It is time to place Iceland on notice: If Portugal ever gets its shit together it just might prove the next geographical hotbed of awesome black metal.
Case in point: Viles Vitae‘s thematic debut EP. In bold violation of the Toilet’s Roman Numeral Policy, it is entitled IV. Four songs, four elements: wind, earth, water and
love fire. (I wasn’t going to slip a Captain Planet reference into a black metal review because I want us all to have nice things but then I did it anyway.) Aaaaaaaaaaand that’s enough fucking around for this review, because IV is so immediately awesome that I’m going to immediately start explaining why it is immediately awesome. (See below.)
IV is awesome. It contains almost everything I usually crave from black metal, all in one tidy 4-track, 31-minute space. Dark, smoky, atmospheric riffs. Trance-inducing blastbeats. Psychiatrically unmoored vocals that crackle with damaged charisma. Weeping tremolo leads in search of a razor. A balance of simplicity and memorability. Oh and none of that superfluous audible bass nonsense. (No bassist is listed on their bandcamp page, so…???)
On opening track “Vortex of Disharmony”, wind-sounds and martial snare lay the groundwork for morosely whispering guitar, followed by crisp and echoing vocal recitations. The song builds patiently in density and aggression, adding layer upon layer of unhappy new sounds, marching toward total cacophony. It all plays out like a lysergic, occult dance; the preamble to an all-out blood orgy which finally breaches the gates between the illusion of life and the supremacy of death. Beyond that gate lies “Sunless Redeemer”. This second hymn sustains the mesmeric tension of “Vortex” oh so briefly before violently shedding it, spilling forth in flesh-tearing riffs and blasts which rend the earth. The intensity hardly lets up, only lulling at calculated moments in order to return with a vengeance.
“Source Life Extinction” recalls the hazy repetition of the opening track in exponentially more savage form. It unfurls like black smoke rising from the bones of the immolated before dissolving into a cosmos of roiling negativity. And “Theorie of Deconstruction” closes the EP on its highest note. It surges inexorably toward a climax where the drums blast like the flapping wings of a murder of ravens gone berserk; where blood-boiling tremolos lick away the last vestiges of flesh and spirit like the black flames of Uncreation; where the lunatic shrieks collapse under their own gravity, tearing holes in multiple space-time continuums.
The production throughout is perfectly tailored to bestow a unified atmosphere upon all four songs. There is no polish in sight, and yet the fidelity is several cuts above some of Portugal’s premier black metal acts. A step in the right direction if you ask me. It’s all well and good to have to listen to your black metal through headphones because the sound of your neighbor running a vacuum cleaner is causing some major frequency bleedthrough, but let us never forget that the music itself, not the production, needs to come first.
And oh boy does IV ever put the music first. Nonsensical hyperbole aside, if IV gets the attention it deserves, it just might put Portugal on the map (for mysterious reasons Portugal is not on any of the maps in my home). Failing that tall order, it should at the very least etch Viles Vitae onto your list of names to watch.
That cover art says it all, folks. Skulls laid in earth, the nude branches of trees scraping the heavens, a ceiling of stars and a demonic shadow-goat at the center of it all. IV is not the first new music I’ve heard this year but it is certainly the best so far. If you are a fan of black metal, do not sleep on it. If you are not a fan of black metal, you should see a doctor.