Sepulchral Productions, 2013
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
2. Les Forges
2. Seizième Prière
4. Une Épitaphe de Suie
I feel like "simply stunning" is a term I use quite rarely to describe most of the Black Metal releases I come across. I think Gris' latest work can be considered that as well as a Magnum Opus from their perspective. The evolution of their heavily atmospheric approach to Black Metal has left us with something that can only be termed as a rather cinematic experience. It is truly up there with the most epic soundtracks and most haunting Ambient albums in my collection. To make matters more strange on my end this was released on the same day as Sombres Forêts' latest incredible release "La Mort du Soleil"... all on Sepulchral. This label is certainly in quite the illustrious position in the world of Black Metal today with such high quality bands at their disposal generating an incredible demand for this music. Everywhere I look people's eyes are turned to the Québec Black Metal scene to see what incredibly interesting albums this region can generate.
These accolades are certainly no small feat and Gris shows us just what it takes to get this level of recognition. For their latest release they have two CD's with music clocking in around an hour and twenty minutes. What we saw them develop on "Il Etait une Foret..." gets pushed beyond the boundaries that I thought were being pushed against before. Gris' latest finds itself conjuring imagery associated with majesty, somberness, melancholy, and pure beauty. I feel there is so much here that I can barely conjure the words to describe this experience. Many of the metal songs are surrounded by beautiful acoustic or clean electric guitar pieces, sometimes coupled with violin, before giving way to some of the most passionate Black Metal ever recorded. Then there are times, as in "Seizième Prière," which remind me of Tool in some passages. Then there is a riff sequence in "Igneus" that is just exceptional to my ears and I find myself hoping they will cycle back into it again and again as the song progresses.
"À l'Âme Enflammée, l'Äme Constellée..." is meant to be experienced as one solid piece of art. I would class this as one of the most beautiful Black Metal albums ever recorded. This will certainly hit my top ten this year, but I am not sure where it will land. Despite all this incredibly immersive beauty, I'm, personally, not getting any distinctive story from it like I did with the latest Sombres Forêts. This leads me to believe that the new Sombres Forets speaks to me on a deeper level than Gris. I know many people out there feel that way about this Gris album and it really comes down to your personal reaction to these albums. In terms of scope and music both releases are probably of equal value. They are both incredible, both must hear albums of 2013, and there is little else out there that can even begin to compare.
I expected to write a longer review for this... but I find the experience almost too overwhelming to explain. The sorrow, the joy, the melancholy, all is described in simple phrases of a guitar. Words can't really be conjured to evoke these emotions and the way they are brought to true color on this album. I leave you now with "Igneus" a piece of a greater whole and I urge you to experience the full breadth of this album as it is meant to be experienced.... all at once.
Sepulchral Productions, 2007
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
1. Il Etait une Foret...
2. Le Gala des Gens Heureux
4. Veux-Tu Danser?
5. Profonde Misanthropie
6. La Dryade
Just by looking at the cover you get an instant sense that something has changed with Gris. I'm beginning to see the whole reason behind the name change now. However, I'm not sure why they insisted on re-releasing the Niflheim album under the name of Gris when it is so starkly different from the sound they would become more known for. This was probably the worst decision, in my opinion anyway.
I am happy to report that Gris has undergone seriously major changes from the days of Niflheim and they have managed to really extend and push forward the genre of Atmospheric Black Metal. The instant you put this on you hear this change. The guitar tone is still a little on the fuzzier side and I still would like to hear it cleaned up even more, but it isn't as overwhelming or invasive as the first album. Since the photos in the booklet were taken by Annatar of Sombres Forets, I get the distinct impression that Sombres Forets has played some instrumental influence on Gris' writing style. I think these two projects would greatly influence each other over the years in a rather back and forth fashion. "Il Etait une Feret" is truly a monumental work layering Atmospheric Black Metal in a beautiful, yet melancholic fashion that simply draws the listener in with each song. This comes across as a very mature effort to be appreciated by connoisseurs of finer Black Metal being written today. They've extended their range of instruments to include some beautiful layered acoustic and piano sections amongst the distorted and harsh guitar sections. This creates some wonderfully dark atmospheres for the listener to get lost in. My favorite track is probably "Cicatrice", which I believe is an excellent telling track for what this album contains within.
I do believe they missed one opportunity on this recording and that is in the song "Veux-Tu Danser?". It starts off with this really haunting keyboard track played over a ticking clock, but then after about twenty seconds quickly shifts into acoustic guitars that sound quite beautiful. The problem here is that the keyboard aspect had some sort of dissonant qualities to it, where the acoustic guitars do not, so it comes across as jarring to the listener. They really missed an opportunity here to develop a song around that keyboard section, because if the acoustic guitar had started out copying that piece and layering it it would have made for quite an interesting work. Albeit the entire song might have wound up being different, but it would have been quite impressive nonetheless. I think the vocal performance on this track was actually influence quite a bit by Ondskapt. It starts with the vocalist coughing and going into a more tortured vocal performance. This is reminiscent of a track that Ondskapt had on "Draco Sit Mihi Dux." It actually makes for a very compelling listen since he is doing this over some beautiful acoustic pieces. I simply love how the contrast sounds.
The album finally closes out with an epic ten minute instrumental. This track is simply monumental. There are no distorted guitars, but the composition is just so beautiful you can't help but fall in love with it. It uses some wonderfully composed piano married with excellent violin sections with some beautiful acoustic in the background. The violin sections really make this piece a wonderful thing to behold. There are piano sections that feel reminiscent of concert pianist David Lanz, though I am not sure if they know of him. Ultimately it is an incredible closer to an incredible album.
Gris "Il etait une Feret..." is a fairly amazing release and little better has been released this year. If your only experience with Gris is the first album, then I highly recommend giving this band another chance, because the compositions are simply incredible.
Sepulchral Productions, 2006
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
1. Le Neurasthénique
2. The Cold Wind
3. Lueur d'Ombre
4. Where So Many Tombs Were Forgotten
5. Elder Moons
7. Aux Serres de la Mélancolie
In 2005 the band Niflheim was formed in Québec. They recorded a few demos which culminated in a signing with Sepulchral Productions and resulted in their first full length "Neurasthénie". Strangely this album was then re-released shortly after due to a change in the bands name. Now they are known as Gris and perhaps this is a better name for the project. Perhaps they wanted to change the name due to more popular bands with the same name even though the spelling might be a little different.
I really wish my report on this was going to be more positive, but it's really not. Gris have failed at doing some basic things and thus have ruined this entire album for my tastes. One of the things I've noticed with Atmospheric Black Metal is that bands are either exceptional or terrible during this time frame. There is very little mediocrity and a lot of this is due to choices made during the recording phase, but I'll address this later. The music is actually quite interesting. If it wasn't so flawed in some choices this would be quite a great album. The compositions are melancholic and beautiful. I can tell the intention of the album is to put the listener in a very relaxed and contemplative space, immersed in the interplay between dissonance and beautiful clean sections. In fact the best song is "Elder Moons", which is entirely instrumental with clean guitars and piano. So, compositionally this album actually isn't too bad, in fact I would even say it's quite good.
Now the part where this release goes downhill is the choices made during recording. This isn't a "poor production" issue like you'll hear with early demos. The production on this could have entirely been avoided. The biggest problem I had with this was the choice made for the guitar tone. It is entirely too fuzzy. It's actually so detrimental to my enjoyment that when it plays with the clean guitar I am completely lost to what the clean section is doing. It comes across as being such an amateur distortion choice that it just ruins everything to me. The real nail in the coffin was the vocal performance. The actually used distorted vocals over songs. This is just so childish for this kind of release. It was so unnecessary and they've ruined an otherwise beautiful release.
I think the way this was recorded is the saddest aspect of all. There really is no need for this in 2006 and if I hadn't heard the later releases by Gris I would seriously worry about my interest in this projects future. Luckily the next release is incredibly strong and a lot of the gripes I have with this are non-existent. Given how different the releases are I am surprised they chose to release this under the name Gris instead of starting off with the second release.
Anyway, you don't need to go by my judgment, some people may enjoy this. So below is a sample of one of the songs I feel is more representative of the album. The closing track is actually fairly good and the vocals are a lot cleaner, but the majority of the album just doesn't sound like that.