What divine habit, ‘God’ or unchanging self-definition bears weight when a life’s work denatures the irrational respite of the mind? It curls and writhes in solution, the deterioration of a curious brain inevitably gnashes in observation of patterns in nature for the sake of its predictive manipulation. A slow decay rises in the chest of the natural philosopher, not for disgust of positioning men as gods in the natural world but in response to the inevitable — A restless, anxietous ache in the stomach for the separation of rampaging wildebeest from the expanse of habitat as the great uninhabitable wonder that surrounds man dissolves within a ridiculously short human lifespan. A slow, photo-op filled two hour hike with beloved company took to the top of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island circa 2012, where I found myself a half mile above Puget Sound explaining the culmination of two years study of polyadenylation in bacteria to deaf ears. Apes, including myself, upon high treetops bewildered by the most perspective their given stations in life allowed. Eyes attached to untrained and instinctively vibing minds were unquestionably happier than mine while staring at the immediate, tangible glory of the view. There in quietly emotional resignation, certainly with some petulance, a cutting shard of passion for practical applications of science died within. So eased slightly the callous atheist, the competitive spirit, the argumentative louse, the sullen-eyed and dreamless sequencer. A life spent plucking away introns begins to feel wasteful without eyes for the expression of exons as they cycle through, and this means letting the rigidity of self-conscious intellectualism fade towards the mind of a knowing beast, αn explorer willing to stay malleable and thrive beyond survival. Cynical in view of burning wheel and world around him Montréal, Quebec based musician Principal Investigator sang of mutation, erosion and broken-spirited ails when debuting his natural philosophic folk/black metal project Allelic back in late 2018 with the stunning ‘The Smoke of Atavistic Fires‘. Today he returns with a second concept album, matured in style and affect that appears to achieve gradual eudaimonia through a deeper connection with all things on ‘À Contre Vent’.
The curse of the dual purpose particle mankind in the dust of the universe is our suggested role as affector and catalyst, an infantile illusion cast away by the hands of the knowing steward who’d grow too vital in response to the gifts of their ecosystem to continue considering themselves a mere wheel, or peg. Envisioned as the lone Wolf and intent upon maintaining a path of self-enlightenment with equal reverence for the disgusting and the beautiful edges of our nature, the Principal Investigator produces a conceptual set of ϕ that expand the fractal self, guided by the wind and not against its force. Now expressed fully in the French language and sharing some personal epiphany against prejudices and other clouding thought towards the acceptance that all things share purpose — ‘À Contre Vent’ does not preach but instead shares its notions warmly without distance or disparity. It speaks of and presents a place for the wanderer and the contemplative spirit within the grinding automated noise of today. The artist’s heart likewise beats with a deeper attuned voice for both traditional French-Canadian folk, neofolk, and melodic lead-driven black metal. Compositions don’t verge on néoclassique forms quite as often as ‘The Smoke of Atavistic Fires’ but instead gain an increased flair for dramatic-yet-earthen folk/black metal beyond the already substantial and captivating prior record.
Sight beyond the established self, a reawakened mind away from the old channels and corridors, is the basis for any lasting great work and I suppose the greatest compliment I could give ‘À Contre Vent’ is that it expresses this avant-garde trait and encourages it in the listener through a resplendent and unerring flow of melodic blackened folk ideals. Think of the Tolkien inspired groves of early Rivendell or later Shambless, the snow-melting lead-driven grandeur of ‘Suspended in the Brume of Eos’-era Obsequiae and Windir (“Fig. 3 – L’éveil et la contemplation”), and the thrust of Nechochwen and Thyrfing (“Des âmes tissées sur Terre”). Now strip this collective vision back to acoustic instrumentation with a fine electric guitar tone soaring within modestly sized room, there this record’s core appeal reveals itself. I could speak of modern Québecois black metal or French groups such as Véhémence to some degree as well, but this is yet another small percentage of the bigger picture, no one group sums up the listening experience by plain comparison. If the grand novelty and woven nature of known existence considered from inception ’til today is communicated best anywhere on the album it is surely the fine melodic lead guitar work that Allelic lashes through the bone with their deepest cuts yet. The major thread of the concept isn’t genesis and expression but rather a parable presented in four moving figures, shadowboxes painted with the strokes of moody folk, neoclassical guitar solos, myriad percussion and I would say the best drum presence for the project thus far. The four figures within eventually paint the seasons with vigor rather than vitriol, a celebratory event that sets the mind in reflection and in the midst of marvel.
Organic and not overly fussed, ‘À Contre Vent’ leads with an earthen folk metal sound that is modestly rendered yet far cleaner and more present than modern atmospheric and/or melodic black metal hybridization typically is. The emphasis on acoustic guitar and additional percussion demands a fine amount of clarity that makes centerpiece of the melody-driven nature of each of the four main pieces. The first figure “Fig. 1 – À l’anaphase de nos chemins” certainly feels like a folk metal song a la Saor as it strums in, powered along by stunning leads, flutes, wooden spoons, and all manner of ingratiating toe-tapping adornments atop intricate folk metal rhythms. “Fig. 2 – La rupture des chaînes” is even longer and more tactful as its nearly six minute preamble builds with a nigh 40 Watt Sun-like ooze as it climbs into view, the moment where the piece is cracked into reminds me of mid-to-late Thyrfing for a variety of reasons but most impactful is the twisted rockish rhythm of the guitars, which works quite well whilst still building tension throughout the song. The four tracks therein are massive pieces to consider despite most of them having fairly simple arcs yet the 12+ minute finale of Figure 4 has the hardest job of sticking within the mind because it represents the accumulation of the album’s greater instrumental dialogue while returning to certain leitmotif and circles back around to the spoon slapping, harmonica-pouring vigor of the opening melodies. The full listen is whole, presented in impressive fashion, and rippling in its verdant notions.
Stepping back for a summation of the view provided by Allelic on this second album reveals an intense and captivating experience in the moment yet, perhaps far more ‘eased’ in its ways than its complex arrangements and intricately placed points of inspiration initially suggested. ‘À Contre Vent’ hits in a time where brightly lit muse is necessary for pleasurable and inspiring confinement, the full listen provides castellum for the all-connected mind, slapping and dancing out new found existential worthiness with anyone willing to join in. I found it an emotional and nigh infinitely repeatable piece, even more intentionally engaging and grand than Principal Investigator‘s prior work. A worthy epic for a plague year and a soaring moment to be remembered that deserves high recommendation.
High recommendation. 4.0/5.0
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