Review Summary: Problem: Sludge is getting overpopulated.
Solution: Jucifer has brought the guillotine with L'autrichienne.
Anything you may have heard about Jucifer probably mentions the fact that they are a two-piece ala the White Stripes. The similarities end there. While the White Stripes comfortably pound out simple garage rock with some bells and whistles, Jucifer bounce between various styles demonstrating their stylistic agility and competency. L'autrichienne’s 21 tracks form a collage of sludge, alternative, and hardcore punk songs about Marie Antoinette, which is fleshed out with assistance from the liner notes. I’m not a big history person myself, and therefore this is entirely superfluous to me, but anything involved with beheadings is pretty badass. The album is haunted with dark, looming, and dramatic moods, and appropriately feels like the soundtrack to Antoinette’s last days. “Armada” is a perfect example of this; the horns and keys in the last two minutes create an extremely epic and ominous vibe fitting for a major film, not a metal album.
Jucifer forces listeners to be attentive, as juxtaposing tracks usually share nothing in common. The first three tracks take listeners on a mini-tour of the whole album. “Blackpowder” channels thoughts of dirty Soundgarden with Alanis Morissette-esque vocals. “Thermidor,” the 32-second speed punk track that immediately follows reveals Amber Valentine’s (surprising) ability to scream in addition to providing the doubly angelic and hellacious croons that dominate the rest of the album. “To Earth,” a beautiful and melancholic lollygagger that gets kick started by Edgar Livengood’s thundering and punishing drum style, completes this introductory trio. This trifecta effectively showcases what L'autrichienne has to offer in addition to some of the best sludge in recent memory.
L'autrichienne basically gives listeners a variety pack of skillfully executed songs from different genres. This diversity on paper may sound like a recipe for a mediocre-at-best heterogeneous mixture of songs, but instead Jucifer shape and mold each of these stylings into something of their own. Valentine’s remarkable vocals ultimately make this all possible. Songs such as “Traitors” and “Armada” exhibit this chameleon-like quality. Valentine combines both violent screams with Kim Gordon influenced utterances, and Sabbath era Ozzy with ghostly chants, respectively. Her coherence between songs gives the album a flow unlike most, taking listeners through a mood altering yet mentally stimulating experience with well-placed tempo changes. Whereas most sludge-able bands lean heavily on the Sabbath and Melvins crutch and never let up, Jucifer are able to run away with new ideas into territory never previously explored.
Overall, L'autrichienne is a great record. While the songs are fairly short on average (between 2 and 3 minutes), Jucifer also builds up longer tracks such as the 9-minute monster “The Mountain” and a couple of 5-minute tracks as well. Concealing their sludge foundation with various other sonic guises, Valentine and Livengood produced one of the greatest albums of 2008.