the backdrop required for the guitarists paint their bloody masterplans. Bassist Chris van der Walt makes his presence felt, and his bass cuts through particularly well on the slam sections owing to the interesting guitar tonal choice. Guitarists Luke Haarhoff and Kris Xenopoulos (who also provides backing vocals) are the backbone to the brutal deathcore that has earned Vulvodynia its stable and ever-growing fanbase. New to the fold is third guitarist Lwandile Prusent who adds the superlative leads that adorn many of the tracks on the record, drawing heavily from both melodic passages a la Shadow of Intent as well as more dissonant chromatic lines from the Rings of Saturn, Beneath the Massacre, and Infant Annihilator cribsheet. Vocalist and major driver of the Vulvodynia machine, Duncan Bentley is quickly becoming a household name in the genre scene, and not without reason. He seamlessly transitions between various styles perfectly adding to the genre tropes being explored on any section of the track.
Speaking of vocals…
Praenuntius Infiniti comes chockful of tasty vocal features pulled from the greats of deathcore, brutal death metal, and slam. “Pranuntius Ascends” kicks off the features with vocals synonymous with the slam centric gurgles Jon Huber (Bludgeoned, Disfiguring the Goddess, ex- I,Detest, ex-Pathology, ex, I Declare War, ) and Matti Way (ex-Abominable Putridity, ex Pathology). As Pathology, and Abominable Putridity are considered by many the veterans and gold standards of the slam genre, these vocal features skyrocket the track to new heights (or depths owing to the vicious low gurgle-growls). In complete contrast to the lumbering beasts mentioned, “Banquet of Engimatic Horrors II: Agony” features the machine-gun staccato bludgeoning vocal delivery courtesy of tech-death crownbearer Archspire’s own Oliver Rae Aleron which raise the BPM of his section by mere presence. The features keep on going with the scream-cleans on “The War Within” via Viscera’s Jamie Graham, and the brutal death growls of Aussie titans Disentomb’s Jawd James on “Forging the Deity Crusher”. Since Vulvodynia is determined to hold nothing back, they threw Beneath the Massacre’s Elliot Desgagnes (credited as Elliot Einstein) at us on “Funeral Ov the Gods”.
With Praenuntius Infiniti, the production is as close to perfect as we are going to get with music with several layers of instrumentation at different registers, as well as synth overdubs. This should come as no surprise as the record was mixed by Christian Donaldson (Cryptopsy). The leads are crisp and each note cuts through the deluge of layers, the ambient synth pads are present and noticeable but are never overbearing, which many other symphonic/blackened deathcore bands are currently guilty of doing. Unique to the Praenuntius Infiniti mix is the choice of “slam” guitar tone. The chugs chosen for the slam sections have an almost boosted mids and treble frequencies, lending an almost six-string guitar effect rather than the extended range lower register sound that we have come to expect from these genres. These mid/high boosted tones are exclusive to the slam sections, while the deathcore-esque breakdowns have the “usual” chug tone with a more predictable aural profile.
Praenuntius Infiniti is definitely Vulvodynia’s strongest effort yet. It never lazes too long in any genre trope, but cycles between slam, deathcore, tech-death, brutal deathcore, etc. with a cohesive ease that never feels forced. There are tonnes of enjoyable snippets strewn all over the record. Unfortunately, this record is, for lack of better verbiage, is simply “A LOT!”. The fourteen tracked hour long runtime is extremely fatiguing if a consumer wishes to listen to the record as a sonic journey. This problem is particularly exacerbated when each song is jam packed with so many layers, expertly done, but in large doses at an album-scale leads to the blending together of tracks. The record could have been better served either with some severe editing or even released as a two-parter! A classic misstep of “too much sugar and we will fall sick” on this record.
Vulvodynia’s newest monstrosity Praenunitius Infiniti is a gigantic piece of music that has numerous thoroughly enjoyable sections but threatens to crumble under its own weight. There is an extremely proficient technical slamcore album within the tracks slammed at the listener which would have been better served with heavier handed editing to trim the extraneous fat.