Review Summary: Volatile, sadistic, impenetrable - and a little bit hard to get on with.False Highs, True Lows
is a maelstrom. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with the Toulouse band’s previous output, as both 2010’s How Hate Is Hard To Define
and 2014’s Lowgazers
showcased their relentless approach to blackened hardcore; however, their third full-length is different in the sense that most of the hardcore elements have been toned down, or removed completely. Adrien Broué’s vocals are as tortured as always, most frequently manifesting themselves in either an anguished howl, or a growled, seething monologue. Simon Chaubard’s layered guitar work sounds straight out of the catalogue of Deathspell Omega – dissonant arpeggios jangle and dance with Ivo Kaltchev’s unremitting blast beats, creating an evil wall of noise that triggers the sadistic part of the brain. In short, at least in theory it’s everything we can expect from following Plebeian Grandstand’s evolutionary trail – fast, utterly lightless, and with a heightened emphasis on the atmosphere one can create from black metal.
However, this increased focus on their blackened elements has come at a price. While Plebeian Grandstand’s output has never been particularly easy to digest, False Highs, True Lows
has precious few moments that are memorable post-listen. Ivo Kaltchev’s blast beats, while undeniably impressive in both their technicality and stamina, have the dynamic range of a vitriolic child, going from 0 to 100 to 0 again with very little in between. Chaubard’s guitars, while again technically fascinating, simply lack the warped tremolo-picked hooks that dominated their first two releases, and there’s only so long the aforementioned sadistic part of the brain can wait for something more tangible before it goes wandering. Indeed, False Highs…
is the kind of album that feels like a world-beater for the first ten minutes or so, and then slowly, gradually, becomes a slog to get through. Where this approach is eventually challenged during ‘Tame the Shapes’, with slowly building guitars forming a truly chilling atmosphere, it feels like a breath of fresh air; or at least, it would do if it didn’t continue, largely unchanging, for five or so minutes, before yielding to effectively as things were before.
Assuming that the French quartet’s brief to themselves was to make the most unforgiving, heavy record that they could, it’s undeniable that they’ve succeeded. In short blasts, it's is a technical black metal lover’s wet dream, and on a song-by-song basis, there’s really not a huge amount to complain about; unfortunately, as a package there simply isn’t enough notable to make relistens all that appealing. False Highs, True Lows is
a maelstrom – and, like a maelstrom, it’s hard to tell where you stand when you’re caught in it.