Interview: Vastum (2023) | From The Bowels Of Perdition

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For an album that comes from a place of anger, anxiety and desperation, “Inward to Gethsemane” feels surprisingly right, don’t you think?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: For sure, all of those descriptors feel right to me.

Would you subscribe to the notion that some of the answers about Vastum could already be found in the titles of your songs, even before one delves into your music? If so, what would be the questions to which those titles are the answers?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: Interesting question. I’m not sure that I do, nor would I want them to? Our song titles have mystery to them, intentionally so. Sometimes they’re meant to (mis)lead the audience down a certain path, which may or may not have anything to do with the actual concept of the song, but meant to stir up the imagination and spark some difficult emotions. I think our titles actually provide more questions instead of answers, serving to draw you in, rather than establish any certainty.

Given the title “In Bed With Death” and its arguably sexual connotations, are you the one to romanticize your relationship with death, to be scared of it, or to perhaps even look forward to it? How often do you think about death anyway?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I think about death quite a bit, and in probably all of the above ways, depending on my current emotional state. I think the relationship with death can be all of the above ˗ eroticized, feared, avoided, worshipped, and the lyrics to “In Bed With Death” explore all of it. But the song lyrically also transcends death with references to intergenerational trauma in an eroticized way, and also blurring lines between love and abuse.

“Priapic Chasms” is another title with a delicate sexual innuendo. Clearly, you don’t see anything wrong with mixing sex with death metal. Is it because you feel that orgasm and dying could well be similarly cathartic?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: Sex and death are definitely connected, although I wouldn’t say “Priapic Chasms” is about sex. It is more about masculinity, the grief of aging, emotional suffocation, invisibility and fantasies of misandry.

There’s hardly anyone who hasn’t experienced going through some emotional or physical agony right around 3 A.M. which makes “3 A.M. in Agony” such a relatable title. Is that song a tribute to some awful personal experience?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: Oh yeah, the inspiration for that song came from sitting on a toilet peeing blood from a urinary tract infection, a plight for many female-bodied people out there. The pain is so ferocious, it will wake anyone up at 3 A.M. I like that people can interpret the song in other ways too.

Vastum Interview 2023 (Band)

Do you see “Inward to Gethsemane” as a major leap forward compared to “Orificial Purge”, or any of your previous albums for that matter?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I don’t think it’s a major leap forward, as much as I love “Inward to Gethsemane” and am proud of it. I think they’re both very different albums, possibly appealing to different kinds of listeners. Although we experimented a little more on “Inward” both vocally and with ambient synths and samples, I find it to be more assaultive on the ears and at times more difficult to listen to production-wise than “Orificial Purge”. With this in mind, I find it interesting that most reviewers out there have been more drawn to this record than the previous one. I’d say if your production preferences lean towards the denser, noisier and more aggressive, then you’ll like “Inward” more than “Orificial”, and vice versa.

Some people believe that “Patricidal Lust” has aged slightly better than other Vastum albums. Do you share that sentiment?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I haven’t heard that, and I don’t agree. I see equal amounts of love online for each of our first three albums, with different people saying that one of those three will always be the best Vastum album. I’m pretty sure “Hole Below” is still our best selling album to date. And many now saying that “Inward” is our best. I love that people don’t seem to agree on their favorite album which to me reinforces the idea that they’re all great, but appeal to slightly different tastes.

In hindsight, which of your albums didn’t turn out quite the way you wanted it to?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I could probably say that about all of them in different ways. Personally, I feel our best album is yet to come. I’m feeling a lot less held back with my ideas these days and that there is more potential to realize a more complete vision than ever before.

Would you say that you deal with your influences on a subconscious level?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I’d say so. I don’t like to be overly specific in my lyrics, and I think the inherent vagueness is what makes it that more horrifying, and also applicable to a wide array of experiences.

Does the esoteric connection between you as people influence your music more than any outside influences ever could?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: The esoteric connection I have within the band is mostly with Dan, but my relationship with Dan goes beyond the intellectual, he is my sounding board around all things Vastum, so his opinions about my ideas carry a lot of weight. Although the original source of my ideas are the artists that influence me, it’s true that Dan’s input probably carries more weight than those outside influences when it comes to making creative decisions.

Vastum Interview 2023 (Inward To Gethsemane)

Are you still in the process of figuring out your sound, the reasons behind your music, your legacy perhaps? Are you even hoping for the band to leave a certain legacy?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I’m not so concerned with legacy or being the hot trend out there, but it is very important for me as an artist to keep evolving, which means I’m always trying to re-figure out my sound and reasons for everything I do so that I maintain a sense of purpose and intention. It’s exciting to know that, even though I’ve accomplished a tremendous deal creatively in the past two decades, I still have a lot of artistic life in me and that I’m far from reaching any kind of plateau, and I hope I never reach it.

