Earlier this year, I penned a review describing my unbiased approach when listening to and reviewing an album. But, bias is a real thing and, boy, can it be difficult to ignore. Especially when the band being reviewed is an old-time favorite. I think that’s why, deep down, all reviewers love new bands. It’s much easier to approach a new band with minimal bias. Especially when you get bored with an album that you should be writing a review for and decide to check on that next promo waiting in the queue [No more queue for you! – Steel Druhm]. The only thing I knew going into Ars Moriendi was that this black metal outfit is from France, which means they’re probably weird as shit. But, being the fan I am of Spektr, Reverence, and Blut aus Nord, I wasn’t too worried. So, not expecting anything novel, I put in my buds and fired up Sepelitur Alleluia. And, oh lordy, I was taken by surprise. It turns out there is more to Ars Moriendi than meets the eye (or ear).
Like others on the interwebz, the biggest surprise about Ars Moriendi is the fact that “they” are a one-man band. Sure, this isn’t some new thing, but if you look at the band’s entire discography, it’s rather stunning that a single, twisted soul could conjure up such an assortment of atmospheres, driving riffs, and wide-eyed oddities. For instance, the journey down the black path of “Ecce Homo” begins with church choirs before traversing thickets of bass-guitar leads, synthy landscapes, alternating rasps and barks, and a blaring trumpet. Yep, I said trumpet. And not the cheesy kind of trumpet buried in the back of a Dimmu Borgir symphony. This horn gets all the limelight and, somehow, is the exact thing this track needed. It’s like Chumbawamba if Chumbawamba was a really good black metal band. After the track reemerges from Arsonist’s signature chugs, it concludes with a dramatic brass and woodwind duet. The description may bring Sigh to mind, but Ars Moriendi is a little more restrained than those crazy Japanese black metallers.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Closer “Fléau français” capitalizes on every twist and turn the band has ever explored (be it this album or any of their previous three). Though “Ghost,” from their Du tréfonds d’un être release, may be their roundest piece, “Fléau français” is their fullest. For the first six minutes, the closer feels like the sequel to opener “Sepeliture.” But, the next twelve minutes take things to the next level. First, the song slows to a bass-led, ’70s rock improv session, filled with sporadic guitar solos. From here, it drops off into a synth-induced valley, where drums rap like the quickening of a heartbeat. The tribal beat builds the song up to post-black swoonings and its melodic tremolos climb and climb to a climax never quite obtained. Though the peak wasn’t all I wanted it to be, the beautiful piano outro is worth the trip.
The remaining three tracks on Sepelitur Alleluia are a bit more normal. “Sepeliture” alternates between fast and slow, exchanging traditional black-metal tremolos for post-black builds that use the bass guitar for greatest effect. After “Ecco Homo” dissipates, Arsonist’s razor-sharp riffs make “À la vermine” the most aggressive track on the album. It’s got a steady stream of hooking riffs that encourage massive amounts of headbanging pleasure. Especially when Arsonist’s rasps exaggerate the marching leads. Had “Ecce Homo” and “À la vermine” traded places on the album, the effect would not have been the same. “À la vermine” is the perfect successor to “Ecco Homo.”
Unfortunately, the remaining track, “Je vois des morts,” doesn’t stick with me like the others. It has a beautiful, clean-guitar intro and outro, but the core of the song is rather typical black metal. It’s got the same kind of melody-meets-aggression found across the record, but its omission would most likely strengthen the album. Having engrossed myself in the band’s entire discography in this last week, I’m having a hard time deciding on this album or Du tréfonds d’un être as their finest. Regardless, Ars Moriendi is an impressive black metal outfit and this gem arrived just in time for some cold, autumn nights.