Passéisme – Eminence Review

We here at AMG are fans of all things French. We like croissants with our espressos in the morning. Ratatouille, souffles, bisques, and of course — when budget allows — French wine, all tickle our collective fancy. While nibbling and slurping delicately on these delights, we also like the odd spot of French black metal to help with digestion. Those of us of the particularly cultivated variety enjoy ov French medieval black metal, admittedly a niche-within-a-niche, but wacky enough to scratch a particular itch when it arises. So imagine my delight when the very French-sounding Passéisme crossed my desk with their debut album, the French-sounding-when-you-say-it-with-a-French-accent-in-your-head, Eminence. Then imagine my surprise when I discovered these guys are actually Russian, formed in 2019, from Nizhny Novgorod. Eminence is their debut, so what we have is a bunch of Russians pretending to be French playing Scandinavian music. At the very least, this promises to be an interesting smorgasbord.

“Medieval black metal” can be quite difficult to accurately define. The cynical among us may claim it is simply melodic black metal with medieval imagery and themes. Throw in the odd lyre and harpsichord and voila! These cynics wouldn’t be (completely) wrong. But for fans of the sub-genre, there is a subtle yet clear aesthetic these bands adhere to, especially in the the baroque-type song structures, which emphasize a grandiose, dramatic, and energetic spirit. Like black metal on coke, basically. Passéisme adhere to this template fairly rigidly, with a style that will be instantly familiar to fans of Véhémence or Sühnopfer. The key difference is the vocals. While most medieval bands stick to the rasped growls of traditional black metal, Passéisme opt for bellowed howls, courtesy of bassist, KK. It’s an interesting stylistic choice, and your reaction to it may determine your overall reaction to Eminence.

 

The major strength of the album is how effortlessly it both captures and expresses its chosen sound. The guitars are visceral, the riffs are catchy, and the compositions varied enough to please on first listen, but rewarding of repeat spins. Opener, “Chant for Tribulation,” sets the template for what’s about to come: rapid tremolos and melodies that exuberantly fall over each other, with smooth transitions to  catchy melodies. “Chant for Harvest” switches time signatures at least four times, moving from lilting harmonies, to blast beats, to a folksy jaunt all in less than five minutes. The rest of the album is just as entertaining, with songs bursting with great ideas and melodies, all integrated beautifully.

The downsides of the album are three-fold. Firstly, those vocals. Now, this is a personal gripe, but I’m just not convinced the bellows suit the sound the band has chosen. KK’s shouts, in particular, are of a singular timbre and volume, with almost no variation. While similar accusations can be made against rasped singing, it tends to merge into and complement the music it’s paired with (like a fine wine, if you will). Bellows stand apart, drawing your attention away. Bands with weaker material may do that on purpose, but the compositions are the strongest part of Eminence, so the distracting vocals end up harming the material. In addition, medieval black metal is already hyper-kinetic, jittery and overwhelming. When vocals are permanently dialed up to 11, and paired with music juiced to the max, it can become overwhelming and fatiguing. None of this is aided by an overly compressed mix that sucks out any breathing space.

Nevertheless, Eminence is another worthy addition to the medieval black metal genre. It nails the aesthetic; the songs are well-constructed and surprisingly complex; the performances across the board are rock-solid. The major issues are mostly stylistic choices that certainly won’t bother everyone, but sapped some of my enjoyment. This sub-genre is built on kinetics and energy, but bands like Obsequiae have shown the importance of occasional restraint. I hope, going forward, that Passéisme will learn to dial things (including the vocals) down just a bit. The emotional punch would, I suspect, be greatly enhanced. Outdoing the French at their own game is probably a fool’s errand. Perhaps Passéisme should chill, have a shot of vodka, and bring some Russian sensibility to the mix? Chew on that while you chew on this interesting, yet flawed, platter.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Antiq Records
Websites: passeisme.bandcamp.com/  |  facebook.com/passeismeBM/
Releases Worldwide: June 11th, 2021

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