Autarcie could be easily dismissed for being assembled from the elements we expect from narcissistic yet generic post-black metal or “modern metal.” Instead, it presents to us a transition between black metal and either assimilation or a new form which is organic and local, and yet while the band does more with the elements of modern metal than that genre, its failure to conquer the modern mindset within precludes it from achieving the ancient sensibility and sensation of black metal, leaving it as identifiably “post-metal” in spirit but second-wave black metal in form.
In the context of recent French black metal, many facets of what Autarcie is trying to achieve can be seen in parallel to the legacy of a band that is a paragon for the general approach they choose, Peste Noire. While Peste Noire is not entirely wrong about nature and potential of black metal, it cannot escape its own modern characteristics; this transitional band reminds us that it is impossible to discover the soul of a genre by imitating it through its external elements. Eloquent on musical level, but having failed in its ambitious aims, thus artistically irrelevant1 and along with its rash takes on decadence possibly deleterious, Peste Noire remains an interesting phenomena nonetheless because of its organic and local tendencies.
Those terms, usually seen on groceries, require definition: organic is that which arises or is grown instead of being intended; local is that which appeals to the cultural sensibilities of cultures, even micro-cultures, as opposed to trying to be “universal” in the way Nordic black metal was interpreted to be because of its domination of the black metal genre by essentially inventing it. Peste Noire proved to be inspirational at one hand as a popular mean of expression of localism not to say provincialism that is free from mental confusion, and on the other hand by its attempt to perhaps “urbanize” black metal from within, as was exclaimed by Peste Noire’s less artistic and more direct statements2.
Despite the positive aspects of Peste Noire, its shortcomings resemble the distinction between individualism and being sovereign, as if constructing an ur-theme for post-Revolutionary France. Someone who is sovereign is responsible for his actions and free to do what is good; an individualist, on the other hand, insists on being able to do anything and so deprecates the need for virtue. In the same way, confusion between localism and urbanism pervade Peste Noire, showing the essential problem of modernism: it infects anything it can, and “inverts” those values to point toward those of modernity, effecting a coup.
Being motivated primarily by the extremity of black metal, and despite signaling some will to link it with the inherent and eternal, Peste Noire merely utilized black metal as a surface and by so doing, converted it into something which rendered it obsolete. It wallows in literal portrayals of downfall and when it tries to introduce some contrast to them, finds this impossible because it lacks the internal emotional and moral conflict to do so. Peste Noire never possessed that elemental essence of black metal as it was something to which it only aspired in attempt to affiliate itself with attractive idea and it remained rather on a level of general attire, utilized more as a stylistic tool. At the same time, by such a frivolous reveling in degeneration, the music was assimilated by degeneration, and failed to express the timeless and mythic-historical view for which black metal is famous.
Autarcie is free from some of the problems mentioned above. Comprised of a duo of fresh-minded anarchs, Autarcie managed to create authentic moods and convincing landscapes, which give it a perceivable, almost material gestalt. It remains stylistically autonomous from Peste Noire and for its own merit it is less posturing, more modest, focused and musically solid. Autarcie expresses its artistic core best within the first trilogy of their albums (S.I.D.A., Horizons Funestes and Époque Révolue) but expresses it in a mixed form on the others, where said concept is taken from a different angle, designed to advance it further, but succeeding only in obliterating it.
These first three are best listened to as if a single album, because each serves as a refinement of the formula presented on those prior to it. Generally songs tend to create a sense of place for themselves by having distinct functions on an album scale, while more meditative parts blends smoothly into bursts of anger forming one rich expression. The third album unfortunately serves as closure to what constituted Autarcie’s original and relevant contribution. The second part of their discography manages only to alter the aesthetic and so presents an immediate message with no ensuing depth unveiled. As with Peste Noire, these never set out from an intellectual conceptual plane and invent music to express that, and so end as empty declarations made of everything but spirit and potential.
Autarcie’s relation to black metal means that it retains the general idea and aesthetic, all the while developing modern sensibilities and composition, which means that at its core it is more like rock, emo and punk than black metal. Beside the obvious heritage of LLN, traces of Burzum, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth and even NWOBHM are encoded within Autarcie’s music; in the simplicity of its individual parts from which it builds its powerful epics it reminds of Absurd, Ildjarn-Nidhogg or some more atavistic hardcore, but it is not a usual academic study of past music.
