Vexed (adj,) - 1) annoyed, irritated or distressed. 2) Much debated, discussed or disputed.
One listen to Hertfordshire bruisers Vexed’s debut album Culling Culture clearly shows that their namesake does not do justice to them. Annoyed? Irritated? Try incensed. Furious. Distressed? If you’re one of those that the band takes aim at on any of the eleven cuts here, you should be.
Culling Culture takes its name from ‘cancel culture’ but brings in a much more personal angle; rather than seeking to cancel individuals in the public sphere, it instead focuses on personal struggle and betterment. It takes aim at people who drag you down and offer only negativity that need to be culled from your life.
An uncompromising exercise in aural brutality, Culling Culture is a no-holds-barred ride from the very first scream that rips from vocalist Megan Targett’s throat right through to the final notes ringing out. Although we start with ambience on ‘Ignorant’, it’s one that engenders a sense of unease that’s quickly proven right when it hits with all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the cranium. It’s only 52 seconds long but it sets the scene for the first full track here.
‘Hideous’ is - well, hideous, but in the best kind of way and it’s a beauty of an opener. From the first bark of “All I see is / Hideous”, the song kicks into gear immediately and doesn’t let up. Even when there’s a switch to cleaner sung vocals, they retain significant bite and venom. While it encapsulates one part of Vexed’s sound neatly - their crushing heaviness - it doesn’t do their full sonic palette justice. They’re capable of painting with more than just breakdowns and vicious roars. ‘Narcissist’ and ‘Lazarus’ both showcase hip-hop influences in the rapid-fire flows Megan delivers her lyrics with, still retaining her righteous roar.
One of the things that sets Vexed apart from contemporaries, besides the angular, crushing weight of the riffs, is their use of synths to create atmosphere. Listen to the breakdowns in ‘Misery’ or the opening to ‘Weaponise’; there’s an eerie, atmospheric quality to them that adds an extra dimension to their sound and fleshes it out. It means there’s a sense of space, that there doesn’t always have to be complexity for the sake of it.
Perhaps paradoxically, the beauty of Culling Culture lies in its ugliness and in its willingness to confront the ugliest aspects of our lives - the people that prevent us from being happy, hold us back or in the worst cases, are abusive either emotionally or physically. Being written from such a personal perspective with such characteristic bluntness, it’s a deeply relatable album. This was always the intention; it’s a cathartic experience for all involved and now for the listener, too.
Make no bones about it - this is an exercise in uncompromising brutality and one that refuses to back down. Lines like “Am I the only person here / Who isn’t falling for your tears? / No amount of nudity / Can hide the ugliness beneath” on ‘Hideous’ take aim at emotional abusers, while ‘Purity’ is a call to arms to help yourself and look out for number one; ““Be your own salvation / Be your own saviour / Be the change that you so desperately pray for / Be your own salvation”.
It all adds up to an album that while vicious, blunt and deliriously heavy, does as much building up as it does breakdowns. A raw, honest exercise in emotional catharsis and finding inner strength, Culling Culture marks Vexed out as one of the most promising bands in the UK’s burgeoning metal scene and when they do blow up - and with an album this good, they deserve to - nobody should be vexed as to why.
Culling Culture is out May 21st via Napalm Records
You can pre-order the album here