There are some genres where it’s difficult to talk about them at length. For everything about pop-punk or metalcore that’s easy to criticise, they’re both profoundly boring genres to talk about, mostly because, apart from a few examples that come around every so often, band after band will embody the same trope that you can only say so much about before it just gets redundant. And while most people would presume them to rest at the total opposite end of the spectrum, it’s the same with stoner-rock and psychedelic rock. There are very cut-and-dry formulas that each of those genres tend to adhere to, especially in their modern incarnations, and apart from genre completionists who can cycle through extensive discographies without issue, there’s only so much that’s possible to take in. So when Vaureen come along, a band who identify and have been described as stoner-rock and psychedelic rock, to see comparisons to the likes of The Breeders and Fugazi arise is certainly enough to take interest. Even more interesting are the comparisons to Chelsea Wolfe, an artist who’s gone criminally underrated outside of black-metal and avant-garde scenes, and whose influence could potentially make Vaureen an incredibly exciting prospect indeed.
And for a nice change of pace, it’s fairly easy to pick up where each of these individual comparisons come from on Extraterra; there’s the distinctly ‘90s-inspired fuzziness of The Breeders, the rougher, homegrown production style of Fugazi, and, most prominently, the stalking, portentous darkness that’s become such a mainstay in Chelsea Wolfe’s work, as well as what’s formulated her primary appeal. And while that would seem to make for the sort of genre-transcending masterwork to elevate Vaureen into the upper echelons of new bands, that’s not really the case. Other than the darkness which is deeply rooted in Vaureen’s formula, these feel more like augmentations to another hefty dose of shoegaze and stoner-rock that really isn’t deviating from the norm, and can leave Extraterra simply drifting by when it should be hitting all the harder. What’s even more noticeable is that this only really comes in at a certain moment, namely towards the halfway point where the tracks begin to be drawn out even further to presumably compensate for where any greater ideas begin to fall away. It’s not exclusively the case as a track like the haunting Ouroboros shows, but the likes of Secret and Dig A Hole couldn’t stick closer to a rote stoner-rock framework if they tried, dragging themselves along with little structure and relying on sheer heft and scorched instrumentation to salvage any sort of appeal.
It’s not as if that can’t work either; with a seismic guitar tone that feels all the heavier thanks to the scale of everything, and Andrea Horne’s striking howls that feel like the natural counterbalance to the esoteric lyrics, the skills are there, but are rarely used consistently enough to matter. It’s a shame too, because at their best, there’s such a primal power to Vaureen that could really be something special if fostered in the right manner, like on the crushing skulk of Stare Into The Sun, or Forms Beyond My Own’s forays into flat-out doom territory that capture a pitch-black dread almost perfectly. In terms of the most base form of execution, Extraterra has the smoky mysticism coupled with iron-hewn power of a band like Vodun at their best, as well as the ability to blend in further-reaching sounds and styles to make for some truly great moments.
But also just like Vodun earlier this year, Vaureen aren’t making the most of what they have, and as such, Extraterra feels decidedly less exciting than it should be. It’s not bad for a heavier, more expansive stoner-rock album, but when the tools are there for it to be so much more than that, it can feel like a half-measure, or like Vaureen are playing it a bit too safely when they really don’t need to. And it’s hard to hold it against them at this stage – this is only their debut, after all, and hopefully when they find their feet they’ll have more to offer – but the glimpses shown here hint at abilities that greatly surpass those on show here. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on them though, if only to see in what capacity those abilities will materialise in the future.
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Vodun, Turbowolf
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Extraterra’ by Vaureen is released on 26th October on Rising Pulse Records.