"It's Metal to Care": Hamilton's Vile Creature Are Bringing Radical Compassion to Heavy Music

From operating a vegan grocery store to running a tattoo shop and raising money for social justice causes, the doom duo put ethics first

BY Bradley Zorgdrager Published Sep 30, 2020

In an increasingly overcrowded online livestream market in which bands half-ass performances — or, worse, charge fans to watch previously released ones — Vile Creature broke the mould and pioneered a new approach.

For their "Interactive Immersive Concert Experience" on August 14, the Hamilton, ON-based experimental doom metal duo developed their own video player and host website, allowing viewers to switch between multiple camera angles with zero latency. Viewers could select from a variety of vantage points, including options designed to emulate a concert's less-desirable elements for maximum realism, like pacing around the venue, standing behind a tall guy or even taking a cigarette break.

Though difficult to execute, the goal was pretty straightforward in concept, as explained by guitarist/vocalist KW, who says, "It was just the idea of getting it as close to being at a show from your living room as you can be, where we can give you everything other than the smell of body odour and someone spilling beer on you."

While the experience was only supposed to be online for two weeks, the event was an unexpected success. As of press time, it has been viewed over 11,000 times and earned enough money to cover hosting fees for a whole year — impressive, given that digital tickets sold for a suggested donation of $7.

That financial accessibility was key to the band, which started in 2014 based on around mutual musical muses and love — for each other (members KW and Vic are partners), for their six cats and one dog, and for the social justice causes near and dear to their heart.

Not only were colourways for the vinyl pressings of their latest album, Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, inspired by the transgender flag (fitting for the self-described "angry queer gloom cult"), but they also recently donated a track to the punk/metal/hardcore compilation Shut It Down, which raised over $30,000 CAD for the Movement for Black Lives in only a few weeks.

They got extra creative with their most apt and hilarious merch item yet, gummy worms, playing off their new album's iconic cover artwork. The sour gummies raised money for BLM bail funds at a price point of $13.12 (a numerical code for ACAB, the police abolition rallying cry "All Cops Are Bastards").

These days, donations are the main way Vile Creature contribute to causes, as time and energy have become increasingly precious resources. Vic recalls having no extra funds to donate a decade ago, so frontline action was frequent. Now, the duo use their band as a conduit for change.

"Our band was founded as a means for us to talk about our experiences and the things that we've gone through, so utilizing that as a means of spreading money around to people who need, it seems like a logical next step," says KW. "It's metal to care, and I think being a kind and giving person is a good trait, and that's kind of what we hope to be as people."

"It's very easy to just be oblivious," adds Vic. "Everyone falls into it, apathy and such. We're trying to fight back against it and trying to be more aware of other people's plights and stuff, you know?"

Progressive values are woven into everything KW and Vic do, including their vegan grocery store Coven Plant Based Marketplace and the tattoo shop KW co-owns, Sleepy Bones, both based in Hamilton. He explains, "We try to operate them as ethical and pro-worker, while operating within a capitalist system we don't agree with."

That very system failed many during the COVID-19 pandemic, which found folks at economic risk beyond the obvious health threat. Sleepy Bones had to close less than a month after opening — they've since reopened after fronting five months rent for a closed storefront — while Coven moved to curbside pick-up and deliveries. Vic and KW are grateful they were never without income, though the intensive schedule coincided with the similarly intensive practice regime for the livestream, which found them jamming daily for six weeks.

Even with their hectic, overlapping schedules, the duo were able to rework the album for the livestream, largely due to their belief in each other and their partnership. Says Vic to KW, "I appreciate you when you're just like, 'Okay, I have this vision,' and you'll see it through and a lot of things that have happened in our life is because you're like, 'I'm going to get to this point, no matter what.'"

That includes the striking artwork for verbosely titled third LP Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, which features the dichotomy of a woman with flowers in her hair and worms in her mouth. Cover model Bri Duguay was a champ, placing the creepy crawlies in her mouth a dozen times while photographer Danika Zandboer snapped away, helping ensure the final product was creepy rather than cheesy. The contrasting imagery continues further with a bright colour palette, which comes in stark contrast to their dark music.

Despite the pandemic impacting all of their income streams at a crucial time, the pair remain grounded, acknowledging that it's hard for them to feel sad about the upheaval of their music plans when people are losing jobs, houses and lives. Their latest LP was recorded long before the pandemic, but it nevertheless reflects the present period in which seeing things as meaningless seems less like a point of view and more like a logical way of life.

"The more we kind of listened to it, we felt like maybe it was apropos to the times for it to speak to something that everybody was kind of dealing with: apathetic feelings and fighting off sadness," says KW, whose love of Shakespeare inspired Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm!'s poetic title. "It's a record specifically about that; it's about the times written before the times. It just kind of felt like maybe it would be relatable and a good idea to come out now, if it helps somebody dealing with all that stuff, because we always have a positive spin on the weird, sad stuff we're talking about."

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