Bovary: Mes Racines dans le Désert (out 16th October 2020, on Sanit Mils Records)
The debut EP from the obscure French outfit known as Bovary, entitled ‘Mes Racines dans le Désert’, was originally released back in 2018. Now it is seeing a vinyl release on Sanit Mils Records, the good people responsible for unleashing HOR onto the world.
I’ve often mulled over why successful artistic statements in extreme formats such as black metal are so often the province of youth. Age brings with it new forms of self-awareness, a world weariness that tends to burden the artistic impulses with misguided filters. The gaze that youth fixes on the world is inherently tragic, evocative of a sense of loss. The loss if innocence, hope, idealism. As we gain greater understanding of the world we find ourselves in, realisation dawns that things are not as they should be. We see the simple realities that adults encased around us dissolve away as the world reveals its true, horrific self. The context of ‘Mes Racines dans le Désert’ has particular resonance for those who went through this transition trapped in the non-space of distant pockets of rural Europe. The group is named after Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, a character defined by this boredom, the ennui of a comfortable static life engenders a unique form of artistic impulse, totally distinct from those born of strife and instability.
If emotional catharsis is on your agenda for the day, then ‘Mes Racines dans le Désert’ should do nicely. It operates on the dicey terrain of post black metal, supplemented with a heavy dose of atmospheric elements grounding the music throughout. Although this comes with all the emotive, sentimental, meandering baggage that’s implied by this sleepy variant of the black metal framework, there is a sincerity and originality flowing through these tracks that elevates it above the shortcomings of genre. ‘Mes Racines dans le Désert’ is sloppy, clumsy, unfocused, and dripping with angst. It’s also a profoundly honest piece of music, a work of naivety, purity, and pathos. The music itself is made up of uniquely fragile and sparse acoustic guitar harmonies that extend out to give the music an incredibly empty atmosphere. These are then broken up by the metal passages, which largely consist of minimalist atmospheric black metal riffs that follow the structure of the clean guitar sections in rudimentary form.
Beyond that, elegantly simple atmospheric black metal sweeps the music away into more formalised narratives. These are built from basic but pleasing black metal riffs that are bookmarked by strong melodic flourishes of graceful guitar leads. Drums are simple and somewhat distant in the mix, adopting an approach that perfectly integrates into this EP’s fragile sensibilities.
As the EP unfolds it solidifies into repetitive, trancelike black metal akin to Ukrainian or Russian styles, although Bovary are orientated towards the mournful and sentimental as opposed to oppressive grimness. The extreme monotony that can sometimes plague this style is tempered here by a strong melodic framework that is kept consistently creative and intriguing throughout. It acts as the backbone running through the entirety of ‘Mes Racines dans le Désert’, with the distorted guitars and drums relegated to purveyors of texture. The vocals stick to a very passionate variant of black metal screeching. In the wrong hands it could have come over as cringey (as with so many elements of this music), but here they strike exactly the right tone of despair laced with a glimmer of hope. A fitting addition to the overarching sense of defiance that this music resonates.
Like much dramatic art, it requires a certain commitment to the moment on the part of the audience, in line with the performances as they greet us. But if you allow yourself to drift away with music, this will prove to be a very rewarding listen.
Transcendence: Towards Obscurities Beyond (out 25th September 2020)
Reclaiming the terrain of Nordic extreme metal before the rise and trivialising of Gothenburg, ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ from LA’s Transcendence is a quality slab of occult death metal; dirty in execution but ambitious in its aims. We could approximate this as Necromantia playing Necrophobic…seriously. The guitar tone is very similar to the six-string-bass-rhythm-guitar made famous by Necromantia, as is Transcendence’s adeptness for creating occult atmospheres through filthy, quintessentially evil sounding riffs. But equally, there is a more formal, structured core to these tracks that clearly belongs in the death metal camp, and finds its closest forebears in the likes of Necrophobic.
Necro references aside, ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ is, much like the cover art itself, a refreshing take on an old school form. The production is raw and organic, but unlike so many releases that were clearly intended to invoke a simpler time, this mix sounds more authentic. Setting aside the tech talk, I believe this is because it is working in unison with well crafted, intelligent death metal, as opposed to a mix that is forced to prop a dearth of interesting ideas. The drums, although performed with energy and ability, sound suitably sloppy, providing the whole with a primal, animalistic core, capable of driving the music forward with purpose as well as out and out blasting. The guitar tone has that soft, muddy quality that is perfect for invoking the occult atmosphere and giving the riffs an oppressive, ritualistic quality. The vocals stick with a ghoulish snarl with minimal reverb added.
All this accounts for why this album feels like a back to basics statement smuggled in under some undeniably sophisticated riffcraft. It comes across as a genuine product of 1994 and not just a cheap throwback. But having said that, ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’ is very much its own beast when it comes to the character and interaction of the riffs. Whether it’s simple, droning tritones, or extended tapestries of primitive tremolo riffs, Transcendence constantly keep things moving in simple yet elegant transitions. Solos are infrequent and usually provide touches of drama and tension, or else stick to purveyors of chaos as opposed to offering a sophisticated melodic through-line. This is more than made up for in the multi-layered approach to many of the riffs, with each guitar frequently switching to simple counterpoint or repetitive lead refrains over atonal bludgeoning.
Between shamelessly replicating specific styles from the past, and sincere homages that actually transcend into quality works in their own right, what seperates one from the other can often be hard to pin down. But Transcendence are not mindlessly ticking off the criteria required for old school blackened thrash. There is care and passion in the craft displayed on ‘Towards Obscurities Beyond’. And it’s not a style we see much of these days, which is surprising given its potential for both sophisticated riffing and melody along with down and dirty occult metal. The range and scope of this music is not to be underestimated.
Götterdämmerung: Neuschwabenland (2020)
It’s Teutonic thrash…from Czechia, you dig? But seriously, as far as Sodom knockoffs go, Götterdämmerung is at the right end of the quality metric. We are given a crisp, clean production job to sink our teeth into. The drums are polished to perfection. The bass drum is present but does not suffer from the synthetic click that plagues so many mixes in modern thrash. Likewise, although the guitars are fairly generic in tone by thrash standards, they have a clarity and simplicity that is somewhat refreshing in an age when studio production muscles in on the artistic territory for good or ill. The vocals are relatively high pitched, operating on a near constant Defcon 1 level of intensity, which is fitting given the wartime subject matter of this material.
Beyond that this is a pretty solid if unremarkable rendering of European thrash in the classic style of the big three of Germany. Frantic riffs constructed of choppy power chords are strung together by simple yet effective minor scale melodies, with lead guitars breaking up the monotony of the pitch. If one cares to listen deeper the bass is suitably distorted, allowing it to function more like a third rhythm guitar in the tradition of Lemmy. This allows the music a unity of purpose, a single-minded bullet of intent, but of course the lack of any diversity in tone is the cross to bear for artists that go down this road.
Of course, in the context of thrash whose sole intention is to maintain a high level of intensity from start to finish this is entirely appropriate. And Götterdämmerung seem to be aware of the limits of the emotional range inherent in this music, as ‘Neuschwabenland’ is kept to just barely half an hour in length. There is a nod to ambition by the penultimate and title track however, as the relentless staccato riffage steps aside for the sake or a more laboured, ponderous intro to lead into more thrashing chaos to close, with a stronger melodic core; accompanied with some spoken word and epic guitar harmonies….naturally.
Beyond that this album is a good quality reaffirmation of what made classic German thrash great in the first place. It’s too top quality to dismiss out of hand as a rehash of familiar territory. Sometimes, in the constant pressure to stand out as a new life form, simply emulating what worked before can be enough to turn head.