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Forteresse is a very refreshing act in Québec’s immensely saturated black metal scene, with all the rather monotonous and unoriginal bands out there. These guys make some of the most epic, high-quality and distinctive black metal out there, as the world over was shown with the release of Métal Noir Québécois, a masterpiece of traditional black metal augmented with violin pieces and a hard-line Québec nationalist approach. I’m glad to say that Traditionalisme picks up where the first album left off, continuing the band’s signature style with verve and vim.
This EP is but eleven minutes of high-quality black metal divided into two tracks, the first of which is the title track and a perfect example of what Forteresse stands for. It’s most likely that the first element anyone notices is the fact that this entire EP has that “wall of sound” effect to it, because of the production. It’s well-produced (in the sense that everything can be heard, not that it’s clean) and incredibly bass-heavy, but the entire sound is loud, except for the vocals. The drumming is consistent with Forteresse’s usual style, a repetitive, loud sound, reliant on the lower spectrum and a few blast beats here and there.
The guitar playing draws heavy inspiration from Norwegian Second Wave black metal, most notably Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger (as does the drumming, although the effects are well camouflaged by the production). Both songs are played in a very melodic way, with standard tremolo riffs being present from beginning to end, although the distortion is occasionally hard to get around due to the production. The vocals are great classic standard black metal rasps augmented with a bit of clean, well, speaking in the middle of Forêt d’Automne.
The main distinctive feature on Traditionalisme is that it continues to feature the same atmosphere which made Forteresse special, that of a harsh Québec winter and of its proud, hardy French inhabitants. This is also hinted at in the album artwork, which is similar to historic illustrations of Québec’s past, and in the EP and song titles. There are however no printed lyrics whatsoever, although the subject matter isn’t too difficult to guess given the band’s previous and later works as well as the general ideas visible in the packaging.
Traditionalisme is an excellent EP, worth hunting down by anyone in search of classic, hard-hitting black metal with a few touches of Québec’s culture added to make something truly special. The production’s generally a strong point, except for the slightly excessive low tone of the whole thing, which can get a bit irritating at times and can distract somewhat from overall enjoyment. All that is however but a minor fault, and quality abounds here musically, with a great, sad atmosphere topping it all off.
Unlike so many of the black metal bands around today, the atmosphere created in Traditionalisme is not of aggression, hatred, or depression. Instead there is a certain pensiveness or sadness involved; a longing for a different time, when attitudes to life and to nature were different. I'm reminded of Drudkh, but more because of the atmosphere than the musicianship.
The tempo throughout is fairly mid-paced, but the drums give a sense of speed with constant bass roll oriented beats, which alternate with blasts. Apart from the occasional cymbal crash, the drums seem to lack the metalic quality of sound because the hi-hat has been almost completely lost in the mix - it's sometimes audible, but only just, and even then it sounds like more of a tapping noise than a normal, metalic hi-hat sound. This is certainly not a negative thing; the bass and snare are brought out (reminding me somewhat of the drumming in Mystic Forest), which in the case of Traditionalisme seems to give an older, or more 'traditional', sound.
Traditionalisme is very melodic: a tremolo-picked guitar is one of the main features of the two songs, being especially prominent in 'Foret D'Automne'. The melodies are beautiful in their repetition, soaring above the forested landscapes painted for the listener. The riffs underneath these melodies are power-chords played on the lower strings, and the guitar is not overly distorted (think Wolves in the Throne Room). A clean electric guitar is also introduced in 'Foret D'Automne' which complements the lead guitar's melody, and adds a very nice element to the sound.
The black metal style vocals are not ground-breaking, but they are done very well; they are screamed rather than rasped. There is a short spoken section in the track 'Traditionalisme', followed by some almost monk-sounding clean vocals, which are low in the mix but add to the sound. Hearing this style of clean vocals along with thundering bass drum rolls and the climactic lead guitar melody is unique and very powerful.
The production is rather bass-heavy and possibly borders on the low end of the spectrum, but does not sound raw. The somewhat low production values certainly do not detract from the sound: on top of the aforementioned atmosphere being created, all the instruments are audible, and a subtle amount of reverb is used.
Traditionalisme is incredibly powerful and effective. The length is a disappointment, but the eleven-minutes-worth of music is incredibly good, which definitely justifies seeking it out.