At the very brink of the forest the woodland edge serves as a point of advantage for both predator and prey, a line some would cross out of necessity while others instinctively dread any release from their protective canopy. The earth on the verge itself is a plot of chaotic possibilities in harmony with fellow legends and inhabitants in the Breton prose that builds within ‘Argoat’, this seventh full-length album from Celtic pagan black metal artist Belenos. The nearly twenty five years and greater body of work that precedes ‘Argoat’ should assure thoughtful and highest quality work from musician Loïc Cellier and to be sure his creative, spiritual and performative grip upon this institution remains steadfast. The Earth sign to follow the Water sign of ‘Kornog’ (2016) a remarkably different sound follows the prior release which now focuses deeper toward the roots of the project within intensifying melodic black metal ideas directed by strong lead guitar presence. Cellier‘s work is beauteous, as grand as the tree-steepled landscape it depicts and as enticing as the forest legends it tells from the precarious edge of the wilds.
‘Spicilège’ (2002) was not only likely my introduction to French black metal beyond Deathspell Omega‘s second album that same year but perhaps a better fit for my own senses with its melodic notions clearly built upon classic Norwegian pagan black metal sources first or, in some cases, in tandem. With Aeternus‘ ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon’ among my earliest favorites it was only a matter of time before I’d discover Belenos‘ classic debut ‘Errances Oniriques’ that’d undoubtedly been influenced by that record for his first 2-3 releases with a full band. A strike out into independence since at least 2007 would see some fairly quick progress towards the current quality standards of today starting with ‘Yen Sonn Gardis’ (2010) which began to incorporate increasing ‘viking’ or pagan metal influences that’d become a major distinction for the project in the long run. Despite many old fans being forever hung up on the first three releases from Belenos I’d felt the independent streak of Cellier was hugely admirable and the shift towards an almost progressive treatment of pagan black metal was well received on my part. ‘Kornog’ is such a fresh memory still because it’d been an album that I’d fallen off early then picked back up a month later having yearned for it. Today ‘Argoat’ has a more immediate appeal not for nepotism but for its Windir (or, generally Sognametal) influenced approach to vocal harmonies and lead guitar melodies. There is undoubtedly more to ‘Argoat’ than that similarity but it will be a major draw for folks equally entrenched in the ‘medieval’ spectrum of melodic black metal of today and the pagan black metal from two decades previous.
Opener “Karv-den” is abrupt in shedding the mid-paced ‘progressive’ feeling rhythms of ‘Kornog’ and instead resembles Belenos‘ sound circa ’00-’02 in most respects beyond the clean-sung chorales. The rest of Side A completes this thought reaching an apex with the particularly memorable title track until “Dishualder” represents another great peak in the tracklist as it warms the experience with an excellent ‘folk metal’ vocal harmonization. From there I was surprised to see ‘Argoat’ take a somewhat darker and more complex turn between “Duadenn” and “Steuziadur” which usher in a moodiness and mourning spirit that again recalls the glory days of the project as much as they carry on through ‘Kornog’ spiritually. It really is a finely arranged tracklist with many standout moments along the way though Belenos have managed an album that is fairly front-loaded in terms of memorable melodic devices. Although I would appreciate the nuance of the French language the novelty (or, appreciable personal touch) of Cellier‘s lyrics being written in Breton as a celebration of Celtic heritage is admirable; Without an English lyric sheet I can’t speak to the intricacies of the prose within but ‘Argoat’ does not appear to be a departure from works past or, at least not a strongly willed bout of change judging by the song titles.
The sense that ‘Argoat’ is spiritual companion to ‘Karnog’ while being quite different rhythmically is either a stroke of genius in terms of providing great variety within a set of ‘modern’ pagan black metal releases though it might also be a symptom of celebrating large anniversaries and reflecting further during the creative process. Either way as a longtime fan of Belenos I have zero complaints in terms of production, performance, songwriting, theme, art, packaging, and really all of these aspects are immaculate as ever. An excellent album that comes highly recommended. For preview purposes I’d suggest starting with “Dishualder” and “Argoat” as a whet in view of the bounty therein.
Dorosenn uhelañ. 4.0/5.0
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