Review Summary: Solos and excellent variation make for an excellent take on black metal.
There are a bevy of reasons why black metal is such a funny genre, most of which have to do with Varg's suspenders, Varg's prison albums, and Varg's haircut. But, believe it or not, the genre as a whole has some pretty hilarious characteristics itself. Black metal cracks me up because a lot of the bands seem to be totally oblivious to what year it is. Firstly, many of the bands seem consumed with pagan rituals that went out of style with the Crusades, but beyond that, many acts seem to think it's a good idea to still release things on cassette. Even better yet, some bands actually release certain works exclusively on the obsolete format that melts in the sun.
Peste Noire is guilty on both accounts. Their name, which literally translates to Black Plague, seems to be a little late, and when I say a little, I mean roughly six hundred and sixty seven years. Peste Noire have released albums on tape, in fact, their demo (Aryan Supremacy) was actually limited to fourteen
copies. Last time I checked, demos were supposed to get your name out and about, an idea that seems a little hard with a cassette
demo released in 2001
to a miniscule FOURTEEN
copies. If they weren't so good at what they do, I'd probably make fun of them.
When they're not releasing ultra-limited releases on ultra-crappy formats, Peste Noire is a unique black metal band oddly fixated on obscenely long titles. "La Sanie des siècles - Panégyrique de la dégénerescence" (see?) is their first official full length.
Right off the bat, you see what I mean when I say they're unique. Nous Sommes Fanés
, the introductory track that actually kind of sucks, introduces us to the band's fixation with guitar leads and solos. Sounding like some sort of demented Parisian circus, the intro revolves primarily around finger-tapping. But, like I said, it sucks, so you'll probably want to skip it.
As mentioned, Peste Noire builds off a traditional black metal formula by adding several twists along the way. While the sound is still characterized by thin, buzzing guitars, tortured shrieks and a ferocious adoration of misanthropic melodies, Peste Noire like to throw in varying moods and relatively enjoyable solos.
Beyond the intro, the rest of the music is almost flawless. I say almost because the music does tend to repeat itself at times, even upon considering the standards of the genre. The crafty use of guitar solos is marred by the fact that they often sound identical. The way the drums shift the tempo is usually done quite tastefully, but often comes off as a little unnecessary. With those two faults out of the way, it's now easier to focus on why this album succeeds.
The vocals set the tone for the rest of the album. Famine's tortured, cold and at times inhuman sounding shrieks reek of anger and pain. The real key to the vocals lay in the fact that my throat actually hurts imagining them being performed. Sure, it's a dangerous technique, but seeing as this is
black metal, a short career is pretty much inevitable anyways.
Thanks in part to the album's production, I can actually hear what's going on now; their demos were so raw I felt it nearly impossible to distinguish any discernible riffs or melodies. The cymbals sometimes sound a little too invasive, but beyond that, the production is near perfect in context of the genre. It's raw enough to carry the sharp, primal feel the genre often relies on, but it's clear enough for the listener to actually appreciate what's going on.
The album clocks in at a surprisingly long 51 minutes, but is thankfully broken up midway through by Phalènes Et Pestilence - Salvatrice Averse
. The clear highlight of the album, Phalènes Et Pestilence - Salvatrice Averse
starts off as a bluesy acoustic number and brings a welcome rest from the typically harsh sound offered by the rest of the album. Both guitars compliment each other flawlessly, but its cut short near the two minute mark when the band returns with an ultra-fast section of blasts and shrieks, only to slow down once more with a mid-paced punky-sounding section. Not only does the track feature dynamic use of varying tempos and moods, but it also features the strongest melodies; four minutes in, the song takes a moody turn that somehow balances melancholy and triumph, but the best is yet to come. At the five minute mark, with one guitar heavily distorted (and electric) in the background, the lead returns with an acoustic solo, displaying a heavy contrast in temper and sound. The song just carries on from there, flawlessly evoking various ideas all the while remaining true to the genre. Hearing an acoustic lead over shrieks and distortion should not
work as well as it does.
If you hadn't noticed, the album is a very strong effort. I have never heard a black metal band make such excellent use of finger-tapped leads; the crescendo in Spleen
, for example, is outstanding. Though it starts off on a terrible note (literally), "La Sanie Des Siècles - Panégyrique De La Dégénerescence" ends up being a very interesting and enjoyable listen. For having so few faults when doing so many interesting things, it's quite easy to say this is a must-listen for fans of the genre. They've managed to expand beyond conventions while still staying true to the genre, and most of all, without pissing off the "scene".