Metal fans are no strangers to the extreme. We willingly listen to abrasive, challenging music and deride others for their unwillingness to do the same. However, most metalheads still cling to the vestigial limbs of traditional song structures and riffing, and when confronted with something as unconventional and imposing as Vmthanaachth‘s Fit Secundum Regulam, most would turn away and write off the experiment in contemporary classical music as pure noise, a jibe ironically lobbed at the metal we all know and love by indie and pop fans. But the Fort Worth ensemble’s avant-garde take on musical composition is so dense, so foreboding, and so ingenious that it warrants more than a casual dismissal or a haphazard single examination. So, dauntless connoisseurs of sonic extremity, I charge you to sit down for a spell of concentrated listening and take this impenetrable monstrosity known as Fit Secundum Regulam for a spin.
Vmthanaachth is the abominable offspring of four young composer-performers. Jaryth Webber and Blake Turner together account for the electric guitar, piano, keyboard, percussion, tenor saxophone, clarinet, and cello arrangements on the album, while Kristi Holstein and Jazym Barajas-Trujillo lend their expert skills on viola/violin and bassoon to the composition, respectively. If that pedigree itself isn’t enough to give you a taste of the wide array of pieces forming this chimerical puzzle, the quartet also enlisted the University of Texas at Arlington Symphony Orchestra to aid in the recording. The end result is a sprawling morass of intricate instrumental layers that overwhelms, thrills, and engrosses.
It’s difficult to find words to describe such an intimidating piece of music, split into three distinct tracks, but I fully believe that was the artists’ intent. It may be best, then, to analyze this work in both a microscopic and macroscopic view. Perhaps that will help us gain some sense of the thing.
At a detailed, street-level view, the performance on this album is stellar, harrowing, and entrancing. In each of the three tracks, you may pick up a loose thread of a single instrument and follow it through the course of the piece, only to find yourself lost further in the cyclopean construct. In the first track, “For the End of the Mother of Abominations,” I found myself lured in by the screeching violin work around 4:50 that provides a mounting contrast to the suffocating voice of the other instruments. The piano work in second track “At the Mouth of Urborg/Coruscating Bicarbonate Skeuomorph” recalls Igor Stravinsky‘s Rite of Spring and acts as a focal point leading us gently down into the Daeadalus quartet’s maze to be sacrificial lambs. Final track “Dark Wiccan” starts out with a deeply unsettling, almost wet-sounding percussive performance that reminds me of the way waterphones are used in horror movie soundtracks to raise dramatic tension to a fever pitch. Still, these few trace elements are mere cogs in the machine, each but one piece of melody or counterpoint in a seething mass, and after days of poring over each individual composition, I find myself only marginally closer to some semblance of truth or understanding.
On a macroscopic, high-level view, Fit Secundum Regulam succeeds completely at linking the many unique timbres it utilizes into one startlingly disarming tone. Each of the long tracks is a dense edifice of near fetishistic quality; the piece as a whole evokes the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon some submerged, profane structure erected by tribes as an invocation of eldritch horror. The mood created by the meshing of the numerous parts is continuously alarming and thoroughly frightening. Though it is not metal in the strict sense of the word, comparisons to the atmosphere created by Ævangelist or Abyssal are not unwarranted. The peerless performance on display here remains incomparable and far more challenging, though. But that is entirely the point, and the music loses nothing for its complexity, but rather gains your intention through the explicit order that this is something that must be examined and meditated upon before it will bequeath its arcane secrets.
I’ve wrestled with this minotaur for weeks, yet I still feel inadequate for fully capturing its nuance and appeal in words. Therefore, please allow me to give the floor to Christian and Stockhausen for their excellent analysis.
Christian: I praised Ehnahre’s last album Douve for just about entirely dropping any of the identifiably metal DNA that once permeated their sound. Had they truly gone all the way, they may have ended up at something like Vmthanaachth’s Fit Secundum Regulam: an album on which the influence of extreme metal is clear in spite of the fact none of the usual trappings make appearances. Percussion is kept to a bare minimum, and the focus seems to be more on dense textures than any discernible riffs. It’s territory just barely explored by metal’s most outré, but Vmthanaachth dive right in, crafting a dark, compelling work of art in the process.
Stockhausen: It’s hard to know where to begin with Vmthanaachth, and even more difficult to sum up what they do. Their modern brand of contemporary art music is on full, beautifully varied display on Fit Secundum Regulam. Track 1 builds to a tense, nearly impenetrable mass of reverb, distortion, drone, and stuttering, screeching string instrumentation not unlike Penderecki at his most disturbing. While not dissatisfying, the one-dimensionality left me a little underwhelmed. Track 2, however, truly solidifies their efforts in the wonderful world of 20th century creativity. The opening piano section strikes me as a product of Debussy getting drunk with Stravinsky, before they both do their best Boulez impression once the magnificent cello solo enters. The repeated Eb that repeatedly shows up in the piano part provides a wonderfully haunting focal point through the first half of the track. When the dense, choking atmosphere fully kicks in during the final third, I swear I can still hear those Eb’s in the back of my mind. Track 3 closes the the monster of a work with a full nose dive into aleatoric madness, with welcomed contributions from some stellar wind players. The saxophone and bassoon work were especially appreciated as they added to the well-established string sonority. The textures and soundscapes that arise are dissonant, uncomfortable, varied, and altogether excellent. This style of music has been an impassable barrier for many since the early to mid 1900s, so it was only fitting for one of the performers to give a nod to Stravinsky by quoting the opening melody to The Rite of Spring shortly past the 12 minute mark. This is not an easily digestible work, but it’s more than worth the challenge when approached with an open mind. It also helps to be a gigantic dork
Fit Secundum Regulam is a remarkably challenging listen, one that will easily test the patience of even the most jaded metalheads. It’s also a work of conviction, as the majority of all proceeds from sales on Vmthanaachth’s Bandcamp page will be applied to various benefits, including a fund for the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and a donation to the Protective Animal League. Beneath its preternatural complexity and inhuman performance, then, beats a human heart. Perhaps this compassion is what fuels the passion on display here, rendering the otherworldly work something humanly comprehensible after all.