Beginning with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the atrocities brought forth from the first World War were heinous and grotesque. People getting killed in trenches (sometimes mistakenly by their own allies), the introduction of chemical warfare, and the starvation of both prisoners of war and civilians rounded up by the Central Powers would make for some fertile ground for metal bands to sow. One such band, Quebec’s Neige et Noirceur, decided to take one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the world and create a 40-minute tale of war, death, and various repressed emotions in the form of their fourth album, Les Ténèbres Modernes.
And with a rumbling double-bass military lurch, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” roaring forth like a tank looking to engage against the Central Forces by taking hold of Antarctica. The bellowing of session vocalist Schimera does a passable job of evoking an eerie atmosphere, employing a deep rasp that recalls some of Darkspace‘s more ambient moments, and the downtrodden closing guitar melody performed by sole instrumentalist Sion Daus (formerly known as Zifond because hell if I know) adds a particularly creepy vibe. Sadly, everything else is disengaging. The song keeps to a mid-paced clip, but very little grabs and hooks you, and it doesn’t pull you in like good atmospheric black metal should.
In fact, the only thing that’s consistent about Les Ténèbres Modernes is its inconsistency, as this fucker’s all over the place in terms of quality. From the BOOTS-AND-PANTS School of Drum Patterns in “Ciel d’Acier” to the Tremolo in the Great Hallway of Doom found in “La Saison des Morts,” there’s very little that sticks out as memorable or even good. There are some flashes of incredible Paysage d’Hiver-like brilliance, such as “Battlespirit” or the more straight-ahead bombast of “Walpurgis 1917,” but these are few and far between. Not helping matters any is the band’s over-reliance of ineffective ambient passages and repeated soundbites, such as the completely unnecessary five-minute closer, “Adieux,” which is comprised solely of soundbites, opera singing, and war effects, which would be fine if the rest of the album was at all interesting.
The production also does Les Ténèbres Modernes no favors, as this sounds like it was recorded by a kid hopped up on sugar. On some tracks, the album has a fairly good, warm production (“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”), and on others it sounds like someone recorded this thing in a hallway with one of my damp Voltron beach towels thrown over the microphones (“Ciel d’Acier,” “Post Mortem”). But a reason why Darkspace and Paysage d’Hiver are so influential is because they suck you into their worlds (or in the case of Darkspace, voids) utilizing left-of-center musical passages, and a true feeling of discomfort and suffocation. That, and for a 40-minute album, this felt like a marathon.
War is an ugly, terrifying beast. Black metal can be, too. With the combination of the two, Les Ténèbres Modernes proved that not all chocolate goes well with certain peanut butters. Neige et Noirceur can pull out the stops if they (he?) works out the kinks a bit more, as this one got lost on the way to Belgium, and ended up in Alaska. Here’s hoping the next album can level me.