by Niklas Göransson
Based in Portland, Oregon, American record label Vrasubatlat is an amalgamation of one man’s musical, aesthetic. and conceptual obsessions. The operation’s maniacally creative proprietor, R, explains the mythos behind his madness.
– Introducing the label is a bit difficult without going down the typical route of presenting it as some kind of ’collective’ but, essentially, I guess that’s what it is. After having toyed with the idea of starting a few bands in a somewhat similar vein, M and I founded Vrasubatlat in early 2015. From then on, we hit the ground running – writing tonnes of new material for an entire array of projects. The goal was quite simple yet seemingly difficult to achieve: to create a world of artists revolving around central themes and cohesive aesthetics. There were no intentions of making something ’artistic’ or unique, just a strong focus of which absence in modern metal has been a constant source of frustration. Perhaps it’s some neurotic inhibition of mine but everything has to ’make sense’ to me or I want no part of it, this even includes something as petty as band membership as I really only want to work with people who share my visions and desires which should shine through in their other work as well as with Vrasubatlat.
I think what R means is that musicians he associates himself with are not allowed to be in embarrassing side-projects. He adds that the fundamentals lie in a firm respect and veneration for classic metal and punk ethos, while still attempting to push some sort of boundaries.
– Although, at this point it seems we’re fairly dialled-in with what constitutes Vrasubatlat’s sound and aesthetic. We’ve progressed far beyond being a mere conduit for worship of other bands, which is sort of what it felt like in the beginning. Whereas M and I started the label as a joint effort, I’ve come to work on it by myself to an increasing extent – at least as far as logistics and operations go. We started by exclusively doing tape releases but have since grown into pressing vinyl and limited CD runs with other labels, primarily Invictus Productions. I became frustrated working with most supposedly ’DIY’ outfits who showed an interest in releasing our material – particularly with the early TRIUMVIR FOUL – and realised that using Vrasubatlat as our sole releasing body made far more sense, not just logistically but also in terms of presentation and direction.
Scrutinising the bands on said label, I could identify R as being personally involved in eight out of them.
– Yes, I play in most Vrasubatlat projects. Artistic control is very important and, therefore, rather than entrusting that task to anyone else I’d rather write it myself and keep everything focused. Our membership has fluctuated but, usually, the people involved are there for a specific purpose during a finite period of time. The only consistent member besides myself has been M, who I trust to understand what we’re trying to accomplish.
Investigating Vrasubatlat activities, there is indeed a potent sense of DIY worship stemming from both conduct and aesthetics. It’s interesting to note how R’s visual interpretation of the concept seems to resemble noise and punk culture more than traditional metal.
– Growing up, I always enjoyed the aesthetics and sounds of raw d-beat, noise rock and then eventually black metal. There’s something charming and genuine about its ability to capture youthful anger and irreverence, yet still managing to be timeless. Look at G.I.S.M.’s “Detestation” at any age and it’ll always look great and, for whatever reason, it almost doesn’t matter what the music sounds like, you still respect it… and if not, then don’t fucking get involved with this shit. I guess the major turning point for me at a young age was discovering bands fusing punk aesthetics with raw black metal: BONE AWL, CIRRHUS, and more obscure picks like RAW MOON or ARNAUT PAVLE. To me, it seemed like the pinnacle of all music I’d discovered up until that point. Such bands carried the rage and intensity I loved about black metal yet had more of a menacing and creepy sound, as if some shitbag ex-con wrote it after his shift at the convenience store. In addition to this, acts like RIDE FOR REVENGE, NUCLEAR DEATH, TEITANBLOOD, and THE HAUNTING PRESENCE also played a big role in bridging the gap between punk and metal art – ultimately shaping a lot of the sonic spectrum which helped make Vrasubatlat‘s span what it is.
As for the noise legacy, while minor elements of actual sound have also played a role in how they shaped the label, its primary influence has been over artwork.
– To me personally, a lot of noise is fucking boring. Say what you want in order to justify it in an academic sense but there’s a lot of masturbation I can’t stand. However, when that shit is good it’s really good and I like to incorporate those elements in ways befitting our music. These days, there seems to be a wave of bands attempting this but generally it always seems as if the music and noise aspects were too divided to really merge into a cohesive product – ultimately just coming off as trying too hard in forcing two sounds together. I don’t know if I can say we’re doing it right but we’re trying our best to find that ultimately hellish middle-ground between the two. Aural punishment via harsh noise can be great but I love having it juxtaposed with some vicious stomping riff you just wanna slam a beer to; that’s the sweet spot. This has nothing to do with coming off as ’interesting’ or being elitist for the sake of elitism, it’s about making ugly-ass music that makes me want to grind my teeth, get wasted, or fuck.
