Interview with Leila Abdul-Rauf (Vastum)

Since their first release “Carnal Law”, Vastum (despite their relatively young age) has indeed been one of my all-time favourite and most respected Death Metal bands. Their style of slow old-school Death has a very authentic and honest, macabre and ominous, as well as deep artistic and intelligent feel to it. Despite having interviewed her about a year ago, now with the release of their new album “Hole Below”, I wanted to have a brief chat with Leila Abdul-Rauf (the singer and guitarist of the band) about her current state of affairs. 

Hey Leila! How has the fall begun with you in San Francisco?

It’s off to a very busy start; preparing for the new album release and everything needed for the upcoming tour, and also working on many other music projects. So life is hectic and time is flying. I look forward to the transition between fall and winter, as the light dims, and things quiet down. It’s my favourite time of year, and usually my most inspired time to write music.

The making of Vastum’s previous album “Patricidal Lust” was plagued by different kinds of setbacks and tragedies. How was working on the new album, compared to the last? With only a year between the two albums, did the composition of the songs flow easily on it’s own?

We have certainly endured our share of many setbacks throughout the almost six years of the band’s existence. There was more of a gap between the last two albums than it seems. Patricidal was recorded in early 2012 even thought it wasn’t released until late 2013, due to our engineer Jef who died in a motorcycle accident shortly after we tracked, as well as our guitarist and drummer leaving the band shortly after that. After replacing Kyle on guitar in 2013, Shelby and I essentially became the new songwriting team. At that time we were playing with Necrot drummer, Chad. Then our bassist Luca left town for almost a year, so we were on hiatus and it was just Shelby and I writing songs for Hole Below. That was a difficult period because the band seemed like it was falling apart again. But when Adam rejoined last year, things fell back into place instantly. We went from having a bunch of semi-finished songs to a complete album in just a few months with very sporadic rehearsals. Adam’s focus and dedication had a lot to do with this. Recording Hole Below was a much smoother process than the previous record because there weren’t any interruptions during the recording, and we were more prepared and had a better idea of what we wanted to accomplish.

With an addition of a new talented individual (Shelby, the guitarist) and the drummer, Adam returning to the band, how have the guys fit into Vastum of today? As the band is known for being excellent performers live, will you be touring a lot with Vastum in support of the new album?

Shelby and Adam have been absolutely crucial to the band. Their work ethic have become the lifeblood of Vastum, and it’s an honor to be in a band with them. Shelby is a total shredder, a great and prolific songwriter. Adam is probably the best drummer I’ve ever worked with, among the top 3 at least. I believe all of his drum tracks on Hole Below were nailed in single takes. He’s a total machine. We will be doing a brief east coast tour in November with Trenchgrinder (NYC) in support of the new album.

Vastum New 02
Photo: Al Cummings

The lyrics and artwork of Vastum (as well as another awesome band featuring same members, Acephalix) have been influenced by the work of Georges Bataille in the past, something which apparently comes from the singer and vocalist, Dan. How about the themes of the new album? I’m detecting some kind of ecclesiastic and molestation related themes?

For all of our albums, Dan created the artwork (with the exception of the Patricidal Lust CD which was a painting by Paolo Girardi), and we both wrote the lyrics. On Hole Below, there are themes of oceanic psychology, narcissism and perversion, exploitation of mind and body. I always find it difficult to summarize what my lyrics are about. When I do, I feel I miss the mark. I usually write Vastum lyrics when I’m in a troubled state and I’m trying to make sense of my world – a horror or suffering that I experience personally, or that I witness happening to someone else, on an individual or mass level. In my lyrics, I tend to use sexual themes more symbolically than literally, sexualizing the nonsexual and vice versa.

How are your other projects, for example Hammers of Misfortune, as well as your more ambient stuff (Ionophore, and the one you have been doing by your own name) doing?

Hammers has just finished recording our sixth album which will be out on Metal Blade early next year. I have also been performing live with Cardinal Wyrm (Svart Records) as their bass player/backing vocalist and will be recording some vocals on their new album. We just performed at the Grimposium in Montreal in August, which was a total blast; one of the most unique and fun events I’ve ever been a part of. Nate Verrill of Cardinal Wyrm and I have recently performed my solo material live, and there will be a vinyl release of Insomnia eventually. Ionophore are almost finished with our second album, Sinter Pools, and are still searching for a label to release it. I’ve also contributed some tracks for Jan and Ryan (of Ionophore)’s respective solo projects, Qepe and Souls and Cities. I have developed a fluid approach to collaboration; when I find musicians who I click with creatively, the result can take on many forms and combinations across genres. The traditional band approach (writing and practicing as a group, then recording the songs exactly as written) works for Vastum, but not really for anything else I write for. I find it more limiting as time goes on.

Thanks for this brief talk! Any clear plans for the rest of the year regarding especially Vastum? Also, considering the openminded and creative music scene of San Franscisco, any new local bands we should be keeping an eye on?

Thank you, again. Hole Below officially releases on November 6. The digital version is now up for pre-order through our Bandcamp. The CD and vinyl will be released by 20 Buck Spin, as well as a cassette version released by Sentient Ruin Laboratories. The Vastum/Trenchgrinder tour dates are:

Nov 5 – NYC – The Acheron

Nov 6 – Baltimore, MD – The Sidebar

Nov 7 – Richmond, VA – Strange Matter

Nov 8 – Philadelphia, PA – Second Empire

I haven’t been much of a show goer for years now, so I’m probably not the best person to ask what’s going on in the local metal scene in 2015. However, recently I got to see Death Grave from San Jose and was very impressed. Shelby also has a new band Extremity. Most of the San Francisco metal scene has relocated to Oakland for economic reasons, as I mentioned in the last interview. West Oakland is home to one of the largest practice buildings in the bay area; Vastum, Necrot, Cardinal Wyrm, Dispirit, Scolex, Infinite Waste and hundreds of other bands all rehearse there, and that seems to be the place where a lot of new bay area bands form.



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