Monarque – Lys Noir

SP033If you’ve spent enough time spelunking in the brackish caverns of black metal’s basement (nevermind the foetid smell of mediocrity and “20 years too late” clinging to the walls) you’ve likely brushed a limb against the small and subtle, though far from impotent, Quebecois black metal scene in the darkness. The rousing, boreal landscapes of Forteresse, the medieval nostalgia of Csejthe, and the occult, folky bizarreness of Neige et Noirceur, among others, have earned a certain notoriety for primitive yet elegant black metal emanating from our French speaking neighbors to the north. Delve deeper into the past and you’ll find that the roots of Quebec reach deeper than most are aware of. 1998, years before any of the aforementioned bands ever wove their first melody, Sorcier des Glaces and Frozen Shadows released their first albums: Snowland and Dans les Bras des Immortels. These frozen monuments were two of the more interesting takes on the Scandinavian sounds of black metal in North America at the time. Their unmatched evocation of both the implacable harshness and the awe-inspiring beauty of winter in the northern wilderness made many of the earlier excursions of the Norwegian and Swedish scene appear as a tame walk in the park by comparison. It’s rather absurd that both of these bands, who really laid the groundwork for much of what followed in Quebec with their unique sense of melody, are so relatively obscure. So, perhaps you can imagine my pleasure when I learned that Monarque, one of the current artists in the Quebecois scene, not only covered a Frozen Shadows track on their latest album, but also released a split with Sorcier des Glaces last year.

“Enough of the history lessons!,” you cry, “We’d be lurking around if we wanted to read this shit! What about the album?” Fine. Have it your way. On Lys Noir Monarque perform a grandiose and dark mode of symphonic black metal. It’s the sort of “symphonic” that pretends the genre more or less stopped after In the Nightside Eclipse and Dark Medieval Times, and before Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth turned it into an abominable word. No fruity vampires abound in the world of Lys Noir; it’s ruled entirely by vicious blasts of tremolo winds and grandiose melodies ascending into the night sky. The keyboards, as in In the Nightside Eclipse, serve only to provide brief intros and accentuate the heart of these songs with their ghostly voices and gothic organ tones. When the raging blizzards and monstrous shrieks calm, things settle into the sort of brooding and cold acoustic introspection that you would expect from every Scandinavian influenced album since 1994, before returning to the fray. The Frozen Shadows cover fits well enough to show that Monarque takes as much influence from their homeland as they do the distant shores of Norway, and the addition of an acoustic accompaniment to the ambient section near the end adds an intriguing new dimension to what is already a great song.

Monarque nailed this style almost as perfectly as you possibly could with Lys Noir. Really. These songs are ridiculously good. The instrumentation and production is impeccable. The last track feels rather underwhelming to me with its plodding riff that never goes anywhere, but otherwise the album is fully loaded with compelling song craft and melodies, and leaving the album under 40 minutes long sees Monarque making the classy decision of refusing to drag the tunes past their welcome. But… as much as I am beginning to sound equally repetitive and tired with this grievance, I have to voice it: It’s been done. It may seem absurd to condemn Monarque for bringing nothing new to the table when I was singing the praises of Sorcier des Glaces and Frozen Shadows, both of whom were (and still are in the case of Sorcier des Glaces) unrepentantly slavish to the early Norwegian scene, but hear me out: what separates those two from Lys Noir was the distinctive style that they forged in spite of their influences. Sorcier des Glaces in particular carries an unmistakable quality of elegant melody (not to mention those ridiculous goblin vocals) that renders it an unmistakable project to those familiar with any of their material. I can’t find any sense of that special spirit on Lys Noir, and because of that I don’t think this otherwise excellent material would really have something to drag me back to it years later in the way that an album like Snowland, which is in many ways a technical mess, still does.

And that’s ultimately fine. People will listen to this album, and they’ll enjoy it and appreciate its craft. I know I did; I listened to it every day for a week and a half. Now that I’ve written this review and set the album aside do I think I’ll ever come back to listen to it rather than In the Nightside Eclipse or Dans les Bras des Immortels? No, I can’t imagine I will. Is it unreasonable that I don’t have the patience for albums like this anymore? Perhaps, but when there’s so much other excellent music out there, vital music that burns with a fire to tread new paths in the inner world, why would I spend a moment of my limited time in the safe ground of the too familiar? -Jake

Sepulchral Productions

~ by jakemoran on May 22, 2013.

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