LOUDBLAST – Manifesto (2020)REVIEW

To manipulate, to claim, or to free the mind — The manifesto is most often the work of an outlier or outsider disenfranchised by the current state of society and/or their own artistic worldview. We see two major channels form in tow of this delineation of motives and directives: The political manifesto, a tool of propaganda and (usually) masterful technical writing meant to impress but relate to any reader. These are meant to be perceived as charismatic revelations of intimate thoughts, challenges to silent agreements which are often undernourished within loose societal unification. In this sense one could be compelled to consider Ted Kaczynski an “intellectual” for a work such as Industrial Society and its Future by virtue of its organized statement alone, the average reader might not make it to the blatant and wildly flung bigotry of the piece before becoming impressed by it and this is one reason religious creed and fascist manifesto often lend a severity to the format’s definition. From the soon to be successor (at the time) Kim Jong-Il securing his authority via prescribing film theory which must (from that point on) pull from the “seed” of its purpose as propaganda to the absolute slavering lie of the Contract With America back in 1994, the manifesto is most often the propaganda that roots its followers or intended target most deeply in ruin for years to come, and well, by virtue of its scholarly presentation. The artistic manifesto often serves an entirely different purpose where the folks who’d believe themselves the author and claimant of an artistic movement describe, elucidate, and sometimes demand (see: Megadeth) they’ve been the innovator. These rarely go challenged sans surrealism and symbolism that’d developed in seeming tandem array. In the case of legendary French death metal band Loudblast this ‘Manifesto‘, their eighth full-length since forming in 1985, does not intend to manipulate the mind or claim any particular throne but instead posit and condemn the greater sources of societal pollution today in the form of inhumane religious hypocrisy and ruthlessly corrupt government.

Well, I’ll have to be upfront about this in case the gushing part of my mind kicks in at some point but I am most certainly a Loudblast fanatic and a collector of their records. I’ve detailed a bit of this in Thrash ‘Til Death #7 through their third album but also for my old Retro Tuesdays column in reference to what I’d consider one of the best French death metal albums, ‘Disincarnate‘ (1991). So, consider this prompt for ‘Manifesto’ the “advanced lecture” on what they’d done beyond 1995 or so, for anyone who could potentially have evolved with the band as their spirit solidified and their modus mutilated with the times. The first misconception lain upon the Villeneuve-d’Ascq-borne act is that they went “groove metal” after their first decade wherein a ‘Hell Awaits’ influenced speed metal band would find death/thrash metal infamy, take major cues from Florida death metal, and basically invent their own form of masterful melodic death metal on ‘Sublime Dementia’ (1993). To be certain Loudblast‘s fourth album (‘Fragments‘, 1998) does kick off speaking the language of groove metal via a change in vocals but the guitar interplay between founding members Stéphane Buriez and Nicolas Leclercq was (for one last time) still very much afire. I’d almost argue it was one of their most creative records at that point, achieving some sharp outside-the-box thinking while also featuring vocals that sounded a bit like Nick Holmes on ‘Shades of God’ with a thick French accent. Now I wouldn’t argue that the brief split and eventual reformation of the band sounded drastically different, their fifth album (‘Planet Pandemonium‘, 2004) still doesn’t fully land with me but perhaps because I am too in love with the 80’s/early 90’s school of emergent extreme metal that had informed the band’s sound design early on. To best understand the three most recent Loudblast records it becomes important to see them as “legacy” or a respected, influential band in terms of French extreme metal at this point.

The stylistic evolution of the project was perhaps complete or nearing its modern definition in Buriez‘ mind, hitting a boiling spring of ideas when the second guitar spot was occupied by Drakhian for the (underrated) sixth (‘Frozen Moments Between Life and Death‘, 2011) and seventh (‘Burial Ground‘, 2014) albums. These are quite loud early Gojira-esque production jobs featuring very upfront and clearly sung groove metal vocals with a broad influence taken from death and thrash metal riffing to inform style. In terms of patternation, melodic ideas and general themes these releases are structurally classic Loudblast in some sense but no doubt the “commercial” presentation of the music and the choice to move on from certain guitar techniques didn’t spark the ‘old school’ death metal obsessed crowd. This is probably more of a flaw shared by tribal listeners enjoying their niche, the market for this band (among others) had broadened two decades previous as evidenced by groove/death metal records nearby from peers Massacra, No Return, and Mercyless. So, while you are in the process of noticing nods to their old school era here and there on ‘Manifesto’ keep in mind all of that was essentially there on the previous two albums and they are yet solid records. I wouldn’t call it a “comeback” when they’ve been doing this style for nearly two decades, but it does feel like ‘Manifesto’ finds a way to touch upon the past without sounding regressive or too deeply nostalgic.

Change has treated Loudblast well in the past be it from necessity or self-directed ambition and this time around we’re treated to a more dynamic production, though it is quite loud the guitars aren’t total oppression as they were on ‘Burial Ground’. Think along the lines of recent Vader records in terms of presence, guitar weight, and the allowed level of tonal interplay. More practically speaking the band now includes a new bassist Frédéric Leclercq (Kreator, ex-Dragonforce) and a new guitarist Jerome Point-Canovas (Undead Prophecies, ex-No Return) each of which are quite skilled and not alien to the legacy of the last three decades of heavy metal. This means complex rhythms, trade-off solos, and quick change-ups are on the table throughout ‘Manifesto’ and you’ll run into this as soon as “Unit 731” arrives with its immediate death/thrash pace and tremolo picked main riff; Halfway through the song a bonafide speed metal riff comes ripping in and needless to say I’d found this one of the pieces that’d helped re-engage with Loudblast this time around. Reading up on what Unit 731 was and how the information taken from those war crimes has killed millions since certainly helps to hone in on the mood and greater statement of this record, each piece has some illuminating horror to illustrate. Pulling back to the opener “Todestrieb” we see a dire-yet-exploratory tone set in referencing Freud’s theory of ingrained self-destruction the “death drive” that is corroborated throughout history since. “Erasing Reality” has equally profound suggestions within but, these sorts of lyrics are best enjoyed and puzzled rather than explained, the song itself would have fit in quite well on ‘Frozen Moments Between Life and Death’ as would lead single “The Promethean Fire” with its theatrical stomping ramp up and Slayerized, maze-like riffing.

Side A is full of the sort of details we’ve come to expect from Loudblast yet the bulk of choices made aren’t necessarily self-referential, the big arena sized grooves of their modern era are still the key point of focus; This is where the performances are most exuberant, pieces with evolving and somewhat catchy grooves such as “Invoking to Justify”. Here we can witness a general progression beyond the last few records, finding that stomping stadium-sized mosh kick while still appealing to the introverted death metal riff nerd here and there. Side B does a much better job of keeping the energy up in this sense, delivering each song briskly and always with a wallop. By these criteria “Into the Greatest of the Unknowns” is perhaps the best song on the album via its simple but effective composition, sounding just a little bit like an early Carcariass album thanks to all of the lead guitar layers and circular main riff. The only downside to Side B is closer “Infamy Be To You” which suffers from feeling tacked on beyond the finality of “Solace in Hell” and bringing a sluggish six and a half minute close to the album. As I would reflect after each spin of the album I’d begin to feel like the full listen was oppressive, a bit long, and yet still engaging with particularly groove-obssessed rhythms throughout. Ultimately a look back at ‘Fragments’ had me coming around, a lot of what made that album a small gem in hindsight still persists within Loudblast‘s major expression today so, if I can appreciate that album then all that followed makes better holistic sense.

So, even as a fanatic of this band I wouldn’t say I warmed up to ‘Manifesto’ immediately. The evocative Eliran Kantor cover art grabbed me immediately and the opening salvo of songs eventually felt nearly as gratifying but it wasn’t until I’d figured my way through the lyrics and given their big n’ groovy slugging the benefit of the doubt that I began to appreciate the deliberate attack of the record. Yes, it feels a bit slow and simple at times but (almost) always with some bigger rhythmic statement in mind. Loudblast only reappears on their own terms, they are still doing their own thing ~35 years later and I appreciate that above all else. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Listenable Records
RELEASE DATE:November 27th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Death/Groove Metal

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