By Keith Carman
The beastly grit of doom. Grindcore’s fiery onslaught. Black metal’s confrontational excess. The jarring obtuseness of tech. Metal is founded on explosive, aggressive and often combative attitudes.
Still, just when one feels remotely comfortable—possibly slightly expectant—as to what the genre’s next twist will be, something so dominant, furious and volatile comes along that it redefines the parameters of what makes a band extreme. The group’s peal is so deafening, many are left stunned and speechless. Even those who are braced for impact fail to fully comprehend what is assailing them.
It’s these bands that continually provoke, mutilate and force the evolution of metal to new heights, often without garnering the same recognition, appreciation or dedication they offer to their craft. A thankless task performed out of sheer adoration for creativity, these acts refuse to look back—let alone sideways—as their minds are so occupied by an inherent need to progress, outdo one’s self and take a hammer to the preconceived notion that heavy music could ever hit a state of stagnancy.
Such is the cause, compel and crucifixion post of Toronto-based outfit Vilipend and their dichotomous technical/primal, confrontational/patient and enduringly affecting attack. Since their 2007 inception, this quartet has been systematically pummelling the worlds of progressive, technical and guttural metal with unbridled angst, severity and malice. From debut independent EP Northern Hostility Sessions to most recent seven-inch single Plague Bearer (No List), their conviction has seen the band become synonymous with the terms “workhorse” and “innovative.”
But don’t tell them that. They’re too busy detonating metallic parameters to notice.
“To paraphrase a great graphic novel: ‘We don’t do this thing because we choose to, we do it because we are compelled,’” reveals vocalist Christopher J. Gramlich about the band’s resolve to constantly push forward while also noting they spawned, “Out of plain stubbornness and a refusal to give in, which is what’s required to make music nowadays, especially music of any lasting value.”
Created after “the previous band I was in disintegrated (but) I wasn’t ready to give up, requiring the outlet a band provides to maintain some sort of sanity and purpose,” Vilipend quickly found its conspirators through local channels. With the lineup fixed on himself, bassist/screamer Michael J. Crossley, guitarist/screamer Derek J. Del Vecchio and drummer Adam W. McGillivray, Vilipend was fused and focused on a mission to bastardize influences such as Botch, Coalesce, Deadguy and Buzzov*en into their own explosive, matchless style.
Realizing that vision via churning, monolithic dirges such as “In Desperation We Reach,” “Falling For Friends,” “Wounds Worn As Badges” and more, Gramlich notes that with diverse backgrounds incorporating everything from straightforward punk to overt black metal, Vilipend’s aural invasion is multifaceted. Again however, analyzing internal sonic aspects is the least of the band’s concerns. They’d rather move ahead than scrutinize the here-and-now.
“In our case, what started as perhaps a singular vision has definitely become greater than the sum of the members, with everyone shaping and contributing to a larger whole that has acquired an identity separate than any one member’s input. What that whole means is, of course, up to the listener to interpret. My goals have always been simple: the next rehearsal, the next show, the next new song, the next recording. You take care of the work and pay attention to the little details and the bigger stuff will come and you’ll make progress.”
Looking through the roster of Vilipend shows reads like a case-in-point to Gramlich’s evolutionary vision: performances/tours with revered acts such as Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, Barn Burner, Lords, KEN mode and more assure that while still climbing the treacherous mountain that is metal, Vilipend have avid supporters who see not only dedication but also absolute talent. Still, Gramlich is modest about the band’s ability, chalking any forward motion up to outright dedication.
“We’ve been very lucky to have a chance to play with a number of bigger bands and legends in the underground but you have to stay humble and continue to lock yourself in a small, stinky room and hurt and sweat even harder than the last time if you want to continue to improve. There are so many hands that’ll reach up and try to slow you, to drag you down. You just have to always keep moving forward and worry about what you’re doing, your music. People think being in a band is a party, and maybe it is, for some, but if you want to create something worth meaning, to challenge yourself and others, you need to be shark-like in your pursuit. You have to divest yourself of drama and ‘scene’ politics as best you can and just work: write, rehearse, play. Because that’s why you’re in a band: to make music. Not to get laid, not to be a rock star, not to get drunk and be an idiot but to create something worthwhile in a sea of mediocrity.”
“If you don’t do it out of love or compulsion, if you’re in it for hollow reasons, it’ll show,” he adds, contemplating the band’s arresting style, inspiring live shows and devout fans. “You may be able to fool 15-year-olds into buying shitty T-shirts, but you still have to look in the mirror everyday without vomiting. Our goal as a band is just to make the best music we can, put on the best live show we can and be the best band we’re capable of being. While that may sound cliché, in any band there will be highs and lows and if you don’t believe in your music above all else and what you’re creating, the lows will devour you.”
When it comes to ingurgitation, Vilipend should know. Having been consumed by the cathartic release that comes with live performances, the band has faced everything from the inevitable shitty show to more long-term hurdles such as broken wrists, fingers, toes, scarification from unexpected blunt force trauma by various instruments, shoulders that require surgery, bruises, blood, sweat and tears to virtual paralysis in the name of music. When coupled with the band’s bowel-shaking attack, Vilipend live is an overwhelming experience, especially for the one in traction.
“Yeah…You’re referring to when I broke my back opening for the Dillinger Escape Plan and left the club in an ambulance, spending much of the summer in a brace unable to leave my house or do much of anything,” reflects Gramlich. “I don’t know what compels me, just that I am compelled. You put me on stage with a mic in my hand and we lurch into a song out of feedback and I just go as hard as I can until either we’re done or something breaks, usually mics, stands or P.A.s….I want to hurt myself, to some extent, because I want to push my body as hard as I can to put on the best show we can. I mean, if your music doesn’t inspire you how can it possibly inspire anyone else? ‘It’s not a tragedy dying doing what you love.’”
Still, in his resolutely down-to-earth fashion, Gramlich asserts that despite the fact that the band’s dismissal of personal safety in the pursuit of creativity/exorcising personal demons can be exciting, thanks to poignant themes focusing on life and “love left to rot,” unending passion and the ability to back it with unique arrangements, thunderous grooves and scorching vocals, Vilipend is still about something far deeper than superficial entertainment.
“Have we reinvented the musical wheel for aggressive music? No. But we are trying to challenge ourselves and people a little, make them contemplate what they’re hearing, give them an experience, not just a soundtrack for getting drunk and regretting who they went home with. You want to go to a show and get wasted and party? That’s cool. Mosh it up? Great. We offer something else. Not saying you can’t drink and mosh to Vilipend (go nuts), but we are trying to be more than a soundtrack. We’re trying to engage, challenge and affect people.”