I am usually not all too impressed by the scratchy, noisy, lo-fi Black Metal concoctions most of the underground bands liked to throw at us back in time. Their light has gradually waned over time, but you still find a considerable community still today: The hidden-in-the-woods outfits, only allowing a handful of copies to reach the world of us unworthy earthlings.
And some of them delivering on ancient cassette tape sound support only, still today. Forsooth! Kind of eclectic, these days, when you gotta hunt around the attic to find a player. If you own one still at all, that is. Most of these outfits still live by their old code and modus operandi. Bands like Darkend actually perform a ritual – black mass – more than offering music to the informed metal public.
Then we have relatively rare specimens like Batushka or Rorcal, taking the usual mindless brickwalling to the next level. Their approach pretty much echoes their brethren of the smoky backrooms. Only do they pay much more attention to detail, putting in a lot of intricate work into mixing and mastering. So much so, that their tune starts to stand out and we actually get to enjoy what they play. And this is no easy feat.
The French-Canadian band Forteresse and their newest and fifth studio album Thèmes pour la Rébellion very much falls into this very same category. At first I was about to discard the album, but the very skillful setup, mixing and mastering made me pause. And they paid careful attention not to mix the eerie with the raw Black Metal too much. With atmospheric interludes reminiscent of Ashbringer‘s Yügen mainly at the beginning and the end of the record. Thèmes relentlessly delivers a very sturdy and unforgiving brand of Black Metal. And I mean this literally.
Squashed between intro and outro, there is only a smattering of airy sounds or clear voice breaking up the pounding metal hammer, driving wedges into your brain. All of this is skillfully woven into the overall fabric of the album in a way few have mastered this so far. To me this is one of their main strengths, keeping the genre AND the theme straight a the same time. The track Là où Nous Allons is a good example of that.
Anything else is just pure, Black Metal rebellion as the title suggests, expressed in needle-sharp metal shards. Necromorbus Studio in Stockholm, Sweden actually saved the cake, cooking up a reasonable level of separation and density without rendering Thèmes cheesy or overwhelming. I would have liked the rasps to be a tad more present, but – hey – one cannot have everything.
The other main element is the theme itself – the 1837 Canadian Rebellion. Already looking at the album cover, it is clear that we are going to war. And the short intro promptly sets the scene with some war sounds starting to pop in. From then onwards, this war machine unstoppably marches down these bloody fields.
Now, is Thèmes pour la Rébellion too much Black Metal for one evening? It will depend on your ability to stomach such an assault. Theirs is definitely heavy fare. Forteresse just about overdid it without passing this thin red line into overdrive. You will need some stamina to get through the 40-some minutes of relentless pounding. However, the quality and attention to detail in this album will definitely override the relatively minor hiccups.
This is further confirmed, if you look at the tracks themselves. With the exception of the slightly weaker Vespérales, all of them songs are very strong by and in themselves. They listen well as standalones, but also fit perfectly, when taking in the album as a whole.
In conclusion, Forteresse delivered a very sturdy, almost epic and for sure interesting piece of metal. This in an already overcrowded genre and by NOT jumping onto the atmospheric mainstream bandwagon that other bands so happily did. Looking at the quality of the record, there is no doubt in my mind why the band is a firm member of the Métal Noir Québécois. Re-inventing old-style Black Metal and not ruining it in the process is a feat. And a feat well done.
Go and get it: