On May 21, 2021, Hertfordshire crew Vexed released their debut album, Culling Culture. What should have been a day of celebration turned into panic, as frontwoman Megan Targett’s grandpa was rushed to hospital and subsequently diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (a scarring of the lungs). He was given a life expectancy of 18 months, but passed away after three.
For years, he had been Megan’s main parental figure. Now it felt like her life had been turned upside down. “When you lose a parent… you’re just a kid again,” Megan says today, talking to us via Zoom from the farm where she lives, and stripped of the make-up she wears onstage and in photos.
“You’re just hyper-aware of how much you depend on them – suddenly you’re like, ‘What do I do if I need to insure my car?’ I’d open the fridge and start to yell upstairs about there being no milk… and then you remember.”
Though it might not seem like it on first listen, Megan’s openness and vulnerability lies at the heart of Vexed’s music. Their tech metal onslaught centres around her demonic gutturals, but it’s elevated by unsettling themes and cut-throat lyrical content. From abuse, to body image, to mental health, the band confront the uncomfortable, amplifying the whispers of buried trauma and bringing them to the surface.
Drawn together through their love of music, with Megan meeting drummer/fiancé Willem Mason-Geraghty at Download Festival in 2016, and then bassist Jay Bacon at 2019’s UK Tech-Fest, the trio previously performed together in a slew of what Megan labels “terrible proggy metal bands”. They soon reached a breaking point. “We started just taking the piss,” Megan smirks. “We didn’t enjoy the music anymore, so we’d come on to Cardi B songs, put stupid samples in the middle of breakdowns. We just wanted to channel our effort into something with a purpose…”
And that’s where Vexed came in. Frazzled and furious, Culling Culture was an eclectic clash of deathcore and gruelling blastbeats, as Megan menacingly condemned abusers, manipulators and the general scum of the Earth. It was glowingly reviewed – not that Megan had much time to take in the reaction. As she explains today, losing a parent changes everything.
Initially raised by a young single mother and her mother’s twin sister, Megan soon moved in with her grandpa. When he fell ill, she committed herself to caring for him 24 hours a day. The eventual loss was immeasurable. Yet the world kept spinning, and their record label was breathing down their necks about a second album. Vexed got to work – and the result? An unbearably numb EP.
“Everything had a ‘silver lining,’” Megan says, rolling her eyes as she remembers the positive lyrics they were desperately trying to conjure. “It was all ‘Everything will be OK!’ Very disingenuous – so we scrapped it.”
While Culling Culture explored painful themes, nothing on it compared to the sting of Megan’s grief. “All three of us had lost crucial family members,” Megan reflects, “so we talked about how terrible we felt, how we had no motivation… then we decided to write about it.”
As music has always been Megan’s outlet, it felt logical to pour her emotions into the band. “I had a bit of a rocky childhood,” she explains. “When I was 10, my mum’s sister passed away and it hit me really hard – I ended up having to go to a school for kids who were badly bullied, because I’d been bullied over the resulting depression. At this school, there was a boy there who listened to Bring Me The Horizon and, when I heard it, I felt like I’d finally found my thing.”
Originally drawn to drums, hoping to “hide” at the back of the stage, Megan was eventually forced into the spotlight as a vocalist by her band at the time. “I was about 16 when I started really trying to scream. I was terrible for a long time,” she laughs. “My mum used to drive me around late at night, and I’d just go for it. But, from the age of 12, I was always writing lyrics, working through stuff.”
The Negative Energy writing process became a form of therapy. Instead of clinging to ‘silver linings’, they dragged the monster out from under the bed by its ankles, kicking and screaming. “We stopped trying to sugarcoat things, and, through writing, we felt real purpose,” Megan says.
Negative Energy is Vexed under a microscope, rumbling with an exposed, diary-entry level of authenticity far greater than the band’s previous work. Anti-Fetish expands on 2019 single Dominate, commenting on gender bias in the music industry, while We Don’t Talk About It intensifies allusions to childhood abuse originally explored on debut album track Aurora, going into searingly condemning specifics.
“Growth can really be seen if you compare Purity and It’s Not The End,” Megan says. “Purity tip-toed around the fear of my grandpa dying, and then It’s Not The End is fully reflecting on him passing. We recorded it last – we all wanted to put it off. I was in the booth bawling.”
“It was the hardest track to record,” she adds. “My grandpa was always my biggest supporter; he’d tell everybody we were the best, go to his fishing clubs wearing a Vexed t-shirt – but it was funny because he hated it when I screamed. So I made sure that track has as many clean vocals as possible, because he would have preferred that.”
Megan gave the vocal takes her all. “I didn’t care about hitting notes perfectly – I wanted that emotion,” she explains. “Our producer [Meyrick de la Fuente, Exist Immortal frontman] made me sing again and again, until my voice was breaking.”
The recording process captures something not many records do – every scratchy shriek, pained howl and cracked cry is raw. “You can hit notes perfectly and make everything sound squeaky clean,” she notes, “but where’s the connection?”
While the record is a difficult listen, that’s the point. Trauma is trauma. “I wanted to immerse the listener in that world,” Megan explains.
Take Panic Attack, with its breathless tempo and scraping sonics designed to overload the senses. “It’s funny because negative reviews have all said they couldn’t deal with the lyrics or how uncomfortable the record makes them feel… but that’s the point?” she frowns.
But positive feedback makes it all worthwhile, reinforcing Megan’s decision to sing about how she really feels inside. “The other day I was watching someone react to our album online, and, bless her, she started crying… and then I started crying,” Megan laughs.
“I don’t know how to react when people message, saying my lyrics have helped them, saved them. It’s such a big deal. When you’re going through trauma, abuse, or feeling awful in your own skin, you sometimes feel like nobody else has ever been through the same thing. When you talk about trauma, you realise you’re not entirely alone.”
As Negative Energy’s opening track says, ‘recovery is a long and difficult process’. It doesn’t happen overnight, or even when you finish a record – but having an outlet can help. “It’s freeing to talk about trauma openly, even if it’s still there,” Megan reflects.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, but this album came along when I really needed it – it was a reason to get up in the morning. To me, Negative Energy is everything. It has destroyed me in the best way.”
Negative Energy is out now via Napalm