INCANDESCENCE – Le Coeur de L’Homme (2022)REVIEW

The concept of “the heart of man” tends to tie into biblical discourse on the inherent sanctity of the soul, largely for the sake of templating an ideal “spirit” for Christian followership to strive for as they are poisoned from the inside out with false examples of human nature. Hundreds of verses handed from one sly propagandist to the next espouse a sort of self-important arrogance portrayed as enviable divinity, weaseling self-doubt into those seeking belonging with precision as they are herded and slowly damned. That isn’t necessarily the major goal of ‘Le Coeur de L’homme‘, the fourth full-length from Montréal, Quebec-based ‘epic’ black metal duo Incandescence, an album which instead envisions this core of the human animal as a failing abysm, a vacuum of crumbling hypocritical debasement. It represents a notable shift from an existentialist’s self-effulgent yearning for freedom toward a bigger-picture’d state of nihil which marks this latest work from the band as a key paradigm shift away from the individual and unto the greater abyss — a dark, self-destructive nature shared by all human beings.

Formed in 2011 by musician Philippe Boucher during his stint as drummer in First Fragment and nearby his addition to Chthe’ilist and Beyond Creation core line-ups, it’d be fair to suggest that Incandescence originally carried a modern technical death metal-adjacent aesthetic without any clear visual or stylistic/musical references specific to nostalgic black metal influences or any one “scene”. Original vocalist/lyricist Francis Desrochers‘ focus on existential surrealism provided an unusual sense of cosmic entrapment on those first few releases, with their second full-length (‘Les Ténèbres Murmurent Mon Nom‘, 2016) peaking this notion of disgust in the face of grandeur while Boucher‘s work (handling all of the instrumentation) began to lean into progressive phrasing, nigh neoclassical runs of riff braced by his impressive brutal-yet-technical drumming; “Apparitions Automnales” off that same album gives the best sense of what the Mark I vision of Incandescence built to a peak over the course of 4-5 years. Some precedence is set on these formative releases, and an obviate ton of work went into them, but it’ll be natural to expect progress rather than dissolution when an inherently self-reflective act such as this persists.

The shift to vocalist Louis-Paul Gauvreau (The Unconscious Mind) post-2018 or so brought some additional beauteous touches of progressive metal accoutrement to the rhythm section in matching up with his steadier voicing yet ‘Ascension‘ (2019) was poetically undaunted in lyrics written by Boucher, still presenting distraught hymns to the encasement provided by corporeal sentience, a being imprisoned by existence at every turn. We see both analogue and abstraction of the Incandescence idyll on “Rebirth” when compared directly with the previously mentioned song (“Apparitions Automnales”) wherein the guitar work was then comparatively liquified (a la Ulcerate) and the rhythm section ranting in increasingly florid, sorrowful phrase via its deft handle upon movement. From my point of view the band had made more of a case for a progressive blackened death metal style up to that point wherein the blackened affect was more a function of the vocalist. This was the beginning of a shift toward a more “black metal” guitar language and away from the blackened technical/progressive death we see most often from labels like The Artisan Era today. I’ll be frank in suggesting that very little of Incandescence‘s work prior to their fourth album was particularly memorable for my own taste, there was no major reason to glom with its ornately stated despair despite their captivating performances and vigorous attack.

Though it might seem cursory from the “metal” point of view wherein lyrics are largely regarded as meaningless or vestigial to performance handing the lyrical duties (all of which are writ in French) to Gauvreau has informed the poetic voice of ‘Le Coeur de L’homme‘ into a stunning, arguably far more potent result with less of a focus on deterministic (or, fatalistic) lamentation. This is vitally accompanied by easier pacing, less of a focus on note-heavy maximal rhythmic performances and now on a certain lung-filling atmospheric resonance stated within 5-7 minute chunks which may or may not flow together with adjacent threads aligned. Normally I wouldn’t be so impressed by a marked shift in dynamic compositional growth as opposed to, eh, notable songcraft but this is modernist black metal from progressive craftsmen rather than populist fare. Of course I could drivel on about Boucher‘s drum capabilities but the major success of his considerable work here lies most strikingly set in the guitar work, not only its redolent phrasing and semi-dissonant gnarls but the restraint with which these prog-black extractions are presented. A fine example being “Avide De Cris”, a piece which certainly couldn’t be mistaken for a very adventurous prog-death metal band yet which still bears the musician’s basic tempo map tendency in its genetic expression.

The major question is less whether or not Incandescence have landed upon their best work to date herein, without a doubt they have outdone themselves, but rather how well this work will breach the elitist zeitgeist of black metal compared to past releases. From my point of view, the virtue of ‘Le Coeur de L’homme‘ which sells itself quickest is that it exists apart from trend and bears no obviate pandering notion beyond its own brilliancy of introspective, almost grieving affect. This uneasy sort of dread is actually set up front within the tracklist within the sullen rise of “Tréfonds Macabres” leading early previews with a melodic black metal stride to start and a crumbling still-upward motion in its second half. From there we’re granted a glimpse of the direct flow between pieces with “La Descente“, kicked off with what is arguably the most Trym-era Emperor sized spot of drumming on the album and a general ‘IX Equilibrium‘-esque bent to the song, battling through frantic stabs of riff, sorrowful melody and atmospheric plateau beyond. It is a convincing window into an album that does a fine job of living up to the lofty expectations set by its first few pieces where I’d say every piece up to and including the title track on Side B is one vital piece of a golden thread. Where I begin looking around and losing ear contact with the full listen comes with the pair of ~8 minute pieces which close the album. Though “La Spirale de l’échec” is an strong enough piece its drawn-out arrival doesn’t leave much of a crater within its larger statement and appears somewhat feebly ‘epic’ when set next to the stirring title track and the appropriately wilting melodic black maestro-whirled stamp of closer “Désacralisation Des Moeurs”. The full listen extends just barely beyond the point of ‘too much of a good thing’ somewhere in those final fifteen minutes yet the awe of the final piece is inarguably vital to the effect of the whole record.

The way I see and hear it, Incandescence have not rebuilt themselves into this refreshing, inside-and-out gorgeous state of painterly solemnity on their fourth album but instead rephrased their pathos in appreciably dramatic ego-death station. In plain English? The guitars are more black metal in essence, the vocalist shines quite a bit more than last time via his own words, and the full listen presents as a complete and well-stated vision. Granted it might take a certain level of immersion, at least a few full listens in a row, to achieve the appropriate (or any available) connection with ‘Le Coeur de L’homme’ but this should be an expected standard for any well-attuned black metal listener. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Le Coeur de L’Homme
LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records
RELEASE DATE:April 15th, 2022

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