Silhouette: Les Retranchements
Out 28th January on Antiq
The slow burn debut from this French outfit sees DSBM of a particularly melodic bent placed in a Petri dish with fragments of darkwave, post metal, and blackened doom. And if that all sounds like a clusterfuck to you then fear not, it’s simultaneously much better and worse than you imagine. Silhouette’s ‘Les Retranchements’ may flirt with boredom at one end and indulge in crass emotive displays at the other, but betwixt the two is an understated work of gentle, lyrical neofolk with a uniquely sombre character. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this album would benefit from dispensing with the metallic elements entirely, which are either forgettable or lean a little too heavily into hammed up expressions of contrived despair all too common in post metal these days.
Beneath the plodding riffs and lackadaisical melodies lies a neat darkwave album in the style of Die Verbannten Kinder Evas or Dargaard. ‘Les Retranchements’ is only half an hour long and made up of seven tracks, only four of which are full on metal numbers, with each being bookended by gentle interludes. The metal music itself presents a clear, crisp finish, richly orchestrated guitars and drums filling out the mix, all with a clear aspiration toward the cinematic. The problem with these aesthetic choices is the fact that they have been deployed to cloak unimaginative music. This kind of immersive aesthetic sheen is commonplace these days, and when applied to music of a flat or derivative flavour it becomes abundantly clear that so much window dressing cannot prop up something that isn’t there.
The metal itself is a combination of garden variety blackened doom, slow and deeply melodic black metal, and that strained yet static emotive intensity that contemporary extreme metal bands of a particular colour tend to shoot for. Gentle guitar harmonies rise up to compliment the riffs, drums attempt to work added drama into the various crescendos through energetic fills and pounding double bass work. Distorted vocals are a mix of standard black metal shrieks and the overly despairing high-end wails that cannot help but be interpreted as a contrivance in this context.
It should be emphasised, however, that none of this is entirely terrible, and certainly more listenable than many comparable offerings of recent years. The result would be an utterly unnoteworthy album if that’s all Silhouette had to offer. But sitting beneath these regrettably distracting elements are deeply haunting clean vocals, captivating downbeat folk melodies, and richly fleshed out atmospheres that all hint at a quality depressive goth or darkwave album beneath the surface. Silhouette may be cloaking their penchant for this deeply uncool genre beneath the legitimacy of modern extreme metal blandism with all its half-baked bombast, but frankly ‘Les Retranchements’ could do without this sideshow.
This becomes even more apparent when we take the intro ‘Ascension’ along with the untitled interlude and outro, which all present these gracefully drab elements free of distraction. But there are also plenty of scattered moments throughout the album as a whole, sometimes riding atop the pomp and ceremony of the guitars and screeching vocals, sometimes entirely unencumbered. And for what it’s worth, Silhouette are adept enough at composing, performing, and arranging these passages of haunted beauty that the album is worth checking out for that alone, as long as one is able to put aside the lacklustre attempts at modern extreme metal for the sake of some truly engaging hints at neofolk just beneath the surface.
Malefic Throne: Malefic Throne
Out 28th January on Hells Headbangers
Malefic Throne are one of the many fruits of lockdown. Conceived by household names from Origin, Angelcorpse, and the heavenly Steve Tucker of Morbid Angel fame. All of whom found themselves restless during the long, hot summer of 2020. The resulting self-titled EP is a quality slab of blue-collar death metal featuring three original tracks and a cover of Sodom’s ‘Nuclear Winter’.
The production is very much back to basics. Drums retain a rehearsal room aesthetic. But despite the unvarnished skin bashing on show, this is not a lo-fi affair, there is no excess static and no clarity is lost beneath unwanted murk. The sound is immediate, intense, and almost entirely without adornment at the mixing stage. Guitars are equally unpretentious as they flex through a mixture of mid-period Morbid Angel style riffing, some thrash, and hints of technical death metal. Tucker’s unmistakable vocals are placed front and centre, riding the waves of guttural aggression and dark, spoken word incantations that have become his hallmark over the years.
Malefic Throne blend in elements of technical death metal traditions of the last twenty years or so, perhaps most obviously in Longstreth’s drumming, which flexes its multidimensional muscles with ease. But added to the pot are features of earlier death metal flavours in the frequent blackened thrash riffs that crop up, along with riffs that hint at moving past the sequential technique and into elongated tremolo articulated melodies that are common to more sophisticated death metal.
Sometimes death metal supergroups such as this are wont to come across as a set of aged musicians going through the motions, safe in the knowledge that they can ride on the coattails of former glories (Memoriam anyone?). But Malefic Throne offer a refreshing picture of veterans that actually sound like they give a shit. The impression one gets is not born of a desire to reinvent the wheel or shoot for a carbon copy of the projects that made their respective names. We simply find them throwing out some inventive and unpretentious death metal that will hopefully be further fleshed out in the near future.
At its best, industrial offers a nihilistic tonic for residents of late capitalism, revelling in the sounds and symbology of consumerism sanctioned by the military industrial complex, this music’s scope for statements at once profound and deeply satirical are almost boundless. At its worse, it is an outlet for the most embarrassing displays of faux edginess and temper tantrums of the privileged, including everyone from aged far right windbags to middle class kids who have nothing to say but will still say it in the most obnoxious medium possible.
And at the very flashpoint between these two competing potentials sits 800 Throats’ latest EP ‘Day of the Woman’. On the one hand this is a restrained piece of minimal industrial metal along the lines of Godflesh’s ‘Post Self’, albeit with a better eye for melodic hooks and driving rhythms. On the other, some of the riffs and vocal outbursts approach the danger zone of industrial’s nu metal affiliations, or the more tasteless facets of EBM. This is nowhere more apparent than in the lyrics.
This balance makes for a tense listen, as we’re never certain if ‘Day of the Woman’ is going to devolve into a shit show of cringe. But to 800 Throats’ credit, a steady course of good taste is held. Minimal yet imaginative beats form the subtle anchor of these pieces, onto which are hung simple repetitive guitar refrains. These either take the form of heavy, percussive chords that pound into the listener’s mind Godflesh style – most notably on the title track – or else flesh out surprisingly catchy yet repetitive melodies that are nevertheless tempered by a welcome degree of restraint.
The overall mix and presentation is fairly sparse. The music is immediate and close, the soundscape kept free of unwanted static and excessive sampling cluttering up the scene. This fairly barren picture allows 800 Throats to draw our focus to the guitar and synth leads, which flesh out melodies that are no less engaging for their simplicity. We are left hooked as we follow their progression from end to end.
The vocals are equally restrained (it’s just a shame the same couldn’t be said for the lyrics that are audible). Although heavily treated, they opt for a low, distorted, spoken word approach not unlike ambient era Beherit. This is a welcome change from the infantile screeching of a 3Teeth, who seem to have garnered an audience of real-life adults for some inexplicable reason.
For fans of minimal industrial that walks the line between metal, EBM, and dark ambient, ‘Day of the Woman’ is an intriguing and frankly original take on the style. If one can overlook its shortcomings, which are common to less restrained takes on the form, then many engaging pockets of creativity await.