Do you feel that the question of identity is as important in art as it is in life?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I think so, but that’s a tricky one, because identity can be interpreted in so many ways, and it’s up to each of us individually, or collectively within a band, to decide what that means for us, and there can be conflicting identities between personal and public personas. Take me for instance. Someone interviewed me several years ago asking if I lacked an artistic identity because I work in so many different music genres. In doing so, some may feel that I don’t have a consistent identity because they feel I’m “all over the place” musically. I feel it’s actually the opposite, firstly, because I don’t equate creative identity with working within a single genre. More importantly, the fact that I crossover into different genres seems to just reinforce my creative spirit, as fluid as it can be, and to many listeners who crossover “with” me, they witness a consistent voice threading throughout my work, whether it’s the brutality of Vastum, the austere, desolate sounds of my solo work, or the darkwave romanticism of Ionophore.

Are all those projects different vessels for expressing essentially the same emotions, albeit with different sonic palettes?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: Yes and no. There is a lot of overlap in what I’m expressing among all of the projects, an overall darkness for sure. But some emotions seem more appropriate for Vastum while others suit my solo project better.

Have you ever done some honest soul-searching in order to understand and get to the bottom of your inclination toward such emotions?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I soul-search every time I write anything. As much as I enjoy improvising from time to time, I don’t like to be random in my creative work, especially when it comes to working on a full-length album. The concept, the visual, the word and sound must feel like a complete idea, and to do that, it requires some amount of soul-searching and third-eye vision to build an intention powerful enough to expose it to the public. Dreams, meditation and the use of entheogens are all helpful tools in this process, for all of my projects.

Vastum Interview 2023 (Promo)

When you make music, do you seek to find comfort in it and the process of making it, or do you make it merely to celebrate the inner negativity it stems from, without hoping to overturn that negativity into anything positive?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I make music for all kinds of reasons. It can provide comfort and also be a celebration of ugliness, for sure, but it’s much bigger than all of that. The best way I can describe it is, music is something I have to make to feel whole ˗ it’s the best way I know how to be alive, to commune with the infinite, etc. It ties into my philosophy about why humans make music at all, which is expansive and non-individualistic. Tones-vibrations-frequencies are the fundamental energies that make all life possible while also transcending life itself, they’ve always existed and will exist long after humans are gone. Music is just a way of capturing and reconfiguring that energy so that it continues to cycle through our bodies and transcend something larger than ourselves. Some may call this idea “spiritual”. Still, to me, it goes beyond spirituality because it’s not entirely in the abstract realm and is as crucial to life as breathing and eating. I believe “we”, or sentient life beings, originated and evolved out of music-tone-vibration-frequency, and not vice versa, even though the latter is the more popular belief, and I think the fact that we came from this sound energy is exactly why, for many of us, the need to create music is a matter of life and death.

Do you see yourselves as a bunch of weirdos and, given what being normal means in this day and age, are you more inclined to attribute positive connotations to that term?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: When you think about the masses of humans out there and what they’re mostly into, and what they consider normal, those of us in the underground music and art world are absolutely considered weirdos, whether we like it or not, and it’s a term I happily identify with, as well as most of my loved ones. I think it’s easy to lose sight of this when you live in a bubble surrounding yourself with only like-minded people, you forget that you’re always in the minority and that most of the world is against you in some way.

What is your favourite kind of death metal?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: I do prefer my death metal dirty, ugly and mean (laughs).

Would you subscribe to H.P. Lovecraft’s notion that fear is the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind and that fear of the unknown is the oldest and strongest kind of fear?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: As much of a fan as I am of Lovecraft’s work, and love his use of the fear of the unknown as a base for writing some of the best horror I’ve ever read, I don’t like to think in superlatives. Life and humankind are infinitely complex. Grief, despair and desire are up there with fear for being incredibly strong emotions.

Considering that man, according to Fromm, is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem that he has to solve, does that mean that most of our problems stem from overthinking?

Leila Abdul-Rauf: Sometimes, but it’s all relative. Those who don’t overthink may have different problems than those who do. We all have problems that are out of most of our control regardless of how much or little we overthink, things like war, poverty, climate change, global effects of capitalism. The few with the power to actually change these symptoms of sickness probably could spend more time overthinking than they do!


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