You know, this is not an easy gig. Time after time, we are commanded to come up with 5 paragraphs of stuff to say about an album. But before we can even begin the writing, we have to form an opinion. Usually, the opinion is the easy part, as they are like assholes, because everyone has one. But every now and then, I’ll pop a promo into my player, spin it… and again… and again… and an opinion just doesn’t seem to form. Such an album is Ascension, the third full-length by French outfit Regarde les Hommes Tomber, which translates to ‘see the men fall.’ Is the music as misanthropic as the name? Will I have an actual opinion on it by the end of this article? And will I stop stretching out this opening paragraph?
Well, the answers are yes, sort of, and obviously because we are in the second paragraph now. Regarde les Hommes Tomber’s soundscape is a vertical stack of black-, post- and sludge metal. The sound is dense and relentlessly insistent, a colliding pile of tremolo rhythms supporting ominous, towering riffs. The vocals are one part black metal screams, two parts hoarse shouts filled with desperation. The effect is like getting caught in a mudslide: unexpected speed, suffocating darkness and crushing weight, surrounded by the screams of the other unfortunate souls dragged to their deaths by the unflinching flow.
If this all sounds rather swell, well, it actually does. Regarde have carved out a cool niche that’s recognizable and effective, and as long as I am paying attention to the music I enjoy every minute of it. So why my difficulty in forming an opinion? Well, it’s the paying attention part. Despite their efforts to the contrary, a lot of Ascension ends up with a very similar feel and flow. For one, despite some moments of slowing down here and there, I wager all the tracks are on average within 10 bpm of one another. Sure, “The Renegade Son” opens with a lumbering mid-pace riff, and “Steller Cross,” the track that diverges the most from the template, dabbles with an almost post-Mastodon riff, replete with mournful cleans. But largely, the music keeps returning to the pulverizing mudslide, which just has a bit too much of a homogenizing effect.
The production falls in the same trap. Its density makes the merciless blasting more effective, but it also exacerbates the feeling of listening to the same basic sound for 47 minutes. You can see how it is difficult to form an opinion on an album that you like when you focus, but it won’t let you keep focusing. Yet, while my attention is held, the album has much to offer. There’re many neat riffs that subvert my expectations just a little, but enough to make it interesting. A vocal line in an unexpected style here, a well-placed transition there… Ascension has plenty of distinguishing details, yet most of them are simply too subtle. If you are caught in a mudslide, you won’t notice details.
In the end, though, it is those details that win me over to Ascension’s charms. Between the particular screams and shouts and the calculated construct of black metal and sludge that creates a highly charged, apocalyptic effect, Regarde les Hommes Tomber have another solid album on their hands, if not one terribly likely to power into top 10 lists anytime soon. All the ingredients are there: fine compositions, signature sound, eye for detail, the works. Now if only they can figure out the right balance to make a varied album actually feel varied, we might yet see a killer album from these Frenchmen.