I’ve been lurking the metal blogosphere for around a decade now, and while I hesitate to call myself a scene vet, I’ve read enough write-ups from various webzines to know how coverage of a record like the self-titled debut of France’s Les Chants du Hasard generally plays out. Most scribes hunger for the discovery of some nebulous “next big thing” that carries the potential of turning a genre on its head. As such, many writers are overly eager to gush over potential innovators; when met face to face with what their promo sheet describes as an all-orchestral black metal album, they’re often too willing to jump on the hype train, regardless of quality. I can’t really say I blame them, as a record as genuinely unique as Les Chants du Hasard is undoubtedly an exciting prospect. That being said, hyperbolic claims regarding this record should be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s a compelling experience that doesn’t quite live up to its ambitious goals.
With Les Chants du Hasard, sole member Hazard set out to unify the realms of black metal and classical music. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about the history of 1800s orchestral music from which Hazard drew his primary inspirations1, but I do know more than a little bit about black metal, and I can safely say this LCDH nails the genre’s atmosphere. Years of listening to black metal have diluted its inherent shock value, yet this record sounds downright frightening in comparison to most releases of the style. Huge, dissonant horn swells and swirling strings are blanketed by venomous black metal croaks in richly layered soundscapes that peak and valley in melodramatic fashion. The compositions can range from hugely bombastic (“Chant I,” “Chant III”) to mystical and restrained (“Chant II,” “Chant IV”), granting LCdH a respectable and refreshing sense of track identity and variety.
Though not necessarily in my wheelhouse, I have no real issues with LCdH’s songwriting. Where the album falls short, however, is in its aspirations to be a “new” kind of black metal record. The blackened vocals certainly lend a dose of unsettling intensity to the proceedings, but from song construction to instrument implementation, I can’t really detect anything that resembles black metal from a structural standpoint. I should reiterate that its atmosphere and experimental stylings feel deeply rooted in the avant-garde nature of many of black metal’s more unusual acts, and this may just be enough to convert more adventurous listeners. Just keep in mind that, if you’re lured into LCdH by any buzz hyping it up to be a black metal album of any sort, you may ultimately feel like a victim of false advertising.
This isn’t to say that I believe Hazard or the label’s PR intended to mislead listeners in any way. LCdH is a release that has clearly had a metric ass-ton of thought, time, and effort placed into its construction, and I’m astounded at Hazard’s ability to skillfully handle all vocals and instruments. It’s packed with off-kilter movements that stick in the mind like cosmic tar from the first listen; moments like the distorted, disturbing vocal layering in “Chant IV” and the methodical march of crescendoing strings and chants in “Chant III” are wonderfully weird instances of creative expression. Yet a record as intricate as this one practically demands a production job more nuanced than your average metal release, and in this respect, LCdH misses the mark. There are countless layers at work, yet the mixing doesn’t do this complexity justice, crowding the winds and strings together. This can sound especially obnoxious when layered vocals are piled on top, and it’s a damn shame that arrangements this dramatic aren’t accompanied by similarly dynamic volume fluctuations.
What Les Chants du Hasard has accomplished with this release is truly something to behold, but I’m just not sure that it’s for me. Go ahead and call me a plebeian, but the strictly orchestral music just ain’t my bag, and hardly anything about it appeals to the black metal fan in me. Still, if you’re up for a non-metal record marketed to metal fans, this is an appealingly unconventional release that packs in some undeniably disturbing and unexpected moments of sheer creativity. Even though I won’t be returning to it much in the future, you can bet I’ll be blasting LCdH for impressionable trick-or-treaters come Halloween.