One of my dearest friends is also my musical antithesis. As much as I can’t understand his love of power metal and Devin Townsend’s Ziltoid record, he cannot fathom how I can unironically enjoy something like Sunn O))) or Revenge. To him, a lot of the wonkier stuff I listen to comes off as noisy hackery, or glorified refrigerator hum. I’ll admit, making pure dissonance your primary compositional tool is a slippery slope in extreme metal. But, when done right, it leads the likes of Portal, Deathspell Omega, Ulcerate and Gorguts (among many others, obviously) into creating some truly moving stuff in spite of their opaqueness. How, exactly, someone could not be immediately enthralled by the first five seconds of Obscura or Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice is a place I don’t want to go mentally. That being said, it’s times when I listen to an album like Neige Morte’s sophomore release Bicephaale that I find myself siding right with my naysaying buddy.
This intrepid French three-piece defies neat categorization, but ultimately seems to go for a loose, semi-improvised kind of industrial-tinged black metal. The avant-garde meanderings of Abruptum cast a looming shadow over the songwriting style, and tracks like “…Et Vacuité du Combat” almost come off as a corpsepainted caricature of Filth-era Swans. However, in the wake of these trailblazing noisemongers, Neige Morte come off as contrived and second-rate.
On “Death Shall Have No Communion,” dissonance is served up a la mode, jettisoning what might have been a suffocating atmosphere and supplanting it with stale, brittle production, and siphoning out any remaining points of interest with aimless, jam-like compositions ornamented with tepid non-riffs. Even worse is the bloated opener “500 Jours de Haine,” where the band seems to give up on itself halfway through its excruciating 10-minute running time. One can almost imagine the drummer and bassist shrugging at each other in their practice space as they sheepishly trudge through the recording, unsure of what else to do than arhythmically hack at the low-B string and middle around on the toms. Even more bemusing are moments of relative conventionality sprinkled amongst the obscurity; the aforementioned “…Et Vacuité du Combat” features a rough attempt at a sludgy groove and a rougher guitar solo, undercutting the record’s self-conscious devotion to sounding as opaque, unconventional and impenetrable as possible.
It’s this convictionless flaccidity that cripples Bicephaale and whatever kind of vague atmosphere that it was meant to evoke. Neige Morte are dissonant to be sure and drone they certainly do, but the sleight of hand is all too obvious. It’s nigh impossible to suspend one’s disbelief enough to be immersed in – and relate to – the chaos when the band seems to be so wrapped up in trying to sound as “challenging” and “avant-garde” as possible, rather than earning such descriptors by making messed up music in earnest. Unfortunately, Neige Morte seem unwilling to drum up the focus or a sense of quality control to exorcise themselves out of what appears to be masking a lack of songwriting with lazy dissonance.