Autarcie draws its strength from something other than what was often at the core of black metal namely antihumanism with its cold, cosmic perspective, or similarly inhuman myths, occultism and esotericism. Autarcie avoided the usual post-black metal fate by turning to something less universalist and more specific: their regional idiosyncrasies. These are alien to the well-established Norse paradigm, which actually also started as a sort of local folklore before becoming a trait common to all black metal. Thus, Autarcie being exotic to “civilization” element in black metal may cause it to sound familiar on some other level by its attachment to even smaller particularities than even those of Norwegians before them. As such it emerges as more profound — as opposed to Peste Noire or bands only borrowing some folk trivialities –- “identity” music, not that different in its noble isolationism from Darkthrone circa 1994 and complete with lyrics in French3, thankfully conducted by traditional and strong vocal delivery.
Songs are varied and experimental and it is tempting to call non-metal progressions used there as alt-rock derived, but one would actually have hard time finding something similar outside of metal. Perhaps it is better to recognize them as possibilities open to exploration in a lawless times of permanent crisis. Apparent sloppiness in playing hides deeper dimensions of music which is in fact subtle, nuanced and fairly complex. Compositionally Autarcie relies heavily on longer moods but with a range of internal dynamics akin to traditional black metal, not its diluted modern iterations, which means that there is none of that false depth created through accumulation of layers of bland droning. Here dominant moods, along with vague, contrapuntal undercurrent create damp soil, a humus that sounds apathetic, sedating, but which at the same time, as we intuitively feel, is disgustingly full of underlying, revolving micro movement upward, and from which it sometimes shifts to some glimmering revelation or dramatic arches at the surface. Slightly demented melodies imposed on top of that create tension and gives the sense of urgency, yet as a whole Autarcie’s compositions with their unusual jauntiness achieve strange peace of someone in tune with his moldy soul, with all its goodness and evilness alike.
It’s a contentment exclusively found in local realms governed only by organic unity of blood and soil with an aristocratic castle ever-present in the background as a guideline upward; these are forms which grew and were not made. It’s really hard to avoid such picturesque associations, even though band does not sound medieval at all. Those impressions are additionally supported by iconography aptly selected by the band: with a dose of sarcasm but fortunately without overly ostentatious unorthodoxy. While clearly political in nature, there are no outspoken affiliations and there is nothing other in Autarcie’s music than a metapolitical feeling shared by many, but to which expression within current discourse cannot be found. It is coupled with somewhat perceivable will to stay apolitical, or sovereign in the context of modern politics4.
We are really among higher peasantry here with Autarcie. They are able to touch quite a few musical archetypes hard-coded in Europeans minds and branded in their hearts. That in turn sheds some light on why do melodies give impression that notes are intuitively put exactly in that “right” order as if almost they had to be crafted exactly that way; riffs are ensuing with such fatalism as if they are the only possible continuation to one another. They are not semi-random and indistinctive as often is the case today but also are not crafted predictably to meet simple expectations. They just seem to be predetermined in itself and follow their path with conviction. And upon that realization, on such moments, hearing them feels just like arriving finally at home, however inhospitable or incomprehensible it could appear to anyone else. As such, things are here decisively less abstract and more humane, thus maybe better fulfilling premises of folk music.
Having said all of that, Autarcie still shares some negative tendencies which are in themselves indicative to a broader context and interesting to dissect with Peste Noire and other compatriots and contemporaries and also adds some of its own. Some are relatively superficial such as few false steps here and there or questionable habits, like coming to full stop and then introducing ostentatiously different, usually underdeveloped theme close to the end of a song. Sometimes, while espousing their national character, which is no stranger to deviousness and perversity, they became drawn by its inclinations to bitter irony or cynicism and end up by sounding jazzy and rickety like music from a New Orleans brothel5 or at best a small-town orchestra. For those who want a quick synopsis, Autarcie sound like Absurd interpreted through Eastern European black metal, but relying heavily on tropes from late early black metal like Graveland, Ancient and Gorgoroth, although given a unique French sense of melody and dignity.
It cannot be stressed enough, that the grotesque decadent and theatrical traditions which belong to the bourgeoisie (hence artificial) world where, say, black death becomes more and more a metaphor for existential crisis and not a revered elemental force, will always produce already compromised art, made by similarly compromised individuals. Let’s also not forget that sentiments to nature and simple life were already played hundreds of years before by completely misguided rationalists. On a larger scale, similarly to Peste Noire, Autarcie tries to use black metal to expose the crass ugliness of modernity and fight it through direct contrast. That’s where it perhaps fell prey to a modern mentality by using styles as tools in rationalistic manner, where there is no need for such juxtapositions because said contrast was already manifested best by black metal simply being strikingly otherworldly and pure in itself. By employing its aesthetics also to describe modernity itself, black metal became infected by it, and then became yet another one of its voices, losing some of its unparalleled beauty, and as such cannot be wholly inspiring anymore. Black metal is not a protest music, nor an external “skin” in which people wrap their lives in order to be able to think them unique and meaningful. Using it in such manner also diminishes its power.
Robert Brasillach – “Vienne la Nuit”
Let the night come and send me,
Far away from the walls of my prison
Night itself is enough to withdraw them,
For me to retrieve my horizons.
What of the fact that they have fenced me
Night abolishes every barrier.
With the night I stroll
Under the sun of past days.
I no longer see what enchains me,
Sleep brakes the fate:
Here is the sea, here is Seine,
Here are the fresh cheeks of my people.
And as back then, in the camp, in Germany,
Every night, oh the Night, you return
Giving back all that was taken from me.
Under your hand I close my eyes,
I embark, you are accompanying me,
Caressing me until morning.
Oh the Night, the only treasure
of free men and exiles alike,
So I have reclaimed you, marvelous,
After three years you have returned!
To my dear sun I render myself,
Carry me away as before.
On a straw where the soldiers,
You brought me happiest dreams
To match with my own unhappiness.
Today again I plunge into you,
Oh helpful, oh vigilant,
Oh the Night that knows no lies.
24 October 1944
The biggest problem with Autarcie is the spiritual condition of this music. There is one fundamental rupture that is common to all too many bands that came after disease called Suicidal Depressive Black Metal (SDBM). As a part of shared zeitgeist, that disease found its way to infest even its supposedly main counterweight at the time, NSBM, and from that carried on into the Eastern European and French scenes. Pagan spirituality turned into resignation and submitting to dégringolade, that post-NSBM desperate emotionality quickly carved a niche for itself. What instantly came to mind here is a way undergone by the likes of Ohtar6, although they actually did that with some dignity and not entirely without merits to be found from it. It’s not that the validity of their old values ceased, and they have never negated them as an ideals. The status quo however is that everything, as it seems, is lost from the perspective of said ideals and they are unable to maintain them and work toward them anymore, hence giving in to despair and hopelessness.
It’s hateful music alright, but the confidence is long gone and obligatory hate, now strangely dimmed and without purpose, by force of circumstance directs itself inward, turning against its host and life itself. The only thing left at that point is engaging in personal pursuits. That means flirtations with modern forms and other “risky” ideas — like suicide, violence, drugs, and other urban fixations — on a wasteland deprived of guidelines. But as much as one can understand such circumstances and intentions of these individuals, and even admire their searches, it is clear that they became somehow afflicted. What’s symptomatic, when part of NSBM gradually descended into the mentality of SDBM, it immediately gained rock (“dark metal”) characteristics similar to those which can be also found in Autarcie. And that is exactly where Autarcie may fall to its most severe incompleteness as it also exhibits traits of that devolution.
Where for Ohtar it was a gradual process over time, for Autarcie it is something inhabiting it all the time, ever-present at any given moment. As a result it constantly alters between being intoxicated by serene euphoria and poisoned by cacophonous despair, between being seriously militant and glory-bound7 and terribly shattered by nostalgia and depression, always immersed in that happy-sad, bitter-sweet mood. One cannot successfully approach enemy broken, halfhearted, and without internal integrity. Despite its supposedly confrontational intent it is noticeably withdrawn.
Autarcie thus is both promising and a dead end. Where it is supposed to face adversities with arrogance, self-confidence and inner strength, there is frustration and doubt. Poignant disillusionment betrays signs of self-defeating cynicism. Finally, by revealing its ultimately passive longings immersed in bleak melancholy, it finds itself on the brink of being yet one more fatalistic music of defeat. And while it may be open to debate that it is also a part of human experience and as such should be also brought forth, this was never high point of metal. Whoever wish to find a “person” behind original black metal will discover that it was so inhuman through its “metal” aspect that there are only concepts and steel natures, not enlightened monkeys acting out “feelings” derived from the social struggles of the self.
This spiritual trouble, to which the band’s moniker may be symbolic, is analogous to problematic status of autarchy (“absolute sovereignty”/”autocratic government”) itself. Fully developed historical and local identity is located on a higher plane of conscience than primal, elementary sphere, hence part of that unprecedented merit of black metal to is lost to those who remain within material, social and individualist concerns. Retreat to regionalism seems desperate and leaves smaller cells to work within than that of previous nationalism of black metal. Autarcie may be perceived here as a willing to be just left alone, or even worse — like Peste Noire — as being escapist in a literal sense, like the Neoreactionary longing for “exit” or “the Benedict option.” This escapism opens itself to the dangers of senescence, of being stagnant and reactionary.
Involuntarily this conflict was expressed in close proximity of words autarchy and decay or putrefaction (déliquescence) in the title of their first album. Admittedly, putrefaction is probably designed to be synonymous to modernity, to which autarchic tendencies are drafted as a lofty alternative, but we are still considering here the possibility of an island. This means that the metaphor can only lead to a sophisticated form of evasion. But it all also allows us to reason that perhaps the band realizes it and coded in their art the fact, that being sedated on the long term is not a solution and can generate existential crises not much worse than those caused by deracination. So eventually that which is merely conserved will not survive, especially once decay sets in, and the solution may lie in an autocratic willingness to break free from modernity as concept more than physical constraint.
The band seems to be hostile to solutions depending on large masses, so maybe they conceive autarchies as elaborate pockets of resistance, or points of concentration from which small, “specialized” units are supposed to burst out to adjacent lands. Autarcie is certainly not pandering to the ego of an individual here, but it is also difficult to fight using one’s local identity alone. Undoubtedly it charms its listener with richly developed and profound character of local heritage, but that seems to be without the will to conquer. It is perhaps only as much threatening to the world as our authentic soul can be. But will that be sufficient? By not being as vicious, violent and truly offensive, in that very sense to which older black metal was, it places its goals lower in advance. Its war ideal is that of just war. It is pugnacious music, but lacking a soul to something more than the method alone, perhaps violence without consequence.
 Best aspects of Peste Noire are actually from before of what it is best renowned, having its highest point in Macabre Transcendance…
 Whose meaning, besides words having some commonality in Indo-European languages, I don’t know, so it is mainly music and iconography for me, but I believe that there is a lot to uncover there. In English however, I have found some good materials on Autarcie at blackivorytower.com.
 They are perhaps most akin to some Third Position or, to give them more nationally apt label, Identitarism, as that phenomenon, as an formalized movement, originated in France. Generally however, as with most black metal, they can be seen, in essence, as conservatives, but necessarily they have to be also revolutionary, hence conservative-revolutionary — a very sensible stance for a metalhead. Autarcie plays with modernity, transgression and disorder, being naturally inclined toward traditional principles.
 Which actually says something about origins of such music, pointing to its genuinely French character.
 Of course long before that there was obviously Abyssic Hate, which completely misunderstood Burzum.
 As manifested by Dernière Bataille (from Retour En Crasse) opening sample. Napoleonic speech at Waterloo is immediately disrupted by rejection of stillness and capitulation and countered by the call to charge into toils of the last romantic wars. Or is that only firm resignation, indifference, and fatalism speaking? Is it signifying how we should be like, or only how we should end with ourselves and that perhaps it would be best for us if it would have ended that way? – That‘s the part of the experience with Autarcie: we can’t be sure.