Creature – Contes Funèbres [Things You Might Have Missed 2019]

If certain physicists—or DC Comics—are to be believed, there’s a sprawling multiverse of alternate worlds very much like, yet very different from our own. If you’re unfortunate enough to live on Earth-3, you may be terrorized by an evil Superman. In the Mirror Universe, everyone who’s bad in ours is good and everyone good is bad, except for Miles O’Brien, because a put-upon Irish everyman is somehow a cross-reality constant. I’ve even heard reports of a dimension that contains nothing but shrimp. If you followed my shameless thread of geek references just now, you know that the pesky thing about alternate realities is that sometimes something crosses over into ours. I’m convinced that Raphael Fournier, the sole member of France’s Creature, is just such a something.

On Contes Funèbres, Fournier’s second as Creature, there are sounds and styles that can be found in our world, but they’ve been arranged by a mind that surely originates elsewhere. Yes, this is black metal at a foundational level, but there is so much synth prog, electronic trickery, odd vocals and anachronistic choral arrangements that calling it any one thing is pointless. Indeed, anachronistic, as well as theatrical, may be the key words when thinking of Contes Funèbres. When I listen to this album, I can vividly see sets and costumes under stage lights. The whole thing is like a fever dream play about poor, corpse painted black metal musicians in a Parisian banlieue and their struggle against the aristocracy in the late 1800s, set to 70s prog, 00s black metal and something yet unnamed that will probably see its heyday sometime in the 2030s. While I doubt this was ever Fournier’s intention, it’s a tribute to the interpretive openness in his unique artistic expression.

You’d be forgiven if upon hearing the straight forward tremolos and blast beats on opener “Prologue” you thought this would be standard black metal fare. That assumption is thoroughly dashed by “Départ II,” which makes a few things immediately clear. First, this is not a particularly heavy album. That’s partly to do with production, which favors vocals and keyboards higher in the mix, and Fournier’s rasps themselves sound oddly half whispered and completely legible, at least phonetically (I don’t speak French). The programmed drums and bass lines also feel muted. They can be heard, but not felt, as if you’re perceiving them in a half conscious state. There are plenty of buzzing riffs, but they’re forced to play nice with everything else. Second, Creature’s idiosyncratic prog(ish) vision often overpowers the black metal. There are some relatively straightforward tracks (“La Disgrâce), but they’re the exception. Mostly, each track twists and contorts into carnival side show figures, with all of the tragic sensationalism that implies. Like any good prog, the emotional highs, like the opening choral arrangement of “La Revanche” or the soaring tremolo riff in “L’Adversaire,” flare up and burn out quickly as the ideas flow ever forward.

Contes Funèbres is best experienced in a state of drift. On first listen I wanted it to be more biting, more black metal in form and emotional impact. Once I disengaged my expectations, the listening experience started to feel like the highly structured dream of an untethered mind. It’s best taken as a nearly 70 minute whole, and is doubtless an acquired taste, but you won’t find a more idiosyncratic black metal album this side of 2030.

Tracks to check out: I said drift. DRIFT DAMMIT.

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