Bonjour tristesse: hello sadness. Nathanael — the bassist, guitarist, and lyricist for Thränenkind (who are now King Apathy) and Heretoir — focuses his attention on the oppressive realities of existing within depressing, lonely and bitter industrial societies. Thränenkind changed their name to King Apathy in 2017. Why? Thränenkind‘s original musical and conceptual vision had changed. The depressive direction of their debut EP had morphed. With the album King Apathy, Thränenkind were a real band with real members (rather than being a one-man project.) Their new sound was not in line with the original depressive concept of “personal social criticism, driven by post-modern alienation” that Nathanael thought Thränenkind should embody. Bonjour Tristesse is his solo project (though vocals are provided by Eklatanz of Heretoir) that embodies and channels the existential dread at the core of the original Thränenkind.
Sirens, horns and a murmuring whitewash of background city noise opens the album. Straight away we’re immersed in a world of factories, engines and social anxiety. Nathanael bluntly expels his vitriol for modern life. Socio-critical lyrics — accusations and lamentations towards those who have allowed civilization to rot — are a hugely important aspect of Bonjour Tristesse‘s sound. Spoken word dirges are common, organically overlaying sections of pondering quietness. But mostly high pitched shrieks and shouts of the throat-shredding, much aggrieved, variety rupture through the heart of this depressive vessel to strong effect. The wheel is not re-invented. The wheel does not want to be re-invented. Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare is a personal and insular album that seems to honestly represent the emotions and personalities of its sole creator.
Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare is equal amounts abrasive and tender. “Like the Scythe in the Ripened Field” is a four-minute eruption of various sounds – abrasive and tender. An onrush of rapid drumming, screams and pinball-machine tremolo noise makes way for sounds of the post-rock variety. Nathanael overlays shimmering ambient noises with spoken word lamentations (Because I can’t go quietly, I fly / Through every sky over sound buildings / Toppling pillars and punching holes in walls) which in turn make way for a thunderous, Panopticon-esque outro. “One of the Ghost Folk” has a strong leaning towards the plodding melancholy of Panopticon‘s “Pale Ghosts” too. Sections of wispy clean vocals whirl around echoing guitar sounds and passionate screams, the plod of drums and bass a thumping heartbeat that drives the sound. A subtle key shift at the four-minute mark works wonders in extending the songs melancholy heart. It’s tiny elements like this that makes Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare succeed.
“The Act of Laughing in a World Once Beautiful Now Dying” embeds tinny spoken word samples with an intensifying bass-driven sound. The mid-paced plod becomes a gallop as Nathanael once again murmurs poetry above high-pitched tremolo and spurts of post-hardcore–esque screamed rage. The album regularly shifts into these moods — less vitriolic and accusatory and more languid, filled with self-loathing. The music reflects this — atmospheric touches come to the fore. Post-rock, post-metal, post-whatever-yo-mamma-says, is mashed up and swirled with tenderness and tact here. These moments never become too sappy or over-indulgent. There’s always a timely shift — be it a key change, the introduction of a new sound, a well-placed lull or a spurt of energy — that has kept me on my toes. “Wavebreaker” explodes with apt aggression after the album’s solemn lull, once again combining post-hardcore leanings with depressive leanings of the An Autumn For Crippled Children and Heretoir variety.
Closer “The End of the World” rounds-up the concept at the heart of the record. Nathanael speaks of what is essentially a spiritual apocalypse, then the dream of a re-built civilization, a unified and forward moving entity: When the world ended, people came out of their apartments / And met their neighbors for the first time / They shared food, stories, companionship. Your Ultimate Urban Nightmare achieves what it sets out to achieve. It’s an emotional, well-structured journey — 44 minutes of depressing, urgent metal. It’s not perfect. The drums have an occasionally distracting plasticity; vocals — especially spoken word — get lost in the haze; some songs follow the same predictable atmospheric/post-rock format too strictly; lyrics verge on the melodramatic and cliched at times. But, as a whole, I feel a real affinity with this album — it’s maybe the first album this year that has satisfied me both musically and emotionally.