Exanimis – Marionnettiste (2021) – Review

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Well, I always thought the kings and queens of totally epic Symphonic Death Metal resided in Italy. From the beautiful city of Perugia, Fleshgod Apocalypse reigned supreme in that realm of the baroque world of Borgia-like undertones and crazy cinematic shenanigans. A style so full of garish colors and bizarre soundscapes that it actually should drown in a ton of cheese, yet it never did.

So far, at least.

And indeed, their reign remained pretty much unchecked. Until the RMR deck crew got a visitation from the French band Exanimis with their debut album Marionnettiste, that is. A bunch of former students of the Music Academy International in Nancy that just went ahead and hit the ground running with a Death Metal piece that stopped us cold.

The RMR crew always looks for that primeval connection, this visceral reaction any tune should generate. Music is emotion, and that fact does not change even for the metal folks out there. You can – of course – nickel and dime a review to death with all sorts of technicalities you may want to describe, and sometimes this must be done. But the underlying energy always is emotion. And this record here contains a mountain of it.

But first things first. Sure enough, Marionnettiste hits us like an avalanche right from Prélude du Songe Avant le Cauchemar. And take it from me, we usually hate those friggin’ intros. Yet here, Exanimis actually managed to raise expectations, and that’s rare.

The whole record revolves around a nightmare and – yet again – time. And that’s truly a stellar choice by the way. What better theme could there be than this one? It really allows a band to stuff anything and everything into a record and sample it into submission. Just because they can.

So, if you’re looking for the time element, just fire up Throne of Thorns. It’s somewhat hidden, but it’s there. Need a hint? It’s just around where this excellent solo majestically departs. Or try the excellent Cogs, Gears and Clockworks which is way more straightforward.

The nightmare (cauchemar in French) is the framework of the story if you will. And the time element serves as the driver to move things along. So, that is an excellent contraption to wrap your record around right there and not lose your thread too much.1)

As to style, Marionnettiste largely presents itself on a Symphonic Death Metal platter. With lyrics mainly coming from the growly department. You’ll find a few grave monologues, something like the ‘powers that be’ talking to you. God having a word with the unworthy, something around there. And some of them come in – French.

Now, instead of using their native language as a blunt weapon to beat everyone up with2), Exanimis apply it like a surgical tool. I always liked the use of French when it comes to the dark and ominous. It just sounds better than English, even if my anglo-saxon friends will certainly violently disagree. Some Black and Extreme Metal artists3) did that in the past pretty compellingly.

Now, to add some more spice, the record also contains some clear voice. On The Slow Flow of the Spume on the Shore, for instance. Albeit that I found the performance a bit underwhelming at best. Another negative on Marionnettiste is the uncanny length, not only of the album as a whole but surely of the tracks themselves. This leads to the repetition bug striking at times, however slightly. But in the bigger theme of things, those are minor hiccups.

Now, Marionnettiste likes to call itself orchestral. And that remark – by itself – put a pretty severe frown on my face.4) There have been numerous Symphonic Metal outfits in the past that didn’t quite understand that they are NOT an opera. But fear naught. Exanimis here used a lot of virtuosity to truly include a ton of orchestral elements into their tune. Yet, the record never gripes and for sure doesn’t disintegrate into a classical catastrophe.

Instead, the artful integration of the choir always underlines the theme and we truly enjoyed the use of a variety of instruments to create mood or to drive the storyline forward. Specifically, the use of the violin is exceedingly well done. In the aforementioned Cogs, Gears and Clockworks, for instance.

The somewhat epically bombastic last track Cathedral does indeed suffer somewhat from its undue length. I would have preferred a crisper, yet shorter version. Yet, with all its sometimes cheesy meanderings, this is probably the track that illuminates the more playful side of Marrionnettiste best. That’s when you get the feel of the puppeteer behind all that scheming. But – yet again – nothing takes away from the pretty raw power that this track projects, as always built on a foundation of pretty juicy drum work.

Ultimately, Examinis surely didn’t create some sort of Fleshgod Apocalypse 2.0, far from it. Instead, they presented us with a crafty and excellently tuned piece of Symphonic Death Metal. Marrionnettiste made exquisite complexity sound easy. An album at a level of maturity and refinement that we certainly didn’t expect from a debut.

Great record, and we already hunger for more. Oh, and a few live shows thrown in for good measure – whenever this may again be possible.

Ed’s note: An early 2021 collection of the most memorable extreme records just appeared on RMR. And this band is on it. And congrats, the record made it onto the 2021 Top 10 Records.

Record Rating: 8/10 | LabelKlonosphere | Web: Facebook
Release Date: 5 March 2021


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