Week 2 of Madam X Month sees the Huckster taking on one of X’s favorites from years gone by, Décembre Noir. Our esteemed headmistress reviewed their debut back in 2014, and was impressed enough by A Discouraged Believer that she managed to twist the untwistable arm of Steel Druhm and have the album declared a runner up in the May 2014 Record(s) o’ the Month column—not to mention including it in her own Top Ten(ish) list that year. We somehow missed their follow-up, 2016’s Forsaken Earth, but we are not about to make the same mistake with Autumn Kings. The question is, four years on from their debut, what do Décembre Noir bring to the table that they didn’t on their debut?
In many ways, it’s more of the same, and that’s a good thing. Décembre Noir bring a slick attention to detail to their massive take on the death and doom genres. They deftly balance the delicate and the heavy through their arrangements, mixing things up in sometimes unexpected fashion. At times, it seems they are intent on startling us out of reverie, as at the beginning of opening track “In the Pouring Rain,” which starts with a gentle rain shower, subdued thunder far in the distance, and a timid, clean guitar melody. Just as we settle into our easy-chair though, the vocals crash through our speakers, crushing us for the next six minutes. With a combination of a plodding doom march, brief blast beats, and moments of more rhythmically straightforward metal, the song’s full eight-and-a-half minutes seem to fly by. And that’s the case with all the songs here. None are shorter than seven minutes, yet all are constructed such that our attention rarely wavers.
The longest song, by one second, is the eleven-minute twelve-second “Hymn of Sorrow.” It opens and closes with lines from the famous Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” which at first seems a bit corny, but taken with the whole of the song is quite effective. “Hymn of Sorrow” is very much a modern doom song, with soul-crushing heaviness and despair-laden harsh vocals mixed with clean passages and more recited poem lines. The pacing is deliberate, and as with all of the songs on Autumn Kings, drummer Kevin1 lays it down in impressive fashion, with outstanding fills leading us onward. Another standout track, “Barricades” leads us on a journey from clean, gothic melancholy to death-infused fury to jagged spoken-word doom and back around again, with a few surprises along the way for good measure.
Vocals take a front seat when in play, dominating the mix, and Lars’ fantastic subterranean growl holds up to scrutiny, as do his passable clean change-ups. Guest vocals come courtesy Heaven Shall Burn’s Marcus Bischoff on “Between Silence and Shards,” and by Catalepsia’s Erwin Franz on “Barricades.” Once again produced by Heaven Shall Burn guitarist Alexander Dietz, who also adds to many of the arrangements instrumentally, the sound is thick and powerful. Décembre Noir are an incredibly tight band, and the polished production accentuates this. Check out the six-minute mark of “Barricades,” where a great riff and thunderous drums lead into a keyboard-accentuated climax. The emotion of the music is wonderfully conveyed in the mix.
Autumn Kings is massive in sound and length. It’s natural to compare the band to other months, and there are similarities to Novembers Doom and October Tide. Fans of both bands will find much to like here, especially for those who weren’t thrilled with the clean/harsh ratio on the last Novembers Doom release. Madam X loved Décembre Noir’s debut, but felt it didn’t bring anything new to the genre. I can’t say that they do here either, but I can say that what they do bring is stellar. From performances to songwriting, from production to arrangements, Autumn Kings is an excellent album to spin in these cold, bleak months.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Lifeforce Records
Websites: decembrenoirlfr.bandcamp.com | decembre-noir.de | facebook.com/decembrenoir
Releases Worldwide: November 9th, 2018