Not much has changed for DarkTribe in the past five years. As I wrote in my review of 2015’s The Modern Age, the French quartet cherishes a progressive and unabashedly melodic take on power metal, but one which doesn’t quite fit the framework of our perpetual retro obsessions. Rather than a refreshed take on a démodé genre, DarkTribe’s music feels as if abducted from the late 1990s or early 2000s and put into stasis, trapped in that timeline and preserved in a pristine state forever. So powerful and candid is this stylistic anachronism that the band’s third LP Voici l’homme acts as a rotten Proustian Madeleine, eternally evoking yet never reaching the sonic imagery of first encounters with bands such as Labyrinth, Stratovarius, and Evergrey.
At first glance, Voici l’homme follows The Modern Age’s script note for note. The one-dimensional instrumental intro “March for a Prophecy” is punctuated by the token energetic romper “Prism of Memory,” and broodingly contrasted with the slow, crunchy ballad “Voici l’homme.” A painfully familiar sequence. Rinse and repeat. Observing the patterns and formulas that follow, these initial three cuts lay bare all the issues of the record as a whole. The faux-orchestral prologue and intermezzos are awkwardly dross. The compositions are simple and predictable, beset with repetitions and on the nose variations. The keyboard layers are ponderous and often clumsily integrated with the rest of the instrumentation. The thrashier, more dynamic segments forget their point and trail off into vulgaris European power metal. Going back to DarkTribe’s earlier releases, the only hint of progression comes in the form of a better-mixed palette of sounds enveloped in a clearer and cleaner production. This slightly evolved and more focused approach mitigates the busyness and sense of overcrowded layers that plagued them in the past, but proves to be a feeble improvement on its own.
While DarkTribe’s previous records were visually represented with darker, blue overtones, the glistening orange and yellow chroma used on Voici l’homme’s messianic cover seems to be intentional, symbolizing a complementary shift in the music. The move from generally existential themes to forthright Christian symbolism skews the album towards lighter notes and a lingering sense of optimism. On cuts like “Faith and Vision” this approach yields the most promising results. It ushers in some cool, Labyrinth-like contorted riffs, slaloms through progressive shifts, and creates a neat self-contained flow. Later on, the medium pace of “Under the Three of Life” allows the band to breathe more confidently, rising and falling with big riffs. Unfortunately, for every such moment of inspiration, Voici l’homme offers a disappointing counterpoint, like the coarse and empty attacks of “According to Darkness” or the overlong balladry and spoken word segments of “The Hunger Theory.”
Despite these crucial shortcomings, Voici l’homme cannot be dismissed a priori. There are some truly wonderful moments here: the moving transition from English to French lyrics and back on “Voici l’homme,” the scintillating echoes of harpsichord synths on “A Silent Curse”, or the grooving riffs on “Prism of Memory.” Additionally, the musicianship is pleasing and of high level throughout, topped by the occasional excellent riff rising from Loïc Manuello’s guitar and Anthony Agnello’s consistently confident vocal delivery. A shame, then, that all of this is shackled by the pop-like song structures of disappointing quality and generally rigid and formulaic progressions. Ultimately, the aforementioned moments of quality deepen the frustration, making me rue the unfulfilled potential and misplaced talent.
Voici l’homme is a hard album to recommend, either to fans of the genre or anyone else. While the progressive power scene might not be as productive nor of high quality as it used to be, there is still a plethora of better and more interesting bands to spend time and attention on. Just a quick glance at albums released in the past year reveals excellent new music by both newcomers (Paladin) and stalwarts (Evergrey) in the scene. As far DarkTribe is concerned… well, better luck next time.