I’m largely done with black metal as it was in Norway in 1993. That raw, lo-fi, stripped-back approach to black metal had its place and developed metal in so many ways but it’s definitely had its time. Bands such as Ulver, Emperor and Enslaved were already beginning to move the sound into unprecedented regions in the mid-late 90s. Now in 2016 it’s rare that I listen to that sort of no frills attached, no genre cross-over, nothing added to that furious, godless formula. And yet there are bands which pull me back in without doing anything outside that established blueprint: Taake; Mgła; this year’s Wode. I may have found another contender. Quebec’s Forteresse takes this style and transposes it on to their history of strife over independence – primarily concerning the Lower Canada Rebellion. While not flawless, Thèmes pour la Rébellion is a strong album and an adrenaline shot into a scene too preoccupied with atmosphere and protraction.
A feeling of war is immediately established by the short intro, featuring battle cries and the unmistakable sounds of muskets. The opening to “Spectre de la Rébellion” then slams into you, backing this war-like promise with aggression and vitriol. The riffs are scything and cold but there’s a chunkiness to their sound, facilitated through a reasonably bassy mix compared with that which is typical. These riffs are trilling and harsh but there’s an undeniable melody sitting atop the wall. Indeed, the vocals have a savage tone to them, elevated beyond the high-pitched shrieks often used. Forteresse are resolute in their abandonment of frills but there’s no denying the strength of their meaty sound and riffing. “Vespérales” may be the best track on offer, opening with an explosive scream and emphasizing its awesome guitar interplay. We’ve already had all the metal of this type that we could ever need but it’s tough to argue that this isn’t a great example of it.
Best of all, Forteresse acknowledges and embraces that black metal first thrived off intensity (to paraphrase AMG). 10 minutes of the same tremolo-picked passage to establish ‘atmosphere’ isn’t cool and they understand this. Their heaviness, relative brevity of tracks and sharp, 40-minute length contrive to ensure the material doesn’t lose its teeth. The very occasional spoken word or choral element, such as those on “Là où Nous Allons” and “Par la Bouche de mes Canons,” are deployed judiciously and do just enough to offer slight variety without undermining any brutal credibility. They’re appreciable but not dominating in the mix.
If I have a criticism it’s that Thèmes is highly one-note. It’s a very well-executed note but 37 minutes of blasting fury is a touch too much for me without reprieve. The conclusion is a thoughtful, atmospheric slow-burner with resonant chords and natural effects which I think would have functioned better in the middle of the record, thus offering such a breather. I advocate interludes since ferociousness starts to look lesser when it’s all that’s on display – such interludes highlight the aggression and encourage appreciation of that which comes immediately before and after. As such, I think the pacing could be improved.
If you’re remotely interested in black metal, Thèmes is well-worth your time. It certainly helps that the record is reasonably dynamic and is produced to confer a cavernous sound on the guitars. After an admittedly short listen to the rest of Forteresse‘s discography, this is the most immediate of their releases and that which I prefer. Though it loses out for pacing and originality, the strength of the riffs carries Thèmes on to a fairly short list of my favorite black metal releases of 2016 so far.