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Grimness and fragility - 80%

we hope you die, January 12th, 2021

The current crop of black metal acts emerging from China seem to be marked by a committed grimness (before the word took on its present cliché meme fodder status), but supplementing these darker immersive tendencies with an overarching fragility worked into the melodic tendencies. The debut EP from China’s Vitriolic Sage falls in line with this general intent, but carbon copy of the noise currently emanating from the Far East it is not.

As if resurrecting what little value there was in Burzum’s post prison metal trilogy, ‘Enlightenment’ brushes the dust off these cold, harsh, melodies, rendered through thin yet clear guitar tones, and adds a degree of energy and diversity to this formula. The results, when compared to Varg’s lacklustre efforts of a decade ago, could not be more striking in their lucidity. Vitriolic Sage relentlessly trim the fat away from this Nordic framework; gone are the endless tremolo picked riffs set to mid-paced blast-beats that so often count as filler. In their place is positioned an energetic rhythm section that drives the guitars through rudimentary but effective tempo changes, that work in unison with the shifts in riff and pitch. Simple yet effective tricks when deployed in this minimalist setting.

But the truly ear catching aspects of this album are in the contrast between atonal aggression and sorrowful, delicate harmonies that nevertheless retain the same energy and drive as the passages rooted in punk philosophies. The guitars don’t offer any counterpoint or lead melodies, so it’s really a dual track of two (or more?) rhythm guitars functioning in unison that Vitriolic Sage have left themselves to work with. But they play up to this self-made limitation through the clever use of basic contrasts, and delivering repetition in abundance when it actually counts. This latter technique is also neatly worked into the ambient spaces between the music, as with the outro to ‘Chanson De Raison’ which fades to low ambience which follows on from the closing riff.

We see this contrast again with the ambient track ‘Reminiscence’ that leads into the busy but oddly focused opening riff of ‘Ignorance’, which is an unsettling, idiosyncratic number that leaves one second guessing its scant twists and turns. This, despite the fact that again, both guitar tracks are following the exact same riff patterns with no deviation. But despite its economy of riffs each one drives the music forward through a simple yet effective blend of repetition and development, of aggression and fragility, despite operating within a decidedly ‘grim’ aesthetic framework. And this in turn becomes an analogue for the way this music as a whole operates. Superficially old school Burzum worship (amongst others) worked through a modern filter, but digging deeper reveals its own, very unique character.

Originally published at Hate Meditations