Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sombres Forets - Royaume de Glace [2008]

In this seemingly overwhelming rush for bedroom black metal sounds, one would require a certain degree of patience and perseverance both to locate and thoroughly enjoy an act such as Quebec's Sombres Forets - better known as the one man army Annatar. An almost inexplicable upsurge in the promulgation of such drugged, depressive, yet at the same time oddly serene sounds, it grieves me somewhat to identify the Quebecois as a rather genre-standard act, but one that still achieved considerable success through a unison with the local Sepulchral Records, combined with an unrelenting spiritual fervor. Granted, Sombres Forets represents a new wave of black metal that is less inclined to burn churches down and jab wooden crosses up people's arses; something more monumental and desolate, the influence of rural, rustic, and sometimes (as is the case on this album) hibernal landscapes being felt profoundly, and simultaneously drowsier. With all the thematic and atmospheric compartments at the ready, all Annatar needs to do is to fill in the blank spots, those glacial pavements in the midst of despondent pines and firs...

And Annatar can provide these - of that there is little doubt. The Quebecois is more than proficient in impregnating the listener with cascading waves of emotion and melancholy, and can keep a fluent pace and relative consistency at a startlingly successful degree. ''Royaume de Glace'' is raw, but serene at the same time, which means there's little space presented outside of the almost vituperative tides of catharsis. This can create a problem for the more eclectic black metal listener. Sombres Forets is somewhat closely associated with traditional Scandinavian sounds, and the sound is much more distant than those of the savager, feral acts that occupy roughly half of the current black metal market. Like its successor, the album is fond of brusque acoustic entries cutting into the riffs like bridges, but I felt that the acoustic love was not fully developed on ''Royaume...'', so I found the follow-up, ''La Mort Du Soleil'' to occupy a much more sizable portion of its bulk with long soliloquy-like acoustic interludes, which, admittedly felt a little too self-indulgent and meandering after some point. One of this album's strengths is that the its store for strident currents of raw guitar riffing is more capacious; and Annatar wastes no time in adorning the walls of post rock chords and distortion with hoovering synthesizers, among other, less frequently implemented sounds.

The songs are swelling in their individual proportion, and the fact that the range of riffs Annatar composes its fairly limited proves to be a hindrance as the listener is dragged further into the album's sorrowful compendium. It's not that I don't like them - the riffs simply don't have much value when separated. No uncommon problem in the black metal medium, so I wasn't overly disappointed by the lack of spikes, even though there were certainly a handful of glossy moments of atmospheric excellence that I've surely suffused with the best of praises. So much of Annatar's tendency to persistently keep true to a certain, unwavering path makes this a ''suicidal'' black metal album. It's almost like a more accessible rendering of the first Leviathan or Xasthur records; much more permeable, less venturous to head towards the dark and grim corners, and more fervent to explore the ethereal, emotionally appealing corners of the genre. As said before, for those who can't bear such a staggering flood of woe and regret, ''Royaume...'' is simply boring, stagnant and pointless. It's poignancy is borne of its unyielding melancholy, which makes hard to get into, though accessible to some extent.

The drums are surprisingly crisp here, which should definitely be pinpointed as a major strength. Consider the drumming values of all those raw black metal bands, all the ''bedroom'' acts. Hell, forget the new; even Emperor and Immortal had egregious drum values, even if it was during the 90's. Annatar's drums kick ass. They're pungent, textured, with cymbals crashing into the plaintive stream of chords like ebbing waves licking the edges of a scalloped cliff. Annatar is, of course, very accomplished as a vocalist as well; and scarcely flounders in tonal consistency. Much like his countrymen and other French bands dominant in the current scene, Annatar leaves a mournful and well-nigh artistic impression in listeners. I love the fact that there are more than a handful of musicians in the much-beleaguered genre of black metal that take their work as an art, an exceedingly grim one, but nonetheless still an art. Annatar is unquestionably one of the leaders of the pack, along with Blut Aus Nord, Gris, Forteresse, Monarque and a few others, embracing the concept of mourn through atmospheric applications to the utmost extent. Maybe to some this may represent discomfort, but that just shows how successful the Quebecois is. ''Royaume de Glace'' might not technically shine out, but its multi-layered texture of emotion makes it one monolith of a release. I would definitely have preferred some more variation, which would damnably be present in the next album, and the kind of creativity that I found so delectably in ''La Nuit'' to pervade the entire album, and, again, some of that would be on the successor's palette, only to be marred by a different kind of problem...

La Nuit
Royaume de Glace
L'Oeil Nocturne

Rating: 82,5%

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