VILE RITES – The Ageless (2022)REVIEW

When a tree has been cut down and shows its bare death wound to the sun, then one can read its whole story on the clear pane of its stump and grave: in the annual rings and adhesions all struggle, all suffering, all illness, all happiness and prosperity are faithful written, narrow years and lush years, survived attacks, survived storms.” Herman Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

With the eldest patriarchal eye’s ineffectual gaze set upon the temporary fiefdom of humanity there’ll be no pleasure derived from the fraught spectacle of all built and destroyed. The ancient only raises an curious eyebrow when this inevitably slow-burning collapse revealed itself as self-catalyzed in nature, a verminous nuke upon planetary defenses by a creature too self-righteous to see their connection to all-being. The great buzzing presence of the all-knowing world tree greets us as Santa Rosa, California-based psychedelic progressive death metal trio Vile Rites muse over the most ancient living beings and their anthropocene witness on their debut EP. ‘The Ageless‘ is a well-focused, impressively direct strike upon the seemingly barren forge of meaning available to death metal’s most thoughtful side-story — Within these ~25 minutes we see the work of unincorporated generations manifest in full-lunged, thousand-armed prog-death inspiration in process of the biggest of pictures existentialism has to offer.

Formed as a duo somewhere around 2017 in Oregon before the main membership relocated to the North Bay area, Vile Rites wouldn’t solidify as an official trio and push on from that point ’til they were ready, ~early 2021 or so. That line-up which persists today features current Vektor/Incredulous bassist Stephen Coon, drummer Aerin Johnson (Intrinsic Maleficence) and guitarist/vocalist Alex Miletich (Trecelence, ex-Gladius) all of whom have been working within classicist and future-thinking thrash metal spheres for some time before arriving upon this project. Per my own experience the thrasher ’til death scenario always informs the very best death metal music, a high-disciplined personal standard and some technical acumen is a given trait considering Vile Rites‘ collective resumes. This certainly applies to ‘The Ageless‘ an EP which smartly does what any debut release should: Introduces their ambitions in terms of not only composition and performance but in presentation of concept bearing some meaningful application, a difficult feat when inserting one’s self into the crowded realm of thinking man’s death metal.

Though they’ve chosen to feature strongest, adrenaline-gushing action up front, some direct phrasal tendencies in terms of Vile Rites‘ riffcraft and linear movement can be likened to the attack found on the first couple of StarGazer records; The sensation of ‘The Ageless‘ unfolding additionally appears to blend the patient yet highly active rhythm guitar panache of records like ‘Orchid‘ and ‘With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness‘ into their coloration of said bullet-sped phrases, realizing more succinct pieces than that might suggest through successive generational remanufacture (see: The ChasmDeathcult For Eternity‘). This should suggest the bigger picture for Vile Rites landing somewhere in peer nearby recent manifestations of Aenigmatum, Inanna, and Void Ceremony whom likewise offer differently angular chaotic aggression, progressive death metal additionally informed by the rarified feeling of progressive and/or technical thrash metal deep cuts upon tradition in the late 80’s/early 90’s. As a result the full listen is slightly more ‘heavy metal’ in spirit than it is bound to the experiential pulsation of, say, classic Cynic.

This focus upon evolved forms of classicist progressive death metal, uninterrupted by melodic death/doom romanticism or or soul-voided technical ambitions hits its mark with some help from Earhammer Studios‘ render, allowing the deep-rasped (a la ‘The Somberlain‘) vocals to echo forth with some chasmic distance separating the listener and the abysm which all projects from. The recording is clear yet not overwhelmingly high-def with higher frequencies featuring crisp presence that allows technical applications of the rhythm section to maintaining a fine amount of separate-yet-cohesive voice. Bass frequencies refuse to collude too directly, avoiding the mud that often finds similar bands using more percussive bass guitar tones, there is a fine balance of postured voice and supporting action achieved nonetheless. Much of the suggested ‘psychedelic’ intent of the album comes by way of synchronized rhythmic movement rather than pure effects-play or well, any extra breathing room that tag might suggest; Quick changes and (later) Anata-esque shocks of brutality offer spectacle that is at once arcane in spirit and modern in its serious-faced delivery, wheeling the listener through a fast and very focused trip which is mildly heady at best. Shocks and washes of intrepid guitar work ensure the details of Miletich‘s riffing comes at a mental-yet-meaningful clip throughout, yet I believe the band’s influences are still quite obvious within the riffcraft, even if they do rule.

From the first listen I’d found myself viewing ‘The Ageless‘ as an entrant into a rare but known form rather than a transcendence of it but these sorts of things have a way of developing with greater familiarity, what matters most is how the full listen evolves once all shadows are revealed. “Laid Across the Altars of Time” does a fine job of justifying the conglomeration of forms that drive Vile Rites‘ stylistic voice, presenting movement one must keep apace of but not so complex that it becomes chaotic. This comes as a key point of focused energy after the opening piece, “The Ageless“, makes a sort of full-ranged best foot forward with several impressive sidebars and gloriously fluid rhythmic movement. As implied by the intro (“Susurrus Balfourianae”) and the adjacent title track the inspiration for this piece is an nearly ~five thousand year old tree in the eastern California mountains which acts as muse in witness of the rise and fall of human society. I’ll be frank in suggesting that without a lyric sheet I’d primarily focused on the impressively focused feat of the rhythms and the well-developed signature sound of Vile Rites above their themes yet these were no less compelling, or, fitting at a glance.

The second half of the EP develops a more brutal-edged and modern side of this sound, pummeling a bit harder and rasping a bit louder as they bruise through these pieces with an emphasis on spectacle rather than pure finesse. This is arguably where the guitar work is at its best, especially on “By Virtue of Chaos”; It is also the point where we see the modernisms of today’s prog-thrashing spheres translated into something a bit more clearly death metal in function leading into deeper elaboration on the impressive “Spectre of Forgotten Light”. The full listen survives in mind for its impressive momentum and the interconnected nature of the full experience, it makes little sense to skip one part or jump into just one piece as I’d just as well wheel through the full album to generate the best possible effect. Above all else ‘The Ageless‘ is a pleasure to listen to and an impressive first showing for a band that’ve some great potential to be a key outlier in the future. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (89/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Ageless [EP]
LABEL(S):Desert Wastelands Productions
RELEASE DATE:January 25th, 2022

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