Album: Volume 4: Numb the Ache
Music—especially heavy and/or emotional music—is a common mechanism to cope with personal tragedies and traumas. One would argue it’s so common because it also happens to be a damn good tool to help process, relate to and evolve from scarring and damaging experiences that one accumulates with age. What doesn’t get as much press is the same notion that, if you’re lucky, the same bands will grow and evolve with you, morphing sounds and styles and growing in content to match the growth you undergo from your past experiences—and, in turn, grown enough to match the damaging experiences that take over as youth transitions into adulthood.
VCTMS are one of those bands.
From their primal, rage-fueled debut laden with wonton misanthropy, Sickness, Volume 1 through the crazed, introspective frenzy of Volume 2: Inside the Mind and the somber, melancholy throes of Volume 3: Halfway Happy, we have seen VCTMS grow in the same way a proud parent might watch their child: starting with the blinding, targetless rage that accompanies one’s first heartbreak, and through the identity crises, rapid mood swings and insane highs and lows that define early adulthood. Now, on Volume 4: Numb the Ache, VCTMS grows once more, taking another leap—but this time not in such a linear fashion. In short, Volume 4 feels like a deep dive into the nuances of Volume 3, as Numb the Ache aims not only to explore the source of Halfway Happy’s melancholy, but exterminate it. With some of VCTMS’ most aggressive and ruthless tracks juxtaposed against their most somber and beautiful melodies to date, Volume 4: Numb the Ache is the most focused, determined and unfiltered version of VCTMS yet, and is what I would wager as 2021’s first truly perfect record.
Throughout their career, beginning with their energetic, chaotic and youthful contributions to the nu-metalcore genre on Sickness, Volume 1, VCTMS have morphed into a mature powerhouse that draws influence from contemporary metalcore, yesteryear’s nu-metal and alternative/pop artists equally to create a diverse and engaging sound. Where their 2018 full length release saw a more open exposé in regards to balancing their pop and heavy influences, Volume 4: Numb the Ache continues the trend. Throughout Volume 4, VCTMS bounce hither and to, giving the listener their heaviest songs yet while still being sure to incorporate catchy, melodic and downright poppy elements where needed. “Hell is Other People” and “Anger//Set” are two outstanding examples of the former—with drummer Meredith Henderson hammering out hectic patterns with crushing cadence, leaving guitarist Ryan Walter to wreak havoc with skin-rending riffs and gut-churning grooves. Meanwhile, other songs—the stellar album closer “Suddenly Everything Changed” comes to mind—borrow elements from alternative rock and post-hardcore to create songs that pack a punch while still feeling airy and “light.” Here, Henderson’s percussion is more subtle, setting a moderate background for some of Walter’s more innovative fretwork, blending “Swancore”-esque noodling into an otherwise tactful and melancholic alt-rock backbone. Elsewhere, songs like “Numb the Ache” and “Intoxicated” function akin to its counterpart, “Halfway//Happy,” where Henderson’s voice shines over a modest artificial instrumental backdrop. Volume 4 runs the gamut between these extremes—without any song that even so much approaches “filler” status. “Stab//Twist”—a track I overlooked early in my experience with Volume 4—is a crushing number that still manages to sneak some bounce and groove in. Similarly, “Carve” and “Hostage” are two of the band’s most outright nu-metallic cuts to date—fast-paced and obscenely catchy—yet still dissonant enough to retain some of the trio’s penchant for devastating metalcore. Volume 4: Numb the Ache is, in short, VCTMS’ most instrumentally mature release to date, spanning the sum total of their previous releases while sounding more refined and razor-sharp while being unafraid to explore new realms of sonic mayhem.
Even among VCTMS’ more innovative peers, nu-metalcore’s vocal element is often times one of the most stagnant aspects of the genre—and the last thing I expected from VCTMS, and from frontman John Matalone especially, was a huge step up in vocal diversity. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much to the reader), I got precisely the opposite of what I bargained for, as the John Matalone the listener gets on Volume 4: Numb the Ache sounds like a whole new man compared to the group’s previous two volumes. Matalone’s range and energy is, by comparison, unparalleled in growth over a relatively short period of time (considering Volume 4 was completed just outside of a year following Volume 3). If this is isn’t abundant on the single “Hell is Other People,” it surely is on “Anger//Set” and “Hostage,” let alone the riveting display of vocal prowess on “Pull From the Hurt.” Matalone’s low end has grown exponentially, as he now boasts a grisly set of near-guttural bellows and screeching squeals to accompany his shrill mid-range yell. What’s more is that Matalone works alongside some of heavy music’s most adored names (SPITE’s Darius Tehrani and several other surprises among them) on Volume 4 and holds his ground brilliantly. His vocal growth is even apparent on songs like “New Face//Same Loneliness” and “Suddenly Everything Changed”—two tracks with a distinct post-hardcore flair and concomitant cleanly-sung vocal proclivities that take the band out of its relative chug-heavy comfort place. Here, Matalone’s voice, in keeping with Henderson’s percussion, is more subdued but just as powerful, belting out lines in a quick, creative candor. In fact, these songs see the band’s finest lyrical offerings, with the content throughout “Suddenly Everything Changed” still managing to take my breath away some several hundred listens later.
I had—and continue to have—exceptionally high standards for VCTMS. Maybe it’s seeing how far they’ve come, the hurdles and obstacles they’ve scaled or the manner in which they generate obsessed fans out of ordinary people—regardless of the reason, I continually expect nothing short of excellence from them. With that said, despite my expectations being borderline unreasonable, they always manage to exceed them by what seems like a mile, and Volume 4: Numb the Ache is no exception. It feels like a record made both for and about me—a sensation countless listeners will doubtlessly have—and still manages to feel fresh after countless listens. It is an outstanding amalgamation of all things heavy with poppy, melodic and refreshingly atmospheric undertones, and most importantly, it will have the entirety of the heavy music community waiting with jaws slacked for what awaits us in Volume 5.
For Fans Of: Barrier, Lotus Eater, Kaonashi, Yuth Forever, Weeping Wound, Slipknot
By: Connor Welsh