CAUCHEMAR – Rosa Mystica (2022)REVIEW

Three thorns of “the urge primeval” pierce the immaculate heart in the form of swords crossed, stabbed deep within the rose-golden spirit of penitence yet striking only viscera. Bleeding the ancient wounds that’d brought death to all nonetheless serves no true revelation or salvation, though we may see a healing rose in the pooling blood it is wizardry, a portent of further mayhemic sacrifice ‘sorceled. Through our vision in her mirror of blood we are instead guided beneath the church under the cover of midnight, to a coven and their font afire in the process of unnamed ritual as this third full-length album from Québécois traditional heavy/doom metal quartet Cauchemar thusly details. A mystifying nightmare revealed behind velveteen calm, ‘Rosa Mystica‘ is patently their own brand of occult magick folklore entirely befitting of the cold and classicist heavy metal they’ve been beguiling the underground with for the better part of fifteen years.

Formed in Montréal circa 2007 with an eerie chill surrounding their convergence since, Cauchemar have been a tasteful, adept study in classic occult heavy metal attitude from the start in terms of choosing not to go over-the-top referential in their work or pandering to “retro” occult rock fads of the hour. With their debut EP (‘La Verge Noire‘, 2010) their major influences appeared directly focused upon the limited pool of NWOBHM-era heavy/doom metal such as Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General where some remnants of late 70’s heavy rock as well as early-to-mid 80’s French heavy metal were likewise available, just not particularly swinging or charismatic as one’d expect. Their debut album (‘Tenebrario‘, 2013) was somewhat underrated and skimmed over by the press at the time it was released and despite being already well-formed in terms of personae, considered and crafted with the same sensibilities they’ve persisted with beyond.

The occult-graced spiriting of Cauchemar bears a sort of stone-faced, or, sombre mannerism from vocalist Annick Giroux, a subtlety of performance which is easily missed if you’ve no real appreciation for the French language and how it’d typically work in a non-English sung hard rock/heavy metal context. The insistence upon continuing to express in a dead language has been helpfully distinctive, romance languages sustain a certain allure in a heavy metal setting that may or may not edge away steadfastly traditional songcraft yet it is a choice that is only likely appreciated by the true, if you will. That’d been my major takeaway in touting ‘Chapelle Ardente‘ (2016) when it’d released, it was an album for the die-hard traditional heavy/doom metal fan whom wanted an ‘edge’ that was not par for the course and certainly not plainly imitative. It’d also been Cauchemar‘s most essential and balanced album as the culmination of about ten years of work yet I’d argue an achievement they’ve outdone with this long-awaited third full-length.

Though the cadence of “Jour de colère” readily suggests a freshened vibrancy with its run-on verses and pre-speed metal galloping tension all quickly steadies in pace, a tension released alongside light touches of synth which are just effective enough that you’ll remember the riff first and foremost. Most of ‘Rosa Mystica‘ ends up emphasizing a hypnotic, spaced arcane heavy metal timbre, well fed by way of an old electric organ-esque touch which boosts but never dominates, many songs recalling early Paul Chain to some degree, if not for the more prevalent hard rock/heavy metal trotting they’d lead with. My personal favorite piece on the album, the title track (“Rosa Mystica”) over on Side B takes us there nonetheless. My host of strange references continues, though I know it is entirely tangential on my part, as I couldn’t help but the intro/outro riff to Holy Terror‘s “Judas Reward” each time the main riff from “Notre-dame-sous-terre” hit on the full listen, a good thing to get caught up on while listening but otherwise a sign that this brand of tension rock osmotically presents from souls set in the late 70’s more than anything else. The song is otherwise enchanting, perfectly suited for what haunts beneath the church and the trepidation set forth. Side A is no less tuneful or intricately set than the second half of ‘Rosa Mystica‘ but it is the more charismatic half of the experience by my measure.

Guests (or co-writing credits) from members of Occult Burial and Inepsy help to further flesh out Side B with interest beyond my adoration of the aforementioned title track. Likewise, it’ll make sense that the apex of the album, “Volcan”, might recall the best of Pagan Altar as it kicks off since song features distinct lead guitar spots from Alan Jones himself and the respect between these entities is self-evident. That is to say you’ll hear this influence throughout the album otherwise with certain parts of “Danger de Nuit” in particular offering prime balance in terms of François Patry‘s rhythm guitar work and the style-line it straddles between rocking, ‘epic’ hypnose, and dooming about. In fact that might be what’d tipped me over the edge towards finding ‘Rosa Mystica‘ the superior Cauchemar statement thus far, though the guitar work has always been entirely consistent in past works there is yet something extra here in each song that makes it memorable, a piece to latch onto and be dizzied by as the rhythm weaves its mid-paced totentanz. There’d be no walking away from the full listen on my part without being charmed and inspired each time. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (89/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Rosa Mystica
LABEL(S):Temple of Mystery Records
RELEASE DATE:May 16th, 2022

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