Vulvagun - Cold moon over Babylon 3.5/5

Reviewed: 12-1-11


1. Cold moon over Babylon
2. The black pyramid
3. Arise Neophyte
4. A murder of demons
5. Malachi
6. Heart of the mountain
7. Equinox
8. Confessions of a flesh eater
9. Union of the snake
10. On pain, transcendence and the dark design
11. The transit of venus
12. Clavicula Salomonis

As far as misleading names go, it’s right up there with Tommy “Tiny” Lister and Orwell’s Ministry of Love; Vulvagun may conjure images of a snickering pornogrind band but, as evidenced on their classy debut release ‘Cold moon over Babylon’, the truth could hardly be further removed. Rather, the Aussies have delivered an epic, dark power/thrash metal offering that blends its demonology-derived lyrics with Middle Eastern musical cues to create a finely-crafted and highly impressive piece of work.

Sharing some ground (as well as the contribution of bass player Evan Harris) with Black Majesty, their sound is in places reminiscent of some of the progressive power metal bands from their homeland. But while the songs are uniformly long, intricate and clearly carry the air of being properly composed rather than born of jams, Vulvagun stay comfortably out of pure progressive territory. The impressive instrumental talents on display are there to serve the songs, and the drawn-out track lengths are due to expansive atmospheric sections outside the main structures rather than showcases for instrumental gymnastics.

Wayne Dwyer’s operatic vocals contribute greatly to the theatrical atmosphere on the CD, staying below falsetto and instead performing in a soaring, Dickinson-inspired manner. Dramatic Gregorian choir vocals also crop up throughout the CD to add extra texture, and are one of a few touch points Vulvagun have with Iced Earth.

As noted, the CD exists in the power/thrash DMZ, so several of the songs naturally feature breakneck galloping riffs, and the lead guitar really is scintillating in places – perhaps most notably on “Union of the snake”, which boasts an intricate, uplifting solo section, probably the best among several competitors. Just as prevalent though are the snaking midtempo riffs that many would no doubt describe as sounding “Egyptian”. Inaccurate as that probably is, these parts of the CD certainly paint pictures of sweeping sandstorms over desert cities, and while some may find the whole routine a little played out in this day and age, if you are properly attuned to this sort of thing it really draws you in to the detailed stories being chronicled.

Also contributing to the Middle Eastern ambience is the presence of several extended introductions and bridges comprising subtle, breathy keyboard arrangements and chiming clean guitars and chapman stick interludes which do well to substitute for bouzoukis, sazlar and the like. All this goes to show the singular vision that has been applied to the creation of these songs – although there is no overriding story to the lyrics, there is a unifying concept in place and the songs walk the same winding streets to form a cohesive whole.

It would be unfair to say that Vulvagun are writing to formula, as the songs 12 tracks on ‘Cold moon over Babylon’ are far more than mere repetitions of one another, though if there is a downside to the CD it is perhaps that none of them really speak with an authoritative voice of their own. As part of such a singular body of work, particular tracks tend not to stand out, and while a rich tapestry is no doubt woven, some flashes of individual brilliance are perhaps lacking.

With that said though, the 9-minute, pre-outro, closer “The transit of venus” deserves special mention for its outstanding contribution. It begins, by now unsurprisingly, on a soothing intro that lattices with a bass-backed vocal section and gradually transitions into a steady midtempo build. Soft female vocals duet with Dwyer as the song slowly increases in heaviness before exploding into a massive solo section that climaxes superbly before passing the torch to an elegant piano piece. From here the guitar slowly builds back in before the choir vocals make a return and the song reaches a sudden, jarring conclusion.

Maybe ‘Cold moon over Babylon’ could do with a few more stand-out songs like this one to break up the steady flow from time to time, but it remains a high-quality, often hypnotic, debut CD from an exciting newcomer. The band name may be as inappropriate as a conga line at a funeral, but if given the chance the music really speaks for itself.




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