Unrated V by VAZUM

NOTE: This review includes an interview with Zach of VAZUM. See below.

Detroit’s VAZUM is a band I’ve had my eye on for a while now. Zach Pliska started the band in 2017,
with Emily Sturm joining in 2019. Since then, VAZUM has released three albums and an EP.
Unrated V marks their third full-length release and their second release this year.

Sonically, Unrated V has a fully realized sound. Everything sounds like it is meant to go with everything else. Clever arrangements and intricate songcraft are certainly the bedrock of the album, which also serve as the perfect fit for Sturm’s vocals. You’ll hear what I mean on the song “Lycanthrope”. Pliska’s no slouch as a vocalist either. The duet on Frankenstein Gurl showcases their voices in tandem and gives evidence of the chemistry these two artists share. The synths interact with the guitar parts and themselves in a very eloquent way; a sign of well-rounded musicianship, IMO.

With such song titles as “Lycanthrope”, “Frankenstein Gurl” and “Vampire”, it’s easy to guess their
aesthetic (- a style which they call “Deathgaze”). But there is certainly much more going on here than
your garden-variety deathrock dirge or yet-another darkwave push-button band-in-a-box. The instrumental, “Fantoms” is a cinematic tour of a horror movie nightmare-scape and is something you really have to know what your doing to pull off effectively; especially in the darker musical world.

And they’re not afraid to change gears. “Wytch Tech” has a decidedly more danceable approach and is surprisingly minimal compared to the songs leading up to it. “Summon Her”, another instrumental, is rhythmic clangy-ness in the style of old-school industrial. In fact, the entire latter half of this album is instrumental. VAZUM takes full advantage of this to explore sonic possibilities not always called for in 3 1/2 minute radio-friendly crowd pleasers.

All in all, I can’t say enough good things about Unrated V. It had me already looking forward to the next release; which, conveniently, was released on December 31st, 2021; the double single, “Gallows”.

Zach was kind enough to take some time with us and do an interview via text. Here it is…

Who are your influences and what did you take away from those artists?

Smashing Pumpkins had a big impact on me from when I was 10 years old and served as a gateway to other genres like classic rock, shoegaze, new wave, goth, progrock and jazz drumming. Emily is really into Gary Numan, Christian Death and Queens of the Stone Age. She naturally brings elements of new wave, deathrock and desert stoner rock into her songwriting. Lately we’ve been influenced by more atmospheric groups like Cranes and Miranda Sex Garden and listening to their production techniques.

I get a cinematic feel from your music. Do you draw inspiration from sources outside of music, per se?

Emily and I are both visual people and associate images with music. Emily is a horror and sci-fi film expert. She is strongly influenced by Dario Argento (Suspiria) and Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) with The Thing and Alien being in her top five. She is also really into the aesthetics and soundtracks of the video games Silent Hill and Bloodborne. Emily has a background in jewelry and costumes which she incorporates into our videos.

What’s next for VAZUM? How are you forming/adapting your plans in the age of COVID?

The pandemic set the stage for the path we’re currently on which is writing, recording and releasing a steady stream of music and videos. Before the pandemic there were a lot of distractions. I was playing drums in multiple bands and I didn’t take recording or producing seriously. We’re currently recording a new single called Thief which is about energy vampires. Thief will be on our next album along with our previous single, Gallows. We’re doing electronic versions of the songs too as we go along.

Please describe a typical day in the studio with VAZUM. What is the chemistry like?

We’re fortunate to have a good home studio set-up so it’s pretty relaxed. It’s nice being able to wake up on a Saturday morning, brew some coffee and get to work on a mix or overdubs. Recording and producing can be a long and tedious process but we are committed to seeing it through to completion. When we’re working on a new song we’ll usually play through it a bunch of times until we’re comfortable then begin tracking each instrument individually. Emily and I understand each other pretty well. We can learn and play a song without saying a word. We just feed off each other. I can sense when she’s going to a change and vice versa. I’m in the studio everyday working on something. I like experimenting with my gear. I mostly use hardware for compression, reverb and effects instead of plug-ins. On Unrated V we ended up using a Dark Glass distortion pedal on a lot of tracks and it worked out really well.

What is your take on the current state of the dark music “scene”? (Impressions, opinions, funny thoughts, etc.)

I think the music industry as a whole would benefit from toning down the nostalgia and giving new artists a chance. When a tour announcement from an artist that’s been around for 40 years is the biggest news story of the week, or the popular bands of the day all sound alike, I shake my head. The music industry is relying on nostalgia acts to keep itself afloat which is short sighted and counterproductive. And I think people are sick of it. Fortunately there are underground outlets supporting independent artists. We are very appreciative of the DJ’s that play our music and the websites that share our videos or write reviews. There is a healthy network of artists, DJ’s, bloggers, youtubers and playlisters all keeping the dark scene alive. I wish there were more mainstream outlets, but we will infiltrate those in time. Most independent artists seem to share a common belief structure and are supportive of one another. I’m optimistic about the future. As messed up as the music industry is, there are a lot of advantages at our fingertips. Being able to record, produce, market and promote from home is a huge advantage. The technology really does place the power back into the hands of the people.