Sortilège – Apocalypso Review

My introduction to France’s Sortilège was their announcement for the 2020 70000 Tons of Metal. I’ll give any band announced a fair shake as I look for acts to follow around The Boat. I was pleasantly surprised by a trve 80s outfit channeling the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in their ability to knock out charmingly old-school heavy metal. 1983’s self-titled EP and 1984’s Métamorphose remain in my regular rotation and will undoubtedly please the old farts looking for throwback releases. However, Sortilège is now a name under dispute; the original band once featured Christian “Zouille” Augustin on vocals, who is now the leader of a new pack under the same moniker. Apocalypso is the second work of this renovated line-up. Is it still a band worth fighting for?

Apocalypso features the same recognizable band that sat behind past glory, with Sortilège comfortably fitting back into the 80s heavy metal sound you’re used to hearing. Half of the album adopts a no-frills New Wave of British Heavy Metal approach, and even the half that does something different is wrapped in a cloak of traditionalism. Predictable ingredients abound: from harmonic guitars and clean tones, to rollicking drums and Halford cries, much of Apocalypso isn’t shocking. Zouille’s 2020s voice has changed somewhat, with an understandably gruffer tone sitting alongside the impressive range and power one would expect of a NWoBHM wailer. And the whole package is draped in thicker production aesthetic, supported by robust bass and guitar tones. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Sortilège’s classic tools, previously used so successfully, hammer much of the music into a predictable shape. I’m generally left with the sense that the album is okay. It’s solid. But tracks like “Le Sacre du Sorcier” and “Walkyrie” do nothing you haven’t heard done better before, with tepid vocal lines and guitar melodies.

It’s where Apocalypso strays off the well-worn path that things are more interesting. It feels thematically scattershot, covering territory including mythology, folklore, history and fantasy without fully doing any justice. The other half of the record mentioned above is equally musically unfocused. It makes for an uneven experience, but I’m certainly left with more thoughts than over the more traditional half. “Attila” shifts from a horn-led introduction to a groovy swagger and chant-along chorus, sitting more comfortably in the 90s and 00s than the 80s. “Derrière les Portes de Babylone” follows this with orchestral strings and Persian scales, taking the music to Babylon of yore. Most strange is “La Parade des Centaures” which features an awkward but entertaining death metal connection, blending down-tuned chugs and harsher vocals with the core heavy metal. It’s a shame that these outside influences aren’t given the breathing room to grow into something more. None last for more than 1 song which results in a superficial feel. Sortilège admirably attempt to escape their 80s comfort zone but their attempts don’t go far enough.

Despite the sometimes-unexciting and sometimes-uneven listening experience, one thing Sortilège does particularly well are their transitions and builds, which help to smooth the rough edges. “Attila” bolsters its groove metal credentials through a mid-track interlude with a strolling bassline and sneering vocal delivery, but gradually builds from near silence at the start of this passage until it breaks into an uplifting clean guitar solo which bridges the music back into the classic metal sound we know and love. “Derrière les Portes de Babylone” features a pre-climax instrumental space that would normally be filled with an extravagant solo but is here filled with lilting singing and more middle eastern instrumentation. It makes for one of the more interesting passages as the typical metal instruments slowly layer up for the final chorus. Likewise, “Encore un Jour” builds a moody introduction with deft crooning into a grander chorus which contrasts well with its verse. These transitions and contrasts belie some nifty song-writing that is buried beneath ideas which are either predictable or not fully formed.

Apocalypso is a decidedly mixed affair in both quality and style. I’ve written more about the parts of the record which are less typical, even if more fits into traditional 80s metal than not. The atypical fusion of genres (groove, orchestral, death) and un-80s use of dynamic contrasts and layering are the standout elements, even if these aren’t always slickly integrated or of an amazing standard. Sortilège do enough to justify their existence in 2023 but they don’t produce the soaring slice of nostalgia-bait I hoped they might.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Verycords
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 3rd, 2023

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