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What would happen if you took overly simple, power-chord rock, added some double bass, had a thin, powerless guitar tone, and replaced the catchy, melodic vocals with monotonous, static-distorted rasps? It would suck. Needless to say, phrasing that as a question to begin a review leads into my thoughts on it - this sucks. It's boring, droning, and not much of anything happens.
The ten-minute song really doesn't have enough content to stretch it out to ten minutes, but it just keeps droning on and on and on. All six songs are around ten minutes long, though none of them should be. Perhaps the poor production is supposed to emphasize the textures and tones of the riffs, rather it just buries the melodies and most of anything that would be interesting under a layer of static. There are some moments where the fizz of the guitars goes away and it sounds like things might get interesting, but it quickly goes back to droning fizz and being indecipherable, boring noise.
There are some cool melodies and harmonies on guitar, at times accompanied by some pretty good screams, but it takes nearly half the record to get to that, and the listener probably needs to be raised from the dead at that point. Not long after that, some guy sound like he's somewhere between vomiting and crying over an acoustic guitar. "Veux-tu Danser?" has some nice melodic parts, but like every song, it's way too long.
Then the album comes to a close with an ten minute piano/violion neofolk wankfest that would be really cool if it weren't ten fucking minutes long. It sounds really nice at some points, but it drags on for so long that I get incredibly sick of it, as is the same with every song on here. Monotones, drones, and weak songwriting don't make good long songs. This album was a chore to listen to.
Beginning this review is proving to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my (rather short) history of talking about metal albums. Every time I prepare myself to write a sentence, a plethora of thoughts swarms through my head about everything about this album that I want to talk about, and it’s incredibly difficult to contort that swarm into one coherent strain of thought. There’s just so many things on Il Etait Une Foret that make it what it is- even though everything good about this album put together still doesn’t fully explain why this album is as good as it is. This album is…illogical. How such simple patterns and sounds of rhythm, melody and harmony can invoke such profound feelings in people such as myself is illogical; attempting to communicate verbally WHY this album manages to do this to me is illogical, and hell, even the very notion of writing this review is illogical, because, no matter how I put it, my words are never going to be able to properly do this album justice.
One thing that sets Gris head and shoulders above nearly all black metal out there today is that they don’t actively try to pursue black metal as a style; the aesthetic of black metal merely fits in properly conveying the emotions and musical ideas on the album. This is not black metal because it WANTS to be black metal- Il Etait Une Foret is metal by sheer coincidence. Also unlike most black metal bands, their influence cannot be traced back to a progenitor- the pacing and flow of the music reminds me of Strid, while the mix of acoustic and distorted guitars brings to mind Peste Noire, but I can’t say for sure whether the band actively tried to mimic either band or if, again, the similarities are merely a coincidence. I’m tempted to believe the latter, because all of the similarities seem to be used as a metaphor- the somewhat slow-paced, stretched out songs being a metaphor for the seemingly endless periods of time where one feels melancholy, and the contrast between harsh and acoustic guitars signifying the delicate balance between depression and joy- when a dismal, plodding section of a given song is reaching its end, it will often be juxtaposed with a sweet, acoustic melody- there is masterful song structuring here, because Gris always knows how to properly end a song or a stanza, so even if you think the song’s been repeating itself for too long (it rarely happens), you know it’s part of the buildup to something bigger and better, and it only makes the climax MORE satisfying. Even when you think they’ve made a mistake in the album, you eventually realize that’s what they wanted you to think all along.
Many people (mainly those that aren’t familiar with extreme music) don’t really understand the point of harsh vocals. They vary too little in tone, they often don’t sound good to the unconditioned ear- the flaws are obvious to somebody hearing them for the first time. It’s only when you start getting into music with harsh vocals that you realize…that opinion doesn’t change all that much. Truth be known, many bands just have a vocalist that adds nothing to the music, maybe they just had a friend who wanted to be in the band, or perhaps because it’s what the metal community expects of them- the vocalist will incomprehensibly grunt away, just kind of existing. It’s fairly common, unfortunately, because harsh vocals really can’t be pulled off by just anybody. If somebody were to ask me one example of harsh vocals that really ADD to the music, however, the first band I’d point to would be Gris. The vocals show a touching passion, perfectly fitting the music and showing a hopeless yet energetic longing for something more. I reviewed Silencer not too long ago, and in that review I said that the vocals didn’t really sound “harsh enough” to my ears to properly show the intended emotions- THIS is what they should have sounded like. Icare holds a pitch similar to that of Nattramn, expect his vocals have the static ferocity and primitive energy that Nattramn lacks ever so much. These vocals assist in creating the atmosphere like no clean vocals ever could.
Like most albums in this style of music, Il Etait Une Foret has a very rough, “fuzzy” production- but the music is raw for all the right reasons. Going back to my “black metal for the sake of black metal” point, many black metal bands will intentionally give their music terrible production qualities on an album simply because that is a trait of black metal, and the only goal of the band is to make black metal music- a rather weak goal, if I do say so myself. Here, the raw production serves as a “rough exterior” for the entrancing, captivating acoustic melodies, which, if over-analyzed enough (as I have done), could be seen to serve as a musical humanization- portraying a man who intentionally shuns all around him because he feels like he cannot connect with anybody, crying out because of his loneliness and because there’s so much beauty within himself that he can never share. Strangely enough, despite not having the same aesthetic style as the other tracks, the song that manages to paint this man’s picture is the closer, "La Dryade"- which is, for the uninformed, a track composed completely with a piano and a violin. Not a black metal track at all, and doesn’t have the benefit of the rough production to back up the emotions, but it pulls it off masterfully because the melodies are genuinely despondent. It’s kind of funny, it reverses what the black metal tracks were doing and achieves the same result- rather than having a bleak aesthetic and beautiful melodies, "La Dryade" does the inverse.
Re-reading my review, I’ve noticed a pattern. No matter what characteristic of the album I’m talking about, there always seems to be one prevailing theme, one thing that I always end up coming back to: purpose. Every note has a purpose, every prevailing theme and mood has a purpose, and Il Etait Une Foret fills ME with a sense of purpose; a feeling of life-affirmation that very, VERY few other bands have invoked. This is a masterpiece, and an incredibly dense one at that; my words have merely scratched the surface of the colorful abyss that is this album. Perhaps that is for the best, though; if I were to describe every minuscule nuance and detail of Il Etait Une Foret, it would leave no surprises to you, the reader, to discover on your own.
All I could ever ask of you is that you listen. Listen on a black starlit night. Listen in a candlelit room. Listen on a journey through the forest. Listen to the hour of ferocious beauty and powerful melancholy that awaits you. I’ve done all I can to help you prepare- the rest is yours to discover.
"Il Était une Forêt" is the perfect soundtrack to monsoon season, any grey Tuesday, or an introspective evening spent at home in the dark. It deserves the full attention of the listener, and is not something to be played in the background while multitasking or chatting online or whatever. While the album generally falls under the umbrella of "depressive" black metal due to the 10+ minute song length and lyrical content/style, Gris themselves insist it cannot be pigeonholed. That would normally rub me the wrong way (it's like how Andrew Eldritch repeatedly insists The Sisters of Mercy are not a "goth rock" band) and mark the artists as pretentious egomaniacs, but "Il Était une Forêt" is a remarkable work which perhaps is justified in remaining unclassifiable.
Even if you can't read French, you can find the lyrics online and use Babelfish to get a rough idea of what they mean. They are profound, witty and poetic, and I believe that understanding the lyrical sentiment behind each song really adds something to the listening experience.
Of course, it's not like you can actually understand what's being said, and if you wish you can ignore that fact that words exist altogether and just enjoy the vocalizations of a tortured soul. The songs on "Il Était une Forêt," while sometimes instrumentally reminescent of Silencer, thankfully lack the macabre comic falