Henri Laborit was a French neurobiologist who studied brain activities, including the brain patterns of rats when they’re met with undue aggression. In doing so, he developed chlorpromazine, a powerful antipsychotic used to treat severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, helping to change the tide of mental illness forever. However, due to being at odds with fellow researchers at the time, he felt that his recognitions were viewed as just a footnote compared to those of his peers, and he was said to have died a bitter man in 1995. France’s Decline of the I, led by main man and multi-instrumentalist A (Merrimack, Sektarism, The Order of Apollyon), formed to release a trilogy based on Laborit’s life and works. The final piece, Escape, strives to wrap things up on a somber, blackened note, and hopefully pay proper homage to Laborit and his accomplishments.
Anyone who has battled any form of mental illness, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or something more severe, can tell you that living day-to-day feels like an emotional rollercoaster of sorts. Waves of sadness puncture your heart with little warning, your mood can change with the direction of the breeze, and that persistent fog that creeps in your mind may disappear for the briefest of seconds, but it lingers there, never really going away, like that boss in a video game that you might beat, but can’t fully kill entirely. Escape deftly encapsulates that feeling with expert precision, as tracks like “Enslaved by Existence,” with its piped-in choirs, tremolo guitar work that would make their French contemporaries stand and take notice, and a foreboding dread that permeates throughout the song’s length. Closer “Je pense donc je fuis” alternatively pulls you to new lows, ending with somber female wailing and male choirs, giving the vibe that things don’t end happily ever after.
But just as the highs are glorious and monumental, the lows drag the proceedings down quite a bit. Opener “Disruption” does a fine job of setting the tone of the album, with its post-metal bass and riff work, but A loops this one sample repeatedly throughout the song’s eight-minute length, doing very little to stave off boredom. Elsewhere, “Negentropy (Fertility Sovereign)” goes from schizophrenic blasts to moody pianos to trippy beats, but it often lingers too long in one spot, killing off any sort of tension. Also, during said track, A felt the need to pad the song out with a minute of dead air at the end. Bands, why do you do this? This doesn’t build tension at all. It just makes me look at my phone or other listening device, and wonder if something’s wrong with my headphones.
Soundwise, Escape doesn’t possess a robust, dynamic production, but it never veers into noisiness, either. The drums and programmed beats never sound distorted, the guitars cut through with enough bite to make their presence known, and the bass remains audible throughout the album. Some trimming here and there would make a world of difference, however, as Escape sometimes comes off as a little too pretentious at times (again, hello unnecessary overuse of samples during “Disruption”). Upon first listen, Escape knocked me back with its vision, but the charm and awe wore itself out on repeated plays. Which is a shame, as there’s a lot to like on Escape, and A has proven himself as quite a musician and songwriter.
Sadly, this wraps up the trilogy of Henri Laborit’s life, and (presumably) the existence of Decline of the I as well. While not quite on-par with the likes of Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, A possesses a knack for a good hook, as heard on Escape‘s better moments. But overall, it feels bogged down a bit by his singular vision. Proceed with caution.