We take the electric guitar for granted. Where would metal be without its deliciously distorted tones? Dronte asked themselves the same thing, and they interpreted it as a challenge. And while they were at it, they got rid of all electrical feeds to their instruments. Yes indeed, we are dealing with a self-proclaimed acoustic metal band. Can there even be such a thing? Are electric instruments not an absolute necessity for metal? And would anyone besides the French be insane enough to even attempt it?
Quelque Part Entre La Guerre Et La Lâcheté means “Somewhere Between War And Cowardice,” and it’s a title as confusing as the music inside. Acoustic guitar and contrabass have replaced their electric brethren, but the former gives up the limelight for a vibraphone and a prominent saxophone. The compositions are in minor keys, ominous sounds anchored to the metal realm by the drums and a well-executed death growl which has trouble feeling quite at home in the acoustic environment. Much like Igorrr, the combinations of instruments are alienating at first, but once you acclimatize to the peculiar textures you can start to appreciate the songwriting, which is largely non-linear but makes great use of the new range the alternative setup offers. Though it doesn’t seem possible to create something truly heavy acoustically, the plunges into controlled chaos are as close as they get, such as the cascades that bookend “Notre Grande Machine.” The abrasive nature of the sax makes it an effective ersatz for the guitar, and the band plays well with the different layers offered by the vibraphone and other additions like a rainstick. The relentless creativity often reminds me of bands like the now-defunct Estradasphere, albeit so particularly French it’s almost parody.
But the toad in the salad is the clean vocals. Rather than singing sweet chansons, these are pretty much entirely spoken word. Sometimes it’s a calm, David Attenborough type of speech, more often an amped up, Zack de la Rocha-on-meth experience.1 In either case, it demands the foreground so much and meshes with the music so poorly that all the carefully written instrumental play is relegated to the background of an angry auctioneer’s poetry slam. It’s annoying at best, actively sabotaging your own music at worst. Perhaps the lyrics are of such monumental depth it makes up for the poor composition choice (and if you speak French, feel free to enlighten me!) but that would still mean they slashed their potential audiences by 97%.2 It still has to be enjoyable to listen to regardless of language, and I feel Dronte have shot themselves in the foot by making a version of Lou Reed that’s coked up to the eyeballs a prominent feature of their album.
And that is absolutely a shame, because I love it when bands push envelopes this hard. Even though the overall package turned out more like imaginative jazz-rock with metal elements, I highly respect and appreciate bands that shake things up. I am not a traditionalist: I don’t have any sacred houses that are not to be trod on. A band with a unique style, gleaned from elements that would otherwise never cross paths, and a matching vision and coherence, that is what brings me the greatest joy to discover. Dronte is that kind of a band, no bones about it. It’s like I’m listening to a combination of jazz, performance art, shreds of metal, and noise rock anger all layered like a bizarre sandwich. But experiments can fail, and doing something different doesn’t mean it’s automatically right.
Quelque Part is something completely different from the norm. Metal bands sometimes make acoustic albums, but the mere idea of acoustic metal is novel, and though I can’t quite call this album metal there is absolute merit to their claim. The execution is largely satisfactory, once used to the particular sound, with diverse songwriting and great variety in tempos and textures. But the spoken word vocals are an absolute eyesore that’s difficult to forgive. I applaud Dronte for making their mark as an innovative band that doesn’t shy away from experimentation, but I hope next time, they leave the slam poetry to dive bars and find a primary vocal style that does their music more justice.