France: the last bastion of sophistication. Even its black metal has a sophisticated propulsion, its lyrical themes of the up-turned nose, deep in thought variety searing through deeply-challenging avant-garde compositions. I wonder why extreme metal continues elsewhere when France has sharpened the genre to the point of near perfection? The dissonant shock waves of the French scene should crumble the simple-minded bones of music in other countries, surely. But no – Scandanavia, America, Germany, Britain, South America and other such facile nations continue to churn out music that scratches the heart and offends the brain. This has to stop! Now, a barbarian is at the gleaming gates of the French scene too. A southern snake, sliming up to the last bastion with thick, slobbery, sludge-like vitriol, attempting to drag French metal back into the dark ages. Glorior Belli infiltrate from within! Imposters! Scoundrels! Eschewing everything that makes black metal good, Glorior Belli succeed in offending man’s intellect more than any swastika waving, dick rubbing, church burning black metal band in history. How? By combining French black metal with catchy, hook-laden, tight, well-constructed southern sludge. Pick a side.
For the sake of complete and utter clarity, my opening paragraph contains heavy dosages of sarcasm. Glorior Belli have been a prominent and successful act in the French scene since 2005. They’ve released seven albums since then, The Apostates being their latest. Never settling on one definable style, the band – spearheaded by multi-instrumentalist Billy Bayou – has ducked, weaved and occasionally dived head first into a variety of styles channelled through a primarily black metal sound. The southern sludge of The Apostates isn’t new: 2013’s Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls relied heavily on the mid-paced drench of Down-esque grooves to supplement darker spurts of black metal. 2015’s follow up Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes) was fundamentally black metal with little tom-hook-ery or outside influence. The Apostates unifies the two. The first half of the album weaves subtle elements of sludge and groove into intense bursts of black metal. It’s during the second half of the album when the grooves and southern-temperament are placed firmly in the driving seat. It’s this relationship which, for me, makes The Apostates a very top-heavy album.The opening four tracks are the strongest. Billy Bayou reconciles the two musical elements well. “Sui Generis” and “Deserters of Eden” surge through various stages of blasting chaos. A black metal thrust is at these song’s core and they are much better because of this. Faint traces of southern twang, twists and shards of solos, and brief yet powerful grooves appear but never overwhelm.
Problems occur when the black metal supplements the southern groove. Upon a first listen I’m instantly drawn back to the most recent Forogtten Tomb album that I reviewed and soon forgot. This album has a lot more fire in its belly, thankfully. Whereas Forgotten Tomb lingered too much in mid-paced sludge drawl, Glorior Belli slice through the mire with crustier, thrashier grooves. “Hangin’ Crepe” manages to merge boisterous mid-paced stoner swagger with intricate black metal bass and lead guitar interplay. Similarly, “Split Tongues Won’t Alone” effectively combines the simplistic, hearty chugs and grooves with light-touches of black metal dissonance. Bayou’s mid-ranged snarls are venomous, adding much needed depth and unity to the two elements at play here. However, the songs just won’t happily gestate within my mind. Something is missing, a key element faded into the mush of black metal and southern rock. The potency of each genre as a standalone lost through this attempt at splicing. This attempt at freshness is actually stale.
When the slower southern moments appear in the final third of the album I’m ready to runaway, Charley. “Runaway Charley” contains husky cleans of ‘runawaaaay Charley, runawaaaay’ that saps the song, and album, of well-weened energy. Closer “Rebel Reveries” is a sappy stoner power ballad. The less said about it the better. But, it’s my job to tell you. Think Stone Sour and you’ve got it, there you go. These songs lack powerful hooks and aggression. “Jerkwater Redemption” improves on this slightly, but – when compared to the swampload of sludge-bands in existence – is instantly ready for the scrapheap.
Glorior Belli released a similar album in 2011 with The Great Southern Darkness. Season of Mist described this as something different, unique. An album that doesn’t play by the rules! But, really, The Apostates treads stale ground. I’m all for sludge. I’m all for black metal. I’m all for experimentation. But this just isn’t that competent as a whole. This is much better than Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls though. The amalgamation of these two-styles struggles to uphold an album. As standalone songs to listen to while out boozing and moshing with mates it might tickle the ol’ pickle, but – in that setting – why don’t you just listen to Pantera or Darkthrone instead?