Artists recovering from the downfall of black metal in 1995 faced a daunting challenge: how to keep aesthetically developing a genre that was based on primitive but elegant melodic and violent music, and how to expand its philosophy past its original primal, nihilistic, naturalistic, and anti-humanist roots.
Black metal took to the fading culture of dying Western Civilization like a black car racing along a deserted highway, going ever faster in its attempt to push us out of the mental ghetto of our own thought-bubbles centered around egodrama, equality, social cuteness, and pretense. It preferred to destroy all in fire to continue down the path of complacent vapidity.
However, if that car goes too fast, it overshoots its headlights, which means that the distance its headlights cover represents much less than the space required for the car to break to a stop. At that point, obstacles come out of the night and hit you before you can react. Black metal said its piece, and then had nothing to add on so that it could continue.
The fakers crowded in afterwards, making aesthetic imitations but replacing the inner content — soul, spirit, mind, choice — with the usual blather of Crowds, which is to say that it amplified the greed, fear, weakness, envy, and self-importance of individuals into a herd behavior pathology. Black metal died then, with only a few exceptions.
One reason you see so few reviews on this and other old school blogs is that there are maybe three releases a year worth writing about, and everything else is transient, having surface level “uniqueness” but nothing to offer in terms of musical or artistic content. A new rhythm, a new take on an old pattern, and verse-chorus songwriting aimed toward individualistic mentation.
Like fellow survivors Graveland, Sorcier Des Glaces (roughly: ice sorcerer) attempts to expand black metal aesthetically so that it has more range to write in than the techniques, modes, and rhythms favored by the originals; like Graveland, it hopes to incorporate more instrumentation or at least instrumental variety.
This takes the band to a place where its core connection to black metal — something like a hybrid of later Graveland with early Ancient and Gorgoroth — adds technical elements and tries to work in more themes from the true metal canon, including speed metal and heavy metal, but with the arch-elitism of black metal giving these a self-consciously artistic and cultural spin.
As one might expect, this takes any metal band to the place that technical death metal went, such as bands like Eucharist or Bathory in its later years. As if moving through a music textbook, these bands incorporate more arpeggios and picking patterns based on un-distorted open chords, and they incorporate more melodies within songs, pushing rhythm work to the side.
That however pushes metal away from its core power, which is the contrast between phrases bringing out a language of storytelling, from which it derives its power to make very simple riffs appear epic and reductive at the same time within the appropriate context. A metal riff by itself is cool; a metal riff after set up by song development can be life-changing.
Sorcier Des Glaces shows us a good faith attempt to work those technical and cultural elements within songs, but in doing so it loses the consistency that made black metal so powerful. This probably came from hardcore, where all riffs were cut from the same cloth, used the same textures, and worked within similar tempos, thus directing focus solely toward the melodic interaction between those riffs. Add that to the Black Sabbath style of telling stories through riff contrast, and you have underground metal. Black metal added melody and deprecated drums to background timekeepers, more like techno, and that style fundamentally clashes with all attempts to use normal popular music theory to expand on metal.
The band has been fighting this battle for some time. They have endless good ideas, but never seem to manage that melody and song combination which is as crushing as early works from their influences. For this reason, you can listen to their albums and enjoy them while they are playing, and even recall many moments, but they do not quite gel into an impression of a journey or mixture of emotions expressed. They are music for its own sake, commenting on itself, more than evocative of life or mimetic of some experience of our brains or world.
With its latest sally, Sorcier Des Glaces improves on everything it has done so far, incorporating more un-distorted chords and elaborate picking patterns, varieties in vocals, use of melodic single-note-at-a-time riffs, and careful building in of speed metal and heavy metal patterns to give songs energy at crucial moments.
Many call this style “atmospheric” because it mixes together bits of other styles into a collage, giving a general impression of a worldview rather than specifics. The band likes to emphasize variety by breaking out of the metal riff-stream into Gothic-styled vocal detours or acoustic-style picking for atmosphere, but works its way back to storming violence with melody at its core.
Ultimately, this album will not please black metal purists but will be more accessible to those who want to enter extreme metal from the more rock-like songwriting of Opeth, Edge Of Sanity, or other progressive and technical bands. It does not come to the point, like the earlier album Puressence of Primitive Forests, of knitting a few riffs into a loop with some deviations and having that express a journey.
For those looking to add depth to metal, however, Sorcier Des Glaces — an album of a single fifty-minute song — will delight. Every aspect of it gleams with care, the melodies are lovely and sound Gallic, and improved instrumental ability distinguishes it from underground metal. Despite clear influences, it offers an experience of its own.