Among countless glass-lunged artisan youth of the Romantic period drowned too early by the many fingered hands of tuberculosis Aloysius Bertrand would choke a merciless death at barely thirty four. He’d fade into the aether after nearly a decade penning and peddling a great work he and few others knew to be profound. This sorrowful, lonely death came just as his conceptually rich additions to symbolism in literature set on the brink of revealing (what’d have to be) posthumous contributions to the art of prose and a major influence upon surrealism. Driven from the gloom of an assuredly dead lover towards the responsibilities left at home after his fathers death that same year, Bertrand struck out on his own in 1928 towards Paris into poverty as an unpublished playwright. An uncouth young man who’d never fit into the righteous asses of French romanticism now a solitary corpse, dead from infection, saw funeral alone and left behind a book that’d sell less than two dozen copies and receive little mention until decades later. What lead this march unto a lonely death was a form of poetry inspired by the works of great painters, which saw Bertrand dedicating his fantastical medieval imagery to Rembrandt and Callot. This sort of high-concept, medium-transcendent artistic expression fittingly extends its influence into the vacuous wellspring of all encompassing fire that French black metal duo Cénotaphe presents as ‘Empyrée’; Here on their second EP musician Fog (Ossuaire Records, ex-Angmar) and vocalist Khaosgott (Frozen Graves, Ördög) gloriously resurrect and refine their shared talents above and beyond what they’d accomplished on the first two Nécropole demos.
Emotion distinctly guides the resplendent flailing regalia that is ‘Empyrée’, a pointedly melodic narrative in the purest tradition of French black metal that communicates the highest plains of introspection divined from the raw ozone-scented dirt of thoughtful extremity. It is undoubtedly ‘melodic’ black metal but, removed from the more typical saccharine affect towards the marginal and sinister such as Seigneur Voland, earlier Sühnopfer, and the sort of Osculum Infame adjacency of the late 90’s. When the subtle keyboard work does appear it never outclasses the more vibrant streams of guitar melody as they ramp up. The modern black metal fan will gain glimpse at the same lineage expressed in popular Spectral Wound and Forteresse releases but Cénotaphe boasts the luxurious coldness inherent to Fog‘s work which should be familiar to those indebted to Caverne and Nécropole. The phrasing is eternally bounding, forever tumbling forward and back as it zig-zags along the ear canal, massaging a quiet exuberance that peaks into brief bouts of desperation.
Where Cénotaphe escapes the mundane and predictive signaling of most modern melodic black metal acts comes with their adept ability to toy with atmosphere, to clutch it and fling out great heaving sighs of melodious and descending phrasal guitar work in throngs. This non-classicist touch invokes the fiery dirt of ancient French black metal but persists without the tiresome level of repetition that defined much of the 1990’s. Though the compositions are evocative they are just short of prideful excess, skating memorability and instead opting for a performative-but-earnest feeling. There is an otherwordly essence pouring from Fog‘s guitar lines on ‘Empyrée’ that is captivating beyond what he’d expressed on the slightly more subtle forms of the ‘La Larve Exulte’ (2016) demo; The tremolo-picked work still avoids overt earworm in keeping in line with Cénotaphe‘s general warming upon ‘Horizons’ (2018) EP, in this sense ‘Empyrée’ is sensible iteration of style. It should prove a moving and surreal listen that avoids all potentially trite trappings that the melodic aspect of black metal threatens.
The influence of surrealism is clearly translated and distinguishing yet, where symbolism comes into play within ‘Empyrée’ escapes me outside of the connection between the empyrean theme suggested by the title and a truly fantastic Malczewsk painting, with the subject of ‘In the Dust Clouds’ well framed within the cover. If nothing else they’ve adorned this EP with a compelling image and I suppose I’d have to figure my way through the French lyrics and infer meaning on my own from there. It is a beautiful package to match the music and I appreciate that amount of detail along with the golden vinyl option, despite how little I generally care about color variants. I can emphatically recommend this to fans of modern atmospheric forms of melodic black metal and especially to folks who’d felt that Nécropole‘s debut last year hadn’t delivered upon the promise of their earlier work. Highly recommended. For preview “Au sépulcre des astres” is surely an early peak in the lilt but its pairing with “Face aux feux d’un soleil porphyré” should offer the strongest bulk of the 34+ minute EP.
Eyes leaden with sleep. 4.25/5.0
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