VEXED – ‘Culling Culture’

By Gem Rogers

When an album opens with a track like ‘Ignorant’, you know you’re in trouble. Moments later, as its atmospheric, ominous tones and guttural roars segue flawlessly into the catastrophic rage and frantic riffs of ‘Hideous’, you might as well get started on engraving your headstone – if listening to this swirling fury of an album alone doesn’t finish you off, the mosh pits when we finally get back to live shows definitely will (and no complaints here). In ‘Culling Culture’, Hertfordshire newcomers VEXED have given us full throttle alt-metal of such a quality that it’s hard to believe this is a debut album, injected with silky smooth melodics that only accentuate the aggression – but there’s no formulaic structure to the songs here, instead taking twists and turns that continually keep any listener on their toes.

Dialling back into those haunting notes once more for the start of third track ‘Fake’, it’s not long before the anger bursts again into a visceral attack on a “spineless, controlling piece of shit”. There’s no going easy on the person this song is aimed at, and unapologetic ire becomes a clear theme across this and songs like ‘Narcissist’ and ‘Weaponize’ – but there’s also a battle against internal demons in other tracks, with the likes of ‘Misery’ and ‘Purity’ peeling back to reveal a more vulnerable layer. It’s a delicately executed balance – though that’s about the only time ‘delicate’ could be used to describe any element of this album – that finds the sweet spot between introspection and, well, “I’d like to murder you”-vibes, all delivered like a solid fist to the face.

One of the key things that make VEXED stand out from the crowd are undoubtedly the vocals, and the realisation that the broad range of styles on ‘Culling Culture’ all come from the same person is pretty staggering – from hell-sent screams and growls through to symphonic metal-esque cleans, Megan Targett is nothing short of a phenomenal force. Whether it’s on the gloriously theatrical stylings of ‘Epiphany’ or the high octane, spat lyrics of ‘Narcissist’, Targett’s voice elevates VEXED to a whole new level, taking the thundering instrumentation and spinning it into tornadoes that take out everything in their path.

After a brief respite in instrumental interlude ‘Drift’, the more melodically focused ‘Aurora’ sweeps in towards the end of the album with an uplifting feel and gorgeous layered tones, though it still doesn’t lack the brutality honed across the nine tracks that precede it. Instead, the heaviness is focused into smaller chunks, offset with a delectable guitar solo and hugely atmospheric moments – and it’s in this fusion that we hear the very best of what VEXED have to offer. Yes, it’s incandescent and crushingly heavy, but it’s also set in an expansive and echoing soundscape that feels far bigger than the sum of its parts, engulfing everyone that enters its orbit and setting the quartet far apart from their peers.

Finishing up with one final snarling bite in the form of ‘Lazarus’, VEXED go all out on their prog side and make these jarring rhythms seem effortless, a fitting soundtrack to lyrics that dart back and forth between positivity and pessimism (“back from the dead, is it a miracle or just another fucking waste of my time?”). In VEXED, we have a band who could likely go in any direction they choose and still make it sound like magic, and this is a finale that truly leaves us wanting more. ‘Culling Culture’ is easily one of the most accomplished debut metal albums of recent years; bringing fire and fury with precision, heart, and monstrous riffs, this is music to get seriously excited about.

GEM ROGERS

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