You don’t have to have been to Savannah, Georgia to appreciate that there’s a certain magic that comes with the name. It’s a part of the American South that’s been romanticised in film (we’ve all seen Forrest Gump on that bench), literature and other modes of popular culture – most pointedly, it was the first map in Left 4 Dead 2.
That said, it seems to be all quiet on the southern front in terms of an alternative music scene. Be that as it may, with local ensemble Vatican having just kicked in the door of the music community, that silence is set to have its head caved in.
Vatican are the new kids on the UNFD record label block, and the fact that the Australian music company would venture all the way to Savannah to ink the deal is a testament to the band’s talent. The least Blunt Magazine could do was make the long-distance call to find out why.
There’s a certain camaraderie between Vatican and the Australian scene, given that both exist as an island, though one more metaphorically than the other. While you may have heard of screamo act Circle Takes the Square or post metal group Kylesa, chances are that you aren’t familiar with many other bands that have broken big from the city’s scene. “Because there isn’t one, it doesn’t exist,” Vatican guitarist Tom Lovejoy tells Blunt Magazine. “It’s not real. I mean, just to be 100% honest.”
“In every city, there’s an old guy that books shows and a young kid that book shows. There’s no young kid that does it. There’s no venue that does it. And there’s no old guy that does it.”
It’s a sentiment that Mike Sugars, the band’s vocalist and newest member, echoes. “I don’t think many people know Vatican is from Savannah, Georgia. I actually thought the band was from Texas. Whenever we first started, I had to look it up,” he laughs. Without any competition, one might expect Vatican to thrive, but existing in a vacuum makes that difficult. Tom continues: “Without the competition, you also don’t have community, you know what I mean?”
Rather than let that situation be the end of them, Vatican instead saw it as an opportunity to create their own ecosystem to thrive in. Extra-curricular activities to further engage with fans range from Discord chats to managing a clothing line, with other curiosities thrown in to keep things fresh, of course. “Even though there isn’t an immediate community surrounding [us] in a casually drivable sense, there’s definitely a sense of community that has been made just with the band, especially online,” Mike says.
Indeed, from an outside perspective, it would seem this freedom from competition, from any form of rival predation, has allowed Vatican to evolve in ways that they may never have had the chance to otherwise.
Vatican have a strange way of explaining their music, using words that could only come from the mouths of those who created it. “Take things like Meshuggah and Gojira, and The Dillinger Escape Plan…but take all the brain power out of it,” Tom starts.
Words like “primal”, “instinctual” or maybe even “rude”, spring to this journalist’s mind, given that what Vatican create is an unapologetic rock-wall of bone-shaking metalcore who calls no man Sir.
Mike puts forward a unique description, proposing that there are structures that “sound like a gorilla walking on his knuckles. I definitely think there is a level of technicality that comes along with it as well.”
As the group whittles away on their new record, we can get a glimpse of this character through lead singles ‘Absolute Reality’ and ‘Fractured God’, both heavy-hitters released under the double-single title Become A New God. Amid its searingly heavy sonics, Vatican offer stirring insights into the human condition. Take for example the title phrase – ‘Become A New God’
“That is a lyric in the song ‘Fractured God’, because we felt [it represents] just coming into the new era of the band and also just what we want, what we want to achieve…Become A New God, become bigger, better, stronger than what we were before.”
Song writing in Vatican is entirely democratic, and as such Tom interjects. “Story-wise lyrically, the things that we’re trying to tackle in ‘Fractured God’ and ‘Absolute Reality’ are really tackling the complexities of being a person in an ever increasingly complex world.”
The ideas pertain to issues like social media, the internet, et al. and the way these so-called developments “make living on Earth really strange and complex. The music is very visceral, very tenacious, very violent-feeling. And then lyrically, it’s all about, ‘If you want it, go get it yourself.'”
Mike points to a particular lyric in ‘Fractured God’ as an example of this ethos. “Towards the end of that song, I say, ‘The muses of your creed, I deny. The veil of your belief, I deny.’ The idea is that there’s a shedding of the skin in a way where you’re trying to come out and be like, ‘No, I don’t want to be dictated by ideals and maybe I want to make my own path and write my own stories rather than just following the repetitious cycle of shit.'”
When pushed to summarise the intentions of Become A New God into a slick elevator pitch, Mike doesn’t hesitate: “If you have access to health insurance, you should set up a therapy session.” Tom doubles down, pointing to those who say they don’t need therapy, who reject the premise entirely – himself included in a former life. “That’s a fucking asinine idea. That’s a stupid thing to say.”
The gorilla isn’t walking on his knuckles anymore. He’s running. He’s found his troop; albeit that it’s scattered across the Earth. The evolution wheels are in motion and there’s no going back for Vatican.
“We’re really excited about UNFD because it’s definitely been an end goal for all of us to get this band to a certain level and put this band in certain rooms, certain places. And I know that, from our conversations we’ve had with everyone, we’re going to be able to do a lot of the things we’ve always wanted to do,” Tom notes.
Mike has somewhat more specific demands of the new deal. “If someone can get me in touch with whoever’s making Devil May Cry 6, put my band on the game.”
“When they were like, we want to sign your band. It’s like, ‘Well, that does mean whenever we get to go to Australia, it’ll be hilarious.'”
Rest assured, they may be silly buggers, but they’ll remain in your DNA long after you spin a track.