De chaque spécialité défectueuse — By way of alley echoing brass-banded n’ squeezebox’d bellows the rhythms of Parisian avant-black metal visionaire Léon Harcore present us with a 19th century hooligan street operetta, a drunken thug-chorale of rue level vaudevillian chaos and absurdism in ‘Douce Fange‘. Voiced in gaseous, fiendishly over the top rants and handled by a troupe of musette hugging vandales we experience face-first the meaty conspire of the boss and his quartet’s enforcement of fist, face, concrete and the grime of the pub-to-bordello shakedown trip presented on Pensées Nocturnes‘ sixth full-length release. The gang does fantastic work here in what is an appropriately maximal continuation of what cinema the artist becomes increasingly capable of, overwhelming the mind with chaotic, meandering pieces so soaked in French spiritus they can’t help but transport direct to the heart of wildest, differently dangerous times.

The big-combed and strutting coq behind Pensées Nocturnes‘ déglingué extreme metal du cirque is less for the sake of egoistic presentation and more one of deeply rooted French character, in fact it’d seem that beyond the band’s (technically speaking) fourth album ‘Nom d’une pipe!‘ in 2013 the solo artist has gone from one man street performer level feats of mad ingenuity in presentation of characterized vignettes towards today’s directorial role featuring ambitiously voiced casts and world class performances. As these conceptually voiced and acted works become more ambitious so do they wheel far outside of any typical extreme metal trope or timbre, at least if we exempt a short-listed history of French folkloric ex-black metal artistry within the last couple of decades. A sort of ‘Rain Dogs‘-era Tom Waits by way of 2000’s Sigh level of atmosphere overtakes this blackened affect on ‘Douce Fange‘ and gives joyous life and soul to the miserable yet revel-worthy spectacle of life at hand.

To be fair this level of action seemed a bit far gone on the cirque themed ‘Grand Guignol Orchestra‘ in 2019, a cruel and painful work of insane proportion with a clown face and a spiked bat in hand that’d nonetheless established Pensées Nocturnes better within the limited nobility of avant-garde extreme metal’s admittedly flippant spheres. In my review of their previous album I’d had to essentially resigned myself to the overwhelming nature of the music and allowed it to flatten me, though they’ve eased on the sheer attack on ‘Douce Fange‘ you’ll still have to be open to the unflinching, over the top maximally applied madness available to achieve any sort of introductory enjoyment and/or immersion. Scraping inspiration directly from streets of 19th century night life in Paris (or thereabouts) is admittedly far less frightening than clowns carrying bats and not only for the sake of conceptual vision but for the wealth of French musical tradition to be explored, be it street performance or a dimly lit pub full of jazz-attuned grifters.

Pensées Nocturnes capitalize upon a dark yet wryly presented mode to screen-print smirking propaganda across every available alleyway wall herein, often pairing old world theme beside modern day turmoil within deeply clever lyrics written entirely in French. Of course a load of this ‘dead tongue’ will fly over the heads of most but even a bad auto-translate should provide just enough context for those at least somewhat familiar with the sadomasochism of France’s “long 19th century” and what lasting character it’d instilled within the people. To convey this drunk and violent aspect and continue the thread presented by ‘Grand Guignol Orchestra‘ of course we find these new compositions including even less prominent use of extreme metal rhythms, letting bursts of double-bass burst drumming and well-resigned guitar work give structure to the major vocal directorial alongside its shared spotlight with all manner of saxophone, musette, accordion (or, concertina), and various pub-sized fracas — Especially including ganged-up and caterwauled vocals, the human meat of the experience which again comes with additional performances from Alasdair Dunn (Ashenspire) on a few more songs this time around. The expressive mania of Harcore‘s vocals, the spindly timbre of his guitar lines and the welcome breaks offered by saxophonist Jon all rarely culminate into stately phrases but instead ever-ranting performative displays which develop within their own momentum and often without any major punctuation.

With this in mind Pensées Nocturnes press well beyond the necessity of ‘black metal’ rhythm as the major driving force of ‘Douce Fange‘ and instead this more general extreme metal adjacency serves some broader implication of counter-cultural ethos, a rhythm that is out of step enough for illustrations of odious backstreets and auld urban decadence but still readably tuneful. Post-intro opener “Quel sale Bourreau” provides some contextual differences which aid the argument that this work is not a reskinned hock of ‘Grand Guignol Orchestra‘ by way of jazz-noir bent verging on heist theme to start, soon courting the extremist ear with some of the more active drumming and rhythm guitar work on the album. That bravado extends well into the entire first half of the album until “Saignant et à Poings” presents the concertina squeezed major voice of the full listen as we step beyond a sketchy butcher shop and beyond the guillotine’s gather within a decadent private home for feast of a different flesh. The important emphasis here, as the details reveal themselves quite naturally, is that each piece presents a compelling scene when attended to — One could easily just enjoy the barrage of each tunefully bizarre song one after another but the experience begins to illustrate with greater depth when each setting is derived via lyrics and the respective song’s implementation be it unique/playful instrumentation or general details that indicate a setting rich with a certain boldly nihilistic humor.

In approach of Pensées Nocturnes you’ll have to consider they’re peddling an odd ware, an ‘backstreet’ acquired taste that comes with a bit of personalized damage when enjoyed but a blissful sort of discomfort nonetheless. To some it’ll read as high-chaos circus operatic and to others it’ll be a perfectly affected old French characterization twisted by an extreme metal hand, wherever it lands it won’t likely leave the listener in a state of apathy. For my own taste the thrill of listening comes with better familiarity with the rhythms and prose that directs ‘Douce Fange‘ as it builds in meaning and character, what’d appear chaotic and circus-brained eventually reveals a deft and charming hand applied to truly wild-minded extreme music. Though their last album was a bit of a brutal challenge this one has stuck with me to some considerable degree and I remain excited to see their discography continue to stretch into its own plane of freakish existence. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Douce Fange
LABEL(S):Les Acteurs De L’Ombre
RELEASE DATE:January 21st, 2022

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