“The Darkness is the crust of this band, because there’s nothing but laughter inside of it,” says Vultures at Arms Reach (VAAR) guitarist Travis Howe as he cracks a smile and lights a cigarette. “At the end of the world, we’ll be sitting on the porch, cracking beers and watching it all go down.”
Given that statement, perhaps it’s no surprise that after three years of waiting, fans of the Santa Cruz sludge metal trio finally received a new album—on April Fool’s Day. However, there were no pranks on Wake, just 40 minutes of stripped-to-the-bone, brutal heavy metal, unforgiving in its apocalyptic imagery.
“The joke’s on all of us,” Howe grins.
Recorded by local music engineering wizard Max Zigman, Howe, drummer Brian Rucker and bassist Nate Kotila included elements they’ve used in previous recordings, like ambient static and movie quotes sewn throughout the album. However, unlike their debut full length, 2014’s Colossus, Wake is colder, more abrasive and heavier, especially with the drums.
“[Max] kept having me re-tune the snare drum, because he’s such a stickler for sound,” Rucker remembers. “So it has the same tone throughout the record.”
Wake is a concept album, even if it wasn’t meant to be. The six-song anthology of doom opens with “The Culling,” a track that starts with the sounds of fire scorching the Earth—an ominous warning of what’s to come for the rest of the album. The chorus begins by telling the listener, “You’ll beg to get away,” but switches by the end of the song to “we’re begging you to stay.” Much like the Cenobites in the Hellraiser film series, VAAR has such sights to show you. The album continues down its dark descent with songs like “Cross to Bear” and “Warmonger,” stripping the listener of all hope and warmth.
“This record is a fucking existential nightmare,” Howe says.
“Well, it’s our first recording without a laugh track,” says Rucker.