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In “Chemins de Souffrance,” Loïc Cellier gets behind the reins of all the instruments and pulls it off marvelously. Belenos is the sort of band that does Celtic paganism with class. In accordance with this style, there is a noticeable lack of gimmicks on the album—no happy-go-lucky polka music, no frolic-in-the-woods melodies, and no bastardization of mythology. On the contrary, “Chemins de Souffrance” is a completely sincere integration of black metal intensity with pagan spirituality by a musician who is more than able to back up his passion with talent.
Except for the lyrical content, there’s not much that is overtly pagan about Belenos’ approach. The general structure of the band’s music combines haunted choir sections and melancholy acoustic interludes without skimping out on the typical power of black metal. In short, “Chemins de Souffrance,” along with Belenos’ discography as a whole, doesn’t suffer for being inspired by paganism. The music is still very fast, still very aggressive, and still very much relevant to the metal genre. Therefore, fans that shy away from the “pagan” label because they think such music tends to lack balls may be pleasantly surprised by this release.
However, “Chemins de Souffrance” isn’t entirely new material. With the first half consisting re-recorded songs from the demo “Allégorie d'une Souffrance,” the album only has four new tracks to offer, the last of which is more like an instrumental cooldown. Because of the terrible quality of production, the first four tracks as they appear on “Allégorie d'une Souffrance” are practically unlistenable, so it’s not as though re-recording them was needless. New material is always preferable to old material, but if the re-recorded tracks don’t damage the album as a whole and improve upon the originals, then there’s no harm done. In the case of “Chemins de Souffrance,” the tracks are re-vamped so well that you cannot tell that they were composed nearly ten years before the album’s release.
Because Belenos did return to being a one-man band with “Chemins de Souffrance,” I suppose it’s fitting that Cellier would juxtapose the old with the new. The first four tracks are everything that Belenos did well in “Errances Oniriques” and “Spicilège,” but that’s what makes them a bit less interesting than the tracks that follow. “Orasion Funebre” opens with a haunted acoustic section and some spoken word from Collier before launching into furious black metal. Clean vocals hover over the blastbeats and tremolo, in such a way that meshes a ghostly atmosphere with aggression. The “ooh’s” and “aah’s” of the choir-like chanting give the music a haunted feeling that is melancholy but not dramatically depressive. This feeling is appropriate because Cellier is conjuring up an old spirituality, and he maintains the atmosphere even during the music’s most furious sections.
The production is as clean as black metal can be. All the instruments are represented forcefully in the mix, even the bass. The guitars have a crunchy punch to them, which contrasts with the occasional lead-work that comes in very clearly at the front of the mix. To an extent, there is a coldness to the sound but, tempered with the cavernous effects of the acoustic guitars and clean vocals, the coldness is more immersive than impersonal. As a vocalist, Cellier masters a diverse range of styles—from low-pitched growls to extended screams to clean passages. For those who stubbornly hold rawness over content, “Chemins de Souffrance” is an album that is well-produced, well-mixed, and well-instrumented in such a way that the music’s edge is not compromised.
The album’s second half uses the production to its advantage in order to go for bigger compositions. “Barras Du” and “War Hent An Ankou” are reminiscent Drudkh songs, if Drudkh didn’t play to Slavic folklore. “Barras Du,” in particular, features furious but uplifting tremolo that leads into a misty section backed up by keyboards. The air of the track is entirely mystical, but the atmosphere doesn’t get shoved down the listener’s throat. “Chemins de Souffrance” is much more immersive than that, and its second half is an example of how diverse yet focused black metal can be if done well.
Unfortunately, by being the fourth full-length in Belenos’ discography, “Chemins de Souffrance” doesn’t have novelty on its side. Perhaps it’s just the language barrier, but the album doesn’t quite have a character that is separable from the band’s earlier releases. The production quality is better, and there’s some innovation in composition, but the album is still working the same magic. It doesn’t help, too, that four tracks are re-recorded old material. Regardless, Belenos is one of the best one-man projects out there because Cellier is such a talented musician, and “Chemins de Souffrance” is just another testament to that fact.