Review Summary: Ekki-ekki-ekki-ekki-PTANG Zoom-Boing, z'nourrwringmm is probably more like it.
Given the dedication emanated by serious collectors, it’s incredibly surprising that none have discovered a rather strange delete scene. Perhaps Monty Python and the Holy Grail
ranks low on priority lists, which I find troublesome—this is a fascinating piece of film. As King Arthur and Sir Bedevere traverse a foreboding forest, they encounter the fearsome Knights Who Say Ni, who thereby task them with one grand objective: obtaining a shrubbery. What’s interesting here is that the two adventurers actually fail in this instance and are unable to hold up their end of the deal, practically guaranteeing their deaths. Yet the scene takes a sudden turn; the lead knight, furious, digs through the dirt behind him and reveals the shrubbery garden had been a front all along and the chanting collective had been stashing guitars, as was common medieval practice. The ground begins to tremble as another member joins the fray with a groovy bass, his output eventually supported by a tactical percussion strike swooping by on a cart. Arthur and Bedevere find themselves surrounded as their assailants—they’re French, for some reason—begin frolicking about amidst complex rhythmic motions, loud noises, moments of respite, and then more loud noises (and yelling, which French people just seem to do sometimes). Never mind the fact that the footage looks suspiciously modern and forget how it was randomly inserted as though manually spliced into the movie. Most important to the audience should be that Ni aim for a kind of zaniness emblematic of the source material from which they derive their namesake, supplying a series of dissonant, jazz-tinged romps both instrumentally pleasing and foot-tapping fun.
The mindset behind forming an album atypically in the manner that Pantophobie
appears is one that cannot be conclusively tied down by any particular categorization. Math rock and metalcore indeed play the fundamental role, which is to be expected following the more immediate aggression erupting from predecessor Les insurgés de Romilly
—time signature variations galore, balanced equally by dynamic alterations through tempo fluctuations or wayward breakdowns. Guitar riffs carry with them a refined polish so that their intricate movements are easily detectable, simultaneously maintaining genre-approved crunchiness so that a heaviness factor is always lurking, brought forward whenever a song demands it. Quite unlike their intimidating alter-egos of the silver screen, Ni demonstrate command over elements beyond hardened steel and herrings; though they carry a reputation for being sporadic in their delivery, this serves to downplay the key element of patience that the French group possess. While aforementioned descriptions may paint a portrait of a disordered, unrestrained assembly, the Frenchmen tend to holster such portions, waiting for the proper moment to fire. In an evolution from prior efforts, Ni allow even more room for tracks to expand and grow by establishing a foundation before blasting off into frenzied attacks. If any indicator was to be designated, the responsibility would have to be attached to album opener and leading single “Heliophobie”: the band joins the fray individually, slowing constructing the tune for nearly half of its length. One guitar is scratched in the background, the static stretching like a curtain behind the stage as its partner and the bassist trade discordant notes and low chords, seemingly off-beat yet cooperating in sync by a hair.
This level of coordination dominates the record to the extent it does any other metalcore album that’s grounded in that ‘controlled chaos’ methodology: that strategy of crafting music that may externally exhibit signs of disconnect, but is internally intertwined in a tight formation wherein one slip causes the whole product to collapse. Ni have a pension for throwing about these passages confidently, leaden chugs and precise drumming walking tightrope-style with intermittent melodic outbursts and technical maneuvers. Whether the gents divulge their cards earlier or later differs; think about the delicate strumming and cymbal hits that characterize the first minute of “Lachanophobie,” which eventually merges into a restrained, ominous alternating pick pattern that lures the listener in. Contrast this display with the crazy introduction represented on “Catagelophobie,” random vocal inflections dancing around as a funky rhythm sways about—that is, before it is ultimately murdered by a distorted explosion punctuated by distant screaming, wailing string tones leaping up and down behind the barrage. Holding consistent to their underrated trait of patience, neither of these instances are the peaks of their respective entries, only highlights of the total equation. The former song races into a swirling mass of screeching guitars, a resonating low end, and a frantic percussion showing, while the latter dissolves into weighty breakdown. If it hasn’t already been made clear, the Knights Who Play Ni are certainly knights in the plural sense. Among the quartet’s contributors, nobody necessarily outshines the other; it’s something I mention often in reviews because this speaks to a complete harmonization of direction. When every voice is heard, the mix is balanced, meaning that the listener has no shortage of depth to dive into, picking apart the dense layering packaged inside the tracks.
Naturally, a band being able to sound (at least) good and cohesive is desirable, but it can only attain acclaim to a point. Instrumental releases are inevitably hampered by their exclusion of singing; charismatic or otherwise impressive vocalists can often cover for lackluster performances and arbitrarily add memorability to tunes that otherwise wasn’t there. Ni is an awfully skilled collection of individuals who doubtlessly parade about mastery over musical minutiae, controlling separate components in a firm grasp, ensuring even the small details are refined. Being able to pause instead of charging full speed ahead is a key attribute that lets songs breathe, avoiding the issue of suffocating motifs from developing and reaching climaxes. If none of this can be remembered by the audience, however, it’s all for naught—simply fun facts off of IMDB’s trivia page. All involved can rest assured that the French fellows characterize their production distinctly to prevent blending. There’s something that pushes the creations of Pantophobie
out of the speakers and deep into the back of the brain; in the case of “Leucosélophobie,” an electronic bass tone thunders in skies above as a chainsaw-sounding guitar swipes down menacingly. The centerpiece of the disc, the 7-minute opus “Athazagoraphobie” (say that
five times fast), kicks off its duration immersed in a mysterious aura, gradually progressing to a howling guitar solo that revels in discordant melodies. Never does the ambitious crew settle for a formula or lag behind in their unswerving dedication to captivating flair. Even more significant is the prevalence of substance over panache, since the talent demonstrated does not eclipse overall goals of building excellent numbers.
That Middle Ages conflict definitely seems like a culmination of the knights’ resume thus far, though I vacillate between defining it as an apex or another base camp before the summit. Ni stock Pantophobie
front-to-back with a treasure trove of exciting, fresh incursions through twisted domains populated by twisted personalities, all of them making brash exclamations that barely pierce a thick blanket of metalcore riffage. Moments crop up that are groovy, nearly funky, jazzy, or potentially a combination of all three. It’s a variation on -core bedlam not often heard and it is dealt a spectacular justice here. Very few artists of divergent persuasions have managed to combine a wide array of assets without sacrificing something along the way in compromise. Make no mistake: Ni can bang heads, thrust hips, and cast a hypnotic, mosh-inducing spell upon any crowd that dares enter the shrubbery den. I can only add the caveat that the angry atmosphere could be pushed even further—imagine similar instrumental musters merged underneath gloomy melancholia a la Niechec. If the quality of work here continues its upward trend, the summit being a limitation is out of the question. Pantophobie
invades the disco bar all the same as it does an English forest; double-check those Holy Grail copies, I swear there’s a guitar in there somewhere.