“What fundamental biological principle gives the largest number the right to think they are preserved from error?” wrote Henri Laborit, in the past. Well, quite. Majority opinion dictates that black metal is unlistenable filth, but to the endarkened it can sound quite wonderful. Decline of the I, the solo project of A. K. (also of French black metal pseudohordes Vorkkreist, Merrimack and Malhkebre), is conceptually based on neurologist/philosopher Laborit’s work, which included studies of stress, memory, and psychosis. Debut Inhibition showcased a more experimental sound than his other bands by mixing classic black metal with electronic and orchestral elements, though to be honest I’m not sure how Laborit fits into things as I can’t find any of the lyrics.
While lyrically I’m at a loss, musically Decline of the I exhibits multiple identifiable personalities (though not quite distinctly enough for a dissociative identity disorder diagnosis under DSM definitions). Rebellion’s foundation is the same as Inhibition’s: straightforward black metal, similar in many ways to Merrimack, though with a more adventurous edge along the lines of Ved Buens Ende. Alongside this black metal base, A.K. adds quiet contemplative passages, atmospheric synths, choir, orchestra and piano. These are used quite sparingly, never reaching the ostentatious pomp of, say, Anorexia Nervosa or Carach Angren. A couple of tracks also incorporate electronic beats to great effect, and it’s a shame these aren’t used more frequently across the whole album, as several tracks need something extra to give them a lift.
That’s my major complaint about Rebellion: I love the aesthetic and the range of influences, but more often than not the riffs and harmonies are quite stale. After the engaging opening track, “Hexenface” reverts to tired traditional black metal chord sequences, not helped by its labored timing. “Le Rouge, le Vide et le Tordu” includes a great, pulsing bass synth line and well executed atmospheric break, but inspiration departs again by the time “The End of Prostration” begins. This song does at least contain some rhythmic intrigue, but the riffs are drawn out to the point of tedium. The best track here, “Deus Sive Musica,” is surprisingly also the longest. It starts with a heavily processed, aggressive drum loop that breaks into a triumphant, orchestra-backed opening (this is the one point A.K. does go a bit Anorexia Nervosa), then a driving, classic black metal section. The riffs here are perhaps the least distinctive on the whole record, but the various sonic elements are stitched together far more convincingly, while the song’s pacing is managed superbly.
I have one other, minor complaint about the production. Overall things sound pretty good – it’s neither over-produced nor a fuzzy mess – but the guitar tone is weak and muffled and the bass needs greater presence. The drums sound natural, which is refreshing, but also means that the snare is quite weak. This suits the quieter sections well, but not the heavier passages. Some of the drumming is a little off, too – it can drag during slower sections and is often unimaginative. Drummer Necrolith was previously in Merrimack and he’s clearly most comfortable during the more traditional, faster black metal sections.
I don’t want to come off too negative – the concept is interesting and different (I’d love to get the lyrics though), while some of the musical ideas are excellent. Sadly this level of excellence is not maintained across the whole record, and the less inspired compositions sound mediocre by comparison. This makes for occasionally frustrating listening, as you can hear the potential for greatness is there. They are at least on an upward trajectory – Rebellion is an improvement over debut Inhibition. I’m willing to believe in that two-point trend and fully expect the next album to be a monster.