Which projects would you describe as your main bands?
– That’s a difficult question since with every new release I feel some sort of stronger attachment to the project at hand… until another one comes along. However, based on listener response or which projects feel more ’grandiose’ or whatever, I’d say the current ’main’ ones are probably TRIUMVIR FOUL, UŠKUMGALLU, and ADZALAAN. Those projects seem to carry the most apparent focus of those involved, I guess. In the tier below that you have SERUM DREG, UTZALU and DAGGER LUST – each carrying their own weight but still a bit stranger than the first three. And after that we have PISSBLOOD, ANTEINFERNO, FILTH COLUMN and MRÓZ; all of which belong to the oddball realms of the VT roster.
One project that’s gone unmentioned thus far is URZEIT – I listened to the 2016 debut, “Anmoksha”, a few times while researching this article.
– Funny that you should mention URZEIT, since I’ve tried my best to clarify that it isn’t a Vrasubatlat project. Going back to the cohesion element I like to focus on – while having definitely served as a segue to founding the label, I wanted to keep the two entities separate. Since URZEIT existed for years before Vrasubatlat was even founded, lumping it in with the remaining roster simply because M and myself were or are in it would’ve felt a little clunky. I want everything Vrasubatlat does to be very intentional and with clear purpose. I’m honestly not quite sure what the status of URZEIT is but I still love the project and would like to do it again someday.
Are there any releases you’re especially proud of?
– I’d probably say the first TRIUMVIR FOUL LP and “Rotten Limbs in Dreams of Blood” (2016) by UŠKUMGALLU. The former record took us the most time to write out of all of our releases and also felt like the biggest gamble out of everything we’d done by then. Before that, M and I had only been recording demos and never before tackled the process of writing an entire LP. We had no idea how the fucking thing would sound and I didn’t think any of it would come together the way I’d envisioned. Holding the final product in hand was a nice affirmation that we could pull off the sound and image we wanted. From then on out we turned up the pace by streamlining our writing and recording process, which led to “Rotten Limbs…”. That record was written within a very short amount of time during a particularly weird phase of my life – one that’s cryptically visited on the UTZALU record “Loins of Repentance”. I think M and I wrote the whole thing in a day and then recorded it in one long session. It’s a very strange album and I don’t think any other VT release really touches that one as far as something truly stand-alone and signature for the label. Seeing as how Vrasubatlat’s first output was the UŠKUMGALLU demo, it felt symbolic that the project’s debut ended up as our tenth release.
Besides the label, numerous musical projects and – if I understood him correctly – a full-time career in a knowledge profession to boot, R also organises a festival called Torment is Flesh. I noticed that out of the twenty-four bands from the 2018 line-up, he plays in seven of them. The man must either be wired differently from most people or maintain a financially ruinous amphetamine habit.
– I don’t know if I’m wired differently or simply love doing this and will do whatever it takes to make things happen. Having said that, I’ll hopefully only be performing twice at next year’s edition. Torment is Flesh first started over a conversation I had with a local colleague who runs the Unseen Force label. We first discussed doing a smaller thing, which then snowballed into a three-day festival with acts from all over North America. The line-up featured Vrasubatlat acts PISSBLOOD, UTZALU, DAGGER LUST, TRIUMVIR FOUL, ADZALAAN, and UŠKUMGALLU; all of which I perform with in some capacity. I also did vocals for black metal act SKÁPHE, which actually did require taking some MDMA since it was the final set of the last festival night and probably my favourite performance of the weekend. I couldn’t do shit for the next two days following the damn thing though, ha! Alex Poole of SKÁPHE and CHAOS MOON, who you interviewed before, is not only a good friend of mine but probably one of the most interesting musicians in modern black metal. Put simply, he ’gets it’ and writes some of the craziest riffing I’ve ever seen in person. We’ve booked most of Torment is Flesh Vol. 2 which will now not only be backed by Vrasubatlat and Unseen Force but also Blud Auk – our kindred brothers from Victoria, BC – who’ll be bringing along with them acts such as METHGOAT and HUMAN AGONY.
R previously mentioned to me a veritable plethora of obscure literature and films which have served as inspiration for several of his music projects. I don’t recall ever speaking to a musician so heavily influenced by fictional art in any format. Nor do I understand how he has time to even watch television, let alone read books. Out of everything R rattled off, I was only familiar with Eraserhead, Begotten, and of course various works of David Lynch.
– Note that these influences aren’t exclusive either. Much of the Vrasubatlat style, sound and philosophy – for lack of better word – is something like a fusion of personal experience, art, and literature as well as general homages to metal, punk and noise ethos. To clarify for readers, what I mentioned was the naturalist writings of Emile Zola, perverse Japanese horror like Blind Beast and Tetsuo: The Iron Man, then Begotten and the atmosphere of David Lynch. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a film-buff but I like what I’ve seen, which as mentioned is all over the place; everything pieced together is what constitutes the Vrasubatlat ’universe’ or whatever the hell you want to call it.
For example, he mentions DAGGER LUST – a kind of grindcore and black metal hybrid incorporating ear-raping elements of power electronics – as a project which has more of a sexual focus. For conceptual inspiration, he turned to the aforementioned Blind Beast.
– I wanted to make DAGGER LUST stand-alone and avoid the typical pitfalls of porn-grind or anything like that and instead tap into something a bit more holistic and horrifying. Blind Beast tells the bizarre tale of this blind sculptor who kidnaps a model and forces her to engage in sadomasochistic mind-games. They eventually succumb to some animalistic sexual disgust which gets as crazy as you can imagine. I watched that movie shortly after smoking DMT back when I was in college and it really stuck with me. Same with Tetsuo, which you should see if you haven’t. It is much more of a ’classic’ than Blind Beast but maybe sit down, smoke some DMT and watch those afterwards if you want to get in a similar headspace. The Lynchian elements definitely play their part in FILTH COLUMN, creating a more spacial atmosphere that’s very cold and surreal – as if you’re inside the machinery of someone’s sad, pathetic mind.
R says he doesn’t really know how to elaborate on the importance of these things but, over the years, they’ve formed the basis of what he enjoys watching, reading, and listening to.
– This also explains why I waited until I was nearly twenty-five years old to start Vrasubatlat. I wouldn’t trust my eighteen or twenty-year-old self to make anything worth shit as far as a label goes so I held off until I felt more aware of what we wanted to accomplish. After exploring everything, I felt as if we could do what we’re talking about now – not just in art but life in general. I’m still proud of the very first release we did and feel like its sound and art still matches the purpose of what the fuck this label is about, or at least what we think it’s about. Precisely what that might be is something I still struggle to articulate, or at least put in the words I want. Which is good, I guess.
Could it be your ability to heavily draw from what you watch and read that explains your near-psychotic musical productivity?
– Drawing from these influences isn’t entirely intentional and I’m not sure how this has affected what you call our ’near-psychotic musical productivity’. That might just come from my own anxious nature and drive to keep creating – especially while I’m still young. I don’t want to miss out on the years where this comes naturally and then be left desperately seeking to revive it years from now. I like the idea of Vrasubatlat having an expiration date and when it’s over, we can just end it naturally. Besides, very few movies have stirred me to the point where I’d say they are a direct influence. I guess some noteworthy scenes would be the metaphorical impregnation that opens Eraserhead, as well as the rape sequence in Irréversible, both of which always struck a chord when I was young and has played a part in wanting to keep everything very dark for us.
R mentioned in an email that he has little interest in delving too deeply into academic discourse but would rather engage with his ’real life depravity and failure’. In an interview with Black Metal & Brews, he described Vrasubatlat as a ’uniform conduit for expressing self-hatred, shame, suicide, and destruction’. This will have to be explained – what on earth would that be good for? Even if one insists on being taken seriously as ’evil’, I can’t for the life of me understand why failure and shame would be desirable outcomes. R strikes me as a reasonably driven and entrepreneurial young fellow so, surely, this must be a gimmick. Perhaps I’m seeing this outside of some manner of greater context but it sounds absolutely ridiculous to me.
– Haha! That’s fair enough. Sure, I can look at myself through accomplishments but, deep down inside, everyone has shit they hate but haven’t been able to deal with – or something they’ve done but never really looked someone straight in the eye and admitted. In day-to-day life you’ll never talk about it, even in your most intimate moments, but since Vrasubatlat is so detached from real life it gives me an opportunity to explore such matters. Black metal is very prone to absolutism, so why not use it in a way that’s at least somewhat holistic? Having said that, I do appreciate a good ignorant-ass record with a goat sodomizing something on the cover! I guess the goal is to focus on themes or elements that feel natural to myself but to also steer clear of the typical metal clichés and avoid being self-indulgent and fucking sappy like all this social media era self-discovery shit. I don’t really want approval or support from anyone in some, ’look at how I overcame my anxiety with this fifty-two-minute boring-ass black metal record!’ Fuck that. There are parts of myself I’m frustrated with and maybe even hate but I’ll never use Vrasubatlat for garnering some form of pity. So, in that sense it’s enjoyable to glorify failure, shame and similar themes because they feel more genuine. No ulterior motives, no bullshit of wanting to fit in, it just is what it is: hateful and raw music written by a couple of drunken fuck-ups.