ORIFLAMME – L’Égide Ardente (2021)REVIEW

Thou, too, Trevirian, overjoyed that the course of warfare is turned back; and thou, Ligurian, now shorn, in former times with thy locks hanging adown thy graceful neck, preferred to the whole of long-haired Gaul’; those, too, by whom the relentless Teutates is appeased by direful bloodshed, and Hesus, dreadful with his merciless altars;” Lucan, Pharsalia

Piercing the gorgoneion worn by a too-proud lineage of Gods, shields of skin and screaming terrors lose their lustre within moments of collapse. Lost, carried away, buried by the dust of violence or the trample of overdue change, it is symbolism we lead with on banners and symbolism that serves as the first piece of armor we cast aside for sake of easier movement within the fray. Heralds to all warriors at armageddon the deep red and copper-lined banners of Montreal, Québec based black metal trio Oriflamme enter this first and most decisive battle armored with symbols of war alight on all fronts, elegant in the tradition of arrogantly decorated French legions of history long past and pressing forth at all costs to a triumphant-hearted tune. ‘L’égide ardente‘ is both protection and name-earning identification at the end of days, a shining breastplate of a willful actor sliding into a battle for glory inevitably won by ancient evil unto eternal midnight. Patient and stirring odes to the early wrath of the Québec black metal arena result, four immersive pieces with the unmistakable resonance of revolutionary ardor.

Banner and bulwark aside, the intent to convey the magic of the early Québecois black metal scenery, which largely centered around Montreal to start, is well supported here in terms of association. Two of the earliest pure black metal acts in the region (Tenebrae, Frozen Shadows) were fronted by the fellow running Oriflamme‘s record label and the artists who comprise the line-up here bear some bonds with Akitsa among many others. If we are meant to take this album in as a direct statement of pride and appreciation for the history of the regional scene this seems to be the right perspective for it to pour from but I wouldn’t expect the tunnel vision of the late 90’s here, ‘L’égide ardente’ is a sophisticated and dynamic experience, expertly framed for maximum expressive qualities. The trio features a fellow named Verbouc (ex-Ossuaire) on vocals/bass, a guitarist Mrtyu whom I am not familiar with, and perhaps the best known member Mortheos who has long been Montreal based fixture as a well-respected engineer and musician who more recently featured in funeral doom act Atramentus and his own underrated solo black metal project Sanctvs (see: ‘Mors Aeterna‘), a live guitarist for Akitsa and key member of long running project Gevurah. We don’t necessarily gain any certain wisdom or foresight from these brief scans of each resume beyond strong qualifications for a professional level of black metal capture and execution. The one qualifying statement I could live with is that if you’d been impressed by ‘Mors Aeterna’ on any level the rendering of this album is up to those high textural standards and some of the compositional voice seems to link up despite the two albums being entirely different. Of course comparisons to Monarque, Forteresse and Délétère are fitting on a basal level for the sake of this band’s introductory intent yet the approach here features a varied approach to pacing, malleable guitar tones, and extended pieces that build seeming endless corridors of momentum when followed with rapt attention.

Though I mention four odes and you’ll count seven tracks total this album is structured into two major acts with an intro, interlude, and outro spacing these events by roughly 2-3 minutes apiece. These are not insignificant for creating a dimensional setting for larger focal points but they are nonetheless formalities of the minstrel, non-literal preparation for conflict that generally speaks through individual medium or, not at all. “L’égide ardente” or, the fiery aegis is the instant gratification the modern black metal listener naturally seeks in Québecois black metal with its stretches of heroic tremolo driven melodicism set to sprawling arcs and glittering gloom-rock dissolves. Though neither as tangibly (er, spiritually) engaging as my favorites Cénotaphe, nor as accessibly slickened as Spectral Wound, there is a warming harmonic resonance within this fairly simply presented opening piece that welcomes the mind to its roaring narrative. The intent of this piece, and perhaps the album as a whole, is not solely to exemplify a scenic time-bound craft but to present the illustrative qualities of this brand of black metal at full potential, including the obscured aspects of sound design which offers incredible texture to these fast-pulsing pieces. “Un Mal Ancien” is one of two major centerpieces for my own taste, the closer that Oriflamme lands in approach of the ten minute mark with these arrangements the more ambitiously varied and uniquely set they appear. This particular song builds its fanfare for quite some time, allowing the tide of battle to rise to a peak around ~4:00 minutes in and then slowing to a grind at the 5:25 minute mark in presentation of a souring groove, Bathory-esque in its floating, harrowing resonance. This progression read as profound and halting within each listen, breaking the streaming fabric of the full listen into a clash of mud, screaming beast, and clangorous weaponry. It ceases what is a naturally formed Side A, a conscious division of either greater theme or a simply well lain presentation.

My thoughts and the revelation of what we will call Side B is both equitant in structure and amplified in response. “Sacrifices!” is again at full galloping speed ’til a slowed and ringing movement gives way to another, similar to the reveal of the title track but bending into even more luxurious melodic black metal work that signifies a passion and intensity building in the greater work. The piece itself could have gone on for another minute in an even more mouth-frothing resolve but it’d have only distracted from our entrance into what I’d consider the finest piece and the centerpiece of the experience ‘L’égide ardente’ has to offer. “Ultime Rempart” is a staggering work at just a few seconds under fourteen minutes, an epic within a debut that should by all means warrant such a description. If “Un Mal Ancien” was a profound enough statement to indicate a pause in appreciation of the view then this final main piece is a flight in panorama through and atop the great battle that it concludes at apex. The finger-picked melody introduced quietly at the nigh full stop at the ~6:30 mark presents the other side of the mountain, the shattering of the wall and the revelation beyond. The major rhythmic statement of the piece eventually picks back up after some minutes of contemplation, provided we’ve had enough time to absorb the cinematic qualities of this collapse into reveal the finale of the song feels like a theme to ride towards the credits within. Daunting as my own ridiculous appreciation of this sort of music might be, the whole of the experience is easy to appreciate and rewarding to follow in greater detail time and time again.

Debut or not this first major statement from Oriflamme is stoically professional yet far from overworked or polished to the point of sickly ‘industry standard’ sounds. The character of those involved or, their intent, is evident in its ambitious yet readable form. At no point did I feel I was getting an exercise from musicians finding themselves within the narrow frame of the status quo but instead an event that delivered even more “bigger picture”-connected personality than promised to begin with. A good mix of familiarity and sharply warped expectations made for a fine and frequent listen for my own taste. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:L’Égide Ardente
LABEL(S):Sepulchral Productions
RELEASE DATE:May 15th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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