Bonjour Tristesse – Against Leviathan! Review

As I write this, it is an unseasonably hot day and I am hunkered down trying in vain to keep the dark in and the heat out of my little world. All around me, coworkers and friends marvel at the gorgeous, sunny, life-bringing weather we’re experiencing, and I’m here thinking it’s all stupid and I’d much rather it was cold again. All this is to say, I think I’m in the perfect state of mind to be listening to and reviewing Against Leviathan!1, the third full-length release from Bonjour Tristesse. Bonjour Tristesse is the solo project of one Nathaniel, who is perhaps best known for his work with King Apathy/Thränekind. Against Leviathan purports to act as a criticism of an industrialized world, a beacon of anger and anguish in the face of “progress,” and it succeeds there for certain—but does it sound good as it does?

To answer that, I should probably start by asserting that Against Leviathan sounds like black metal. Bonjour Tristesse builds atmospheres using walls of riff, tremolo leads, and Nathaniel’s trademark vocal style—distorted, wet shrieks that are almost completely unintelligible, but convey his anguish well. With album opener “Turmoil,” Nathanial makes a clear statement: Against Leviathan is going to be many things, but at its heart is a black metal production. This song is furious from the second it starts, driving forward with blast beats, huge riffs, and the aforementioned shrieking. Before long, though, the song turns ever-so-slightly contemplative. The odd melodic lead and pacing change shows that Nathaniel has a strong affinity for writing long black metal songs; just when things threaten to get even a little bit stale, he changes them up in exactly the right way. Really, the only thing I dislike about “Turmoil” is that it ends with a fade-out—it is an amazing start to the album.

In “true” black metal fashion, Against Leviathan is produced in such a way as to be intentionally hazy and distorted. It toes the line between lo-fi and modern production, making sure each instrument is audible, yet a little blurred together. This both causes problems and provides opportunities for the whole. On the one hand, it sounds surprisingly strong—the distorted tunes really amplify the album’s dystopian theme and make the melodic additions stand out greatly. On the other, it does rob the album of some of its aggression. “Nightbringer” suffers the most from this; it contains all the hallmarks of a really angry black metal tune, but little of the feel. Instead of hitting you hard, it tells you it’s going to be hitting you hard. It’s still a good song, and allows Nathaniel to flex his vocal muscles with low growls and ear-splitting shrieks. It does, however, highlight that the album’s production and mixing are only really conditionally strong.

The album’s mountainous title track meets that condition exactly, however, and demonstrates that when Bonjour Tristesse lean into that sadness that is its namesake, everything comes together about as ideally as you can imagine. While I don’t love the production for the album’s angrier moments, with “Against Leviathan,” you can see exactly why someone made those choices. This song builds an intentionally mournful atmosphere on top of its riffs, taking a much more measured approach to Bonjour Tristesse’s sound. The drumming is dynamic, the vocals sound incredible, and a constant flow of melodic leads take the listener on a journey of despair, anger, and pain. Quiet moments, galloping riffs, and furious passages make the twelve minutes soar by. This song, along with “Turmoil,” demonstrate a terrific Sunken-esque harmony of anger and sadness, of style and theme. When it works, it works very well, and everything about the album comes together just right.

At its heart, Against Leviathan is carried by its thematic relevance and reliable catharsis. You get a real sense for Nathaniel’s feelings, his frustrations, his sadness, as you listen to Bonjour Tristesse, and that’s really all it needs to succeed. That he is a skilled songwriter was already beyond question—so it’s clear that inspiration was more than enough to go on to create a strong album. It isn’t perfect, but it succeeds at what it sets out to do for certain, which is more than enough for me to have enjoyed it every time I’ve listened through.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192kbps mp3
Label: Supreme Chaos Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 7th, 2023

Show 1 footnote

  1. I’ll be omitting the exclamation mark from here, but this is, I believe, the correct title convention.
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