Vertigod: Victory in Silence

Kneel down

Vertigod ain’t exactly benevolent

At Vertigod shows, girls punch each other in the face. At least that was the reported highlight after the band’s March 4 [2006, when this originally ran] show at the Alehouse, which also featured about 170 other kind souls beating each other senseless in a pit the club staff didn’t have a prayer of keeping tame even if they wanted to.

Conventional wisdom might tell you that shows like these are similar to that old hockey joke: People show up for a fight and a concert breaks out. But that would be ignorant of the dynamics at work. At a bad hardcore/punk show, you’ll see two guys swirling fists at themselves, making a case for a check-in at the local looney bin, while the rest of the crowd stands around drinking beer. With a good band, like Vertigod, the crowd is simply compelled to participate. The music inspires a certain energy that’s impossible to resist.

It’s not that different from other genres. With indie rock, you compulsively nod your head. With jam, you kind of shake your ass and wiggle your arms around at your sides. With hardcore, you launch yourself into other people and generally flail yourself about with little regard for the safety of others. Fans joyously evaluate a recent show by the amount of bloody faces and missing teeth, yet are generally some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. They just like to wear black and listen to music with lyrics like: “Eraser/ Killing yourself/ Pull the fucking trigger/ Watch the blood hit the wall.”

That’s from Vertigod’s “1000 Pardons,” off their debut full-length, Victory in Silence. Frontman Shawn Adams dips his normally tenor scream low: “No more innocence/ No more subtlety.” No, there’s not a lot of subtlety here. Vertigod are loud, aggressive, and menacing with a genuine air of desperation and disgust. For a screamer/growler, Adams does a good job of enunciating so you can actually make out a lot of the vocals. They’re not what you’d call witty. More like just mean.

“Fuck the system/ Burn it down.”

Though Vertigod play songs that date back to their formation in 2003, all of the lyrics have been rewritten since Adams came on board in early 2005. In fact, the final three songs on their new eight-song disc were included on their three-song 2004 maxi-single, MCCCXXXVI. “Moment of Clarity” kept its title. “The Path” has become “System Addict,” the tune from which the above lyric was taken, and “Two Feet Deeper” is now “Subject of Change.”

Adams, who joined just after new bassist Josh McVane (drummer Mark Sayer’s old bandmate in Rare Form), brings interesting twists to the recording studio, too. On the record’s opening “Volatile” and throughout, Adams lends multiple vocal tracks; sometimes, if you can believe, harmonizing his growls and screams, other times singing his part and then pushing himself aside with a primordial bellow.

“We basically gave him free reign once we got in [the studio],” Sayer says, noting that they’re working on replicating the backup vocals live. He says they recorded much of the disc virtually live with Steve Drown, at the Studio, which can be more than a little difficult with the kind of mathematical, highly technical music Vertigod play, complete with frequent all-stops and time-signature changes.

Plus, they can’t exactly fall into a verse-chorus-verse rhythm. Vertigod seem to write in phrases, revisiting pieces of songs at later points but never establishing what you’d call a pattern. “There’s structure, but it’s almost anti-structure,” says Sayer, “if that makes any sense. It keeps our sound fresh, not coming into the same thing all the time.”

Because of the genre’s intensity, some bands will throw 25 or more minute-plus songs onto one album. Vertigod have gone the other way, averaging more than four minutes, though each song seems to contain as many as four other songs. Pauses, back-steps, fast-without-sounding-fast passages, slow-without-sounding-slow passages, and glimpses of everything from AC/DC to the Phantom of the Opera populate tunes that are impossible to predict.

Long-time dual guitarists Andy Fournier and Jeff Staggs provide all the flare, comfortable in such a tight rhythm section that they can shift easily from being in lock-step with staccato crunches to breaking off a mid-song descending guitar lick, as in “System,” that drops two full octaves, note by note, in the span of two seconds, like sunshine peeking through the clouds.

On the album’s most interesting turn, “Towing the Line Between Insanity and Genius,” the guitars sour after Adams’ promise, “I can set you free.” The song becomes a gothic carnival, an organ played by guest Erik Winter coming in to cement the feeling. Then it speeds up for a finish that seems well separated from the goth, more aggressive, “You lied you fucker/ You said the pain would go away.”

Vertigod demand an honest listen and never hide their intentions. Is it sometimes painful? You bet.