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Violent crime, fresh blood and long distances: South African slam band Vulvodynia’s five-year rise

“I’ve been robbed at gunpoint at least twice in my life.  Duncan’s also been through some crazy stuff where his house was robbed and he was tied up,”  Vulvodynia drummer Thom Hughes says of his and bandmate Duncan Bentley’s (vocals, lyrics) experiences growing up and living in South Africa.  “Unfortunately, you get to know a lot of people that some sort of violent crime has happened to.  I’ve got friends who’ve been hijacked.  Fortunately, no one has been murdered, but it is quite a dangerous place.  There’s a lot of gaps between rich and poor; lots of challenges going on in society at the moment.” 

The slamming brutal death metal band have never described their homeland in such intense detail until their June release, ‘Mob Justice’.  Instead of echoing the murder themes of ‘Psychosadistic Design’ or the alien themes of ‘Finis Omnium Ignorantiam’, it is the horrors they face in their day-to-day lives that make up the record.  Topics such as drug epidemics, mob justice killings and a corrupt government are thrashed out with heavy duty riffs, blast beats and slams.  “We thought on the latest album… instead of doing the fantasy thing and talking about stuff like horror movies, we’d just talk about stuff that’s real and that we see in newspapers every day,” Hughes says.  “It’s pretty sad that violent crime doesn’t shake you anymore.  You see a story about murder and it’s just like, ‘oh, ok, another one’.  We definitely just looked closer to home and saw what was going on, not necessarily just in South Africa but in Africa…some of the songs in general, like Blood Diamond, talks about child soldiers.” 

Out of the six LPs, EPs and splits so far, Mob Justice is just the second release to feature a full lineup – since Bentley and guitarist Luke Haarhoff kicked things off in Durban in 2014, the band has morphed several times.  The core Vulvodynia crew (both studio and live) is now Hughes, 33, Bentley, 24, guitarist Chris Xenopoulos, 23, bassist Chris Van Der Walt, 34, and Haarhoff, 21.  Then there’s studio member Byron Dunwoody, who brings guitar, producing, mixing and mastering, while another live member was added in May. “(Luke) moved to the UK last year … so we’ve got a fulltime guy who fills in all the ones that Luke can’t do – Lwandile Prusent,” Hughes says.  “He plays with Chris in another couple bands.  He’s a really good friend – part of the family.”  The album was produced by the band, with recording duties handled by van der Walt at his very own Tampora Studios and was released via Czech label Lacerated Enemy Records.  There are also special guest appearances from The Black Dahlia Murder’s Trevor Strnad, Gutalax’s Martin Matoušek, and Malevolence’s Alex Taylor.

While Haarhoff is now the farthest away, the others are not close in proximity by any means.  Hughes has been living in Durban for the past three years, Xenopoulos lives in Cape Town, Bentley lives in Port Elizabeth and Van Der Walt lives in Johannesburg.  Despite a scattered team, the friends still make the time for music.  “In terms of the metal scene in South Africa, Cape Town and ‘Joburg’ are generally where it’s really happening; that’s where we play most of our shows.  All of us were … born in Joburg other than Luke and grew up elsewhere.  That’s where our band’s rehearsal spot is.”

In five short years, the band have notched up some impressive performances at European festivals and tours.  “We did Party.San this year which was a cool festival, also the same weekend (as Brutal Assault) which was really big, and we did Obscene Extreme, which was Czech Republic last year, which was a really crazy grindcore death metal fest, and Death Feast in Germany … we played with Suffocation, so we’ve had some standout shows, but Brutal Assault was definitely one of the ones where we’re like, ‘Woah’ … every dude from every band standing around backstage.”  One of the Australian groups they admire, Thy Art Is Murder, were among the bands standing backstage.  Though they didn’t get to catch up there, they met in 2018 when TAIM went to South Africa.  They also met some other Aussies they’re now fond of when doing a Europe trek with Fit For An Autopsy and Venom Prison.  “… We toured with … Justice For The Damned early this year, Fit For An Autopsy; so that was really cool.  They’re like our brothers now.  Another band we toured with last year was Blade of Horus, a tech death band from Australia – they’re also really cool guys – we had two weeks in Europe with them.  We’ve got some really good friends down there in Australian bands.  We’re obviously fans of Disentombed and Psycroptic.  Australia’s music scene has been strong for so long. Even outside the metal scene, I listen to a lot of Violent Soho.  I’ve toured with Dune Rats in my punk band.  I listen to a lot of Frenzal Rhomb.”

The South African slammers get their first chance to bludgeon Australian audiences in November.  “It’s one of the few places we have never been.  When this offer came in, we were like, ‘Finally’.  And with main supports To The Grave, Wraith and Zeolite locked in, Hughes is ready.  “I’ve checked out some of their stuff and I’m excited to play with the guys.”  Vulvodynia will finish this run in Adelaide, but they’ve got something in store for the Kiwi crowds too.  “After Adelaide, we’re doing two shows in New Zealand before we fly home.  At the moment, we’re just trying to get everywhere where people want to watch us.”  According to their schedule, that means Europe and the UK “right after Christmas Eve”, then their first ever American tour, then something “hopefully happening in Asia next year”.

If the best metal came from the darkest places, South Africa would be up there with the dankest metal breeding grounds, considering it has the ninth highest murder rate in the world, with 36 murders per 100,000 people.  In comparison, Australia is a relatively peaceful place, and while most of its citizens won’t relate to the lyrics, Hughes is certain of their music’s universality.  “I don’t think I really listen to metal for lyrical content so much as I just love the power and the actual music of it.  Playing shows is an adrenaline rush … no matter where you go in the world, people are there to have a good time. There’s no real message and everyone wants to get behind a cause so much; just have a good time, go to shows, mosh and party.  I think that’s the really rad thing about metal – its international, it’s the same culture, same sort of people.  Whether we go to America or to Europe or African countries like Botswana, you meet the same sort of fans that are into it and love it.” 

Vulvodynia’s Mob Justice Australian Tour runs November 8-15. Tickets.

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