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Vulnerable: Stander

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

This LP, showcasing thirty-five minutes of Chicago’s finest metal mania, should be enough to assure any passers-by that Stander mean business, and they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty while they’re at it. Feeling a bit like Black Country, New Road’s ugly step-sister; progressive rock, heavy metal rampages and even the blues get a shout-out as influences on this LP.

Comprising of trio musicians Mike Boyd (guitar), Derek Shlepr (bass) and Stephen Waller (drums), they hail from Chicago’s experimental and heavy metal scene, influences which are worn proudly on their sleeve here. Giving us a purely instrumental take on the genre, the lack of scream-singing or lyrics about eye-gouging/ blood-letting (you know, the usual) takes this music down some unfamiliar territory, showing us just how dark and decrepit a three-piece unit can be.

Opening track Wither starts with guitar and drum rustles before an avalanche of sound cascades down on below. Aside from being an evocative opener, it really says it all about this LP; moments of quiet must always give way to something more violent, and it never needs to make sense to be believed.

Winding abstract structures and sudden time changes give it all a certain air of mystery. It’s never clear what the intentions behind the music are, with them just following where the riffs lead, but it feels like there’s an internal message somewhere, just waiting to be received. Moments like the processional stately chords in the middle of Wither imply something deeper and more organised, with a certain ritualistic intensity, that's more than the noise this pretends to be.

Assuming the album art is a number of people being buried alive in darkness (which is what I imagine … say what you will), then it’s very similar to how their music feels. Frozen River especially gives the feeling of being overwhelmed by sheer exhaustion, with continuous waves of sound engulfing you. The drums are deflated as they pound away, only able to mark one beat at a time, crashing each time they do. The use of distortion keeps things always heavy, always dirty. Patience makes the most of the guitars’ lower frequencies as the drums keep crashing into that hi-hat, making a sound that’s never direct or fully clear, instead being murky and hard-edged. Procession up the Tower is as in-your-face as it gets, giving us machine-gun drums and frenetic bass energy that’s destined to burn out any second.

This was always too experimental to be just straight-forward heavy metal. The lack of vocals exposes the guitar riffs to our utmost attention, feeling almost bluesy in their deliberate and laid-back approach. Winding arpeggiated guitar melodies that deliberately take their time are a main feature, robotically making their way through the textures of feedback and pure grit. The drums know how to give them a bit of gravitas, holding back and striking when it’s most apparent to do so. Aberrant has this in spades, especially when the music seems to be winding down; too much metal for one day as the blues begin to take over.

This album is an interesting take on the metal genre. It’s an unusual choice to forego vocals and concentrate on a 3-piece arrangement, but I think they pull it off. The overall effect enhances some of the grittier aspects of the genre, such as blues music and the progressive-rock inklings that make the tunes go round. If you fancy giving three lads from Chicago half an hour, by all means, give this a play. A bit of experimental metal never hurt anyone anyway.

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