Review: “Grand Reproach” by Vexing

Denver Colorado born and raised, the basement is where Vexing spend most of their days. A Progressive Sludge Metal trio, they’ve been active since 2017, churning out a self titled demo that year before an EP titled “Cradle” in 2020. Citing influences in Sludge acts like Yautja and Inter Arma but also from more Progressive ones like Russian Circles or even Rush the trio take pleasure in making music that creates a sense of engaging tension. Produced by the band themselves, guitarist Garrett Jones, bassist Clayton Whitelaw and drummer Jeff Malpezzi, their debut album “Grand Reproach” was mixed and mastered by Mikey Allred (Inter Arma, All Them Witches, Arcadian Child)  from Dark Art Audio and is adorned by artwork by Ethan Lee McCarthy at Hell Simulation with a layout from Andrew Notsch…

While the band have crafted something undoubtedly more refined than their previous efforts, opening cut “The Mold” is actually one of three cuts that throwback to 2017’s self titled EP that make the grade for the album. A vicious little ditty with a gritty intensity and barbed vocal, it sets the tone for the album like a brick through a window before a burglary. Building on that foundation of gold and bones, “Vanquishing Light” begins the evolution in Progressive tendencies with seven and a half magnum opus of swirling dark atmospheres with dissonant guitars and eerie background sounds creating a hellscape from which their is no escape. Captivating, the band lead us down the left hand path with an evil grin as they build the dark dynamics with clever rhythmic patterns and meanderings. The second of those older, reimagined cuts is “The Invisible Hand” which runs approaching two minutes shorter than the original and finds the band touching on Black Metal influences with some of their percussive moments. Brooding dark vocals cut through the swirling guitars like a hot knife through butter, the sense of anguish and despair that the band create sonically is intriguing, the lyrics referencing betrayal at the end of a long façade. Bludgeoning big riffs open the floor with chugging power as “Shallow Breath” takes hold of the senses, the rumbling bass creating a spine juddering shudder with the stop start time signatures as they penetrate the ear drums. Vexing are the kind of band who have mastered the power to disturb and take pleasure in dealing out lethal doses of that punishment with ease. The only escape from that nightmare is the seemingly free form eclectic and eccentric extended lead guitar passage which gives the cut a radiance as shafts of light pierce through the black clouds.

A haunting and eerie instrumental, “Howling” feels like the soundscape as one walks across the moors on a cold winters evening, the air chilling to the bone as you question if you can see her ghost in the fog or if it’s just a trick of the mind. The achingly beautiful piano moment adds an art house style cinematic touch before leading into “Blunderbuss“, the third and final re-imagining from their demo. A sinister and menacing track with a raw edge, the ominous atmosphere is suffocating with dark lyrics like “All those windows closed and doors passed by, All those bridges burned and worlds denied, I have nothing to show for my time” playing on black thoughts of what has been lost and what may never come to be. The sentiment is so powerful that it resonates deeply with a moving emotive quality to it you simply don’t get from someone who hasn’t suffered. The second of two giant cuts on the record, “Small Black Flame” approaches the nine and a half minute mark with consummate self destructive ease. A rhythmic powerhouse performance, the pummelling percussion and driving riffs are soaked in the kerosene of atmosphere, the melodic break in the centre offering a quiet moment of reflection with a delicate solo before the sonic overdose begins again. That moment is so darkly beautiful with its dull ache that it will draw you to the stare into the abyss while leaving you fearful of what you might find there. There is no grand finale with something of this nature and instead “Red Skies” finds the band playing with Black Metal drum patterns as they continue to twist and contort. Caustic vocals are pure catharsis as the marionettes sway gently in the breeze, the fires rising around their grass skirts as their plastic faces begin to melt in the intensity of the heat. A bleak depiction that lingers, this final note offers no hope of survival… [7.5/10]

Track Listing

1. The Mold
2. Vanquishing Light
3. The Invisible Hand
4. Shallow Breath
5. Howling
6. Blunderbuss
7. Small Black Flame
8. Red Skies

Grand Reproach” by Vexing is out 26th May 2023 via Ordovician Records with pre-orders available over at bandcamp

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