Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sombres Forêts

Sombres Forêts - La Mort du Soleil
Sepulchral Productions, 2013
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Des Épraves
2. Étrangleur de Soleils
3. Brumes
4. Au Flambeau
5. L'Éther
6. La Disparition
7. Effondrement

When I said I imagined that Sombres Forêts were trending to something big in my last review, I was not expecting something this big.  I really never expected something nearly this awe inspiring or immersive.  I think the current realm of Atmospheric Black Metal has been trending towards this type of album for quite some time.  In fact, it has yielded us two releases, the second being Gris effort released on the same day.  Both albums are quite different, but they no less use the same influences trending in this type of a direction.  Sombres Forêts has clearly taken influence form many great projects, but I think their choices and musical interplay are somehow more freshly designed and different.

The beautiful cover painted by Fursy Teyssier is a wonderfully apt description of the music.  Despite what it may look like, musically this complements the cover of the ship sinking into the raging seas above.  There are a couple ways one may approach this concept, I believe Sombres Forêts has taken a far more somber route.  We, the listener, are on this ship sinking into a whirlpool, but we are not panicked for we have calm resignation of our fate.  I imagine a lone figure calmly hanging onto the ropes on the deck staring into the sea as the ship is eaten and they're just reflecting on the shear beauty of the site while introspectively contemplating the imminence of death.  "La Mort du Soleil" does this for us, for it translates to "The Death of the Sun", and if we think of the ship as Earth falling into the sun, then it has a far more clear meaning to me.  It truly is one of the most wonderful music journeys I've ever had.

Annatar has really made some sweeping changes with the music from the days of "Royaume de Glace."  He's really taken a step back and taken a much more minimal approach, and while reducing his palette he's actually managed to increase the focus in other areas.  Despite having less colors to work with he's managed to create far more vibrant atmospheres and composed them in such a cohesive fashion that you never lose focus on the album.  We stand with rapt attention, immersed in the melancholic march towards death while life rages past us.  Annatar has really thought hard about how the interplay of acoustic sections work with his music and he has managed to harness that power perfectly.  What we get is a rare treat rivaled by very few other groups and none of which sound even remotely like this.  He blends it into the distorted guitar sections wonderfully, but even those have undergone serious re-tooling.  They actually border on some Shoegaze type elements, which strangely blends with Black Metal very effortlessly.  This helps to generate a haunting, yet very melancholic atmosphere.  Rather than increase the complexity of the keyboard section, as many bands do, Sombres Forêts takes a step back and strictly uses piano on this album.  The result is simply beautiful and perfectly well executed.  The compositions are far from complex and focus on a beautiful atmosphere one can create with just simple structuring, which we especially see with "Au Flambeau".  It is honestly on par with Clint Mansel's soundtrack for "Moon", which showed us that incredibly vibrant atmospheres could be created from some of the simplest ideas.

The recording quality is flawlessly executed.  Despite the more simplistic approach, I think the drum work has gotten far more interesting.  It's allowed Annatar to play around with arrangement ideas a lot more.  Annatar's vocal performance has also gotten a lot stronger.  I must also point out that I really appreciate the use of harsh vocals on all aspects of the recording.  Even when we just have a slow piano passage meandering it's way through the song, we are treated to these wonderful and jarring harsh vocals.  The stark contrast creates an even more expansive environment for us.  I am glad Annatar did not fall into the pedestrian trappings of marrying clean vocals with clean sections, and if he ever wanted to ruin his future albums he should start singing clean.  Hopefully this will never happen.  There are some haunting clean-ish type things in sections, but they are not sung sections and these haunting sections sound great and really enhance the aesthetic Sombres Forêts is trying to create.

Sombres Forêts have truly written a seminal work here and this is the direction a lot of Black Metal will probably head.  Albums like "The Works Which Transforms God", "Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice", "Dark Space III", "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas", "Grymyrk", and probably some others I've forgotten, are game changer albums and I feel the work of Sombres Forêts and Gris stand along these in the same guise.  For me, I think I return to the Sombres Forêts album a little more than Gris' effort, so when it comes to album of the year contests Sombres Forêts may win out.  Sombres Forêts isn't necessarily better, for I recommend both albums heartily and on equal levels, I just think "La Mort du Soleil" is better for me.  Both bands have released equally astounding works.

Sombres Forêts - Royaume de Glace
Sepulchral Productions, 2008
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal

1. Intro
2. Royaume de Glace
3. The Forest
4. Cold Forgotten Earth
5. La Nuit
6. L'Oeil  Nocturne
7. Solstice

Sombres Forêts continue to grow their mid-paced style of Black Metal with the release of "Royaume de Glace."  As usual Sepulchral puts out a quality product and this features a beautiful cover of a snow covered forest, but unfortunately there is not much more art in the booklet.  It is merely the text of the lyrics.

"Royaume de Glace" basically picks up where "Quintessence" essentially leaves off.  I'm not sure how much "growth" the project has really gone through over the past two years and I do wonder if this is a case of someone having written a lot of material then being given a venue to release the material, given how close the two albums sound.  So, this sounds like material composed around the same time as "Quintessence," but it is merely upgraded and a little deeper at times.  The title track is especially good at reflecting this idea.  We still have that interplay of Black Metal and acoustic work, but they feel like very separate ideas in the songs.  To a certain degree I feel like they've been integrated better, but I would like to see more layering of the ideas together, such as in "The Forest".  Annatar has also started to include more synth to back up the guitar passages, this doesn't give the songs more of a Symphonic feel, but rather leans more on the side of Ambience, similar to things like ColdWorld.  The songs come across as a roller coaster of atmospheres, rather than an inherently enmeshed work.  There are some pretty raw sounding riffs that show up and bring up memories of earlier days of Black Metal gone by, and while I do enjoy this, it breaks up the atmosphere generated by the open chord structure of his songs.  We are still treated to some areas of dissonance, but I think that has moved to the background in favor of more majestic sounding pieces, except for "Cold Forgotten Earth," which is almost entirely of dissonant structure.

I think, in the end, I do enjoy this album and it's fairly successful.  After writing the above I feel like it sounds like I complained a lot, but I'm not sure that's an accurate description of how I feel after listening to this.  I like most of what Sombres Forêts did on this release.  Sure there are some aspects I thought could reach improvement, but "Cold Forgotten Earth" and "La Nuit" are nearly perfect tracks and I loved them.  I think Sombres Forêts is still trying to grow their sound in some ways.  I definitely like seeing the experimentation to see where the arrangements might take them in the future and I feel like something big is imminent after listening to this.

Sombres Forêts - Quintessence
Sepulchral Productions, 2006
Genre: Black Metal

1. Quintessence
2. Le Royaume
3. Vents des Déssespoirs
4. Au Solsitce de l'Hiver
5. Automne
6. L'Abîme
7. L'Enchantement des Forêts

Sombres Forêts is one of the earlier projects to sign with Sepulchral Productions, a label that started furiously releasing local Black Metal projects in 2006.  It's turning into the "go to" record label for somber and extremely epic sounding Black Metal unique to the Québec region of Canada.  While the Québec scene has been around for many years, I feel that with the inception of Sepulchral Productions the area has begun to produce it's own unique feeling style of Black Metal.  I think the debut Sombres Forêts present an album that is a solid transition from the more traditional forms of Black Metal into that atmospheric blend that the area is becoming known for.

After the Ambient intro "Quintessence" this one man project launches into the epic length "Le Royaume".  The music is simply beautiful.  It is not a very traditional form of Black Metal.  There are no blast beats, there are no incredibly fast sections, there is only careful and contemplative structure.  I certainly enjoy my vicious and intense Black Metal riddled with blast beats, but I also really like this mid-tempo styled that focuses on putting the listener in a very calming state of mind.  It is tough to think of another way to describe this music, except that it has a very beautiful quality.  It is most certainly dark and sinister, as one would expect in the genre.  "Quintessence" plays with this precarious feeling between the beautiful and dissonant.  A lot of the songs have beautiful lead sections over very grim riffs underneath.  Even the recording quality is more on the raw and harsh edge, which only lends beauty in the form of the ugly nature in which it is recorded.  When the acoustic section of "Automne" kicks in we are left in a surreal "quiet" moment.  It is so expertly crafted into the release and it's really just what the listener needs at that moment.  The album isn't entirely without flaws, there are a couple sections here and there that I feel don't fit as well.  Some transitional moments that could have been slightly better to make the experience more full, a small portion of riffs are a bit too blasé etc.  But these are fairly minor details in an otherwise very successful debut.  Things that can certainly be fixed with forthcoming releases.

The recording quality is pretty well done.  It's surprisingly on the harsher side of the Black Metal spectrum, but I really like that.  It really fits with Sombres Forêts' style and gives this organic and uglier nature to the music.  I think the drum production is on the slightly poor side, so that is one thing I would like to see improved on subsequent releases.  The vocals are surprisingly well mixed, they stand slightly in the background of the mix.  This gives them a slight far away feel to the listener, which really works in this albums favor.  I think a lot of bands that delve into the atmospheric bent tend to put their vocals a bit too much in the foreground, which interrupts the experience for me.  I also commend Annatar on his choice of vocal tone.  He uses more of a standard Black Metal approach to the vocals, using a mid-range tortured vocal approach.  I think a lot of bands that play in this genre have felt obligated to perform like Burzum and use these annoying higher pitched vocal tones that really just get in the way of the experience.  Just because Burzum did it, doesn't mean it was automatically a good idea.  There are few moments when an entire album of shrieks is warranted.... Bethlehem's "Dictius te Necare" being one of those moments.

I am really looking forward to what Sombres Forêts has in store for me next.  They have a very strong debut here, but I really do think they can do better.  You can absolutely hear the potential overflowing within this project and it just cries out for more to be done.  This is a project to be immersed in... enjoy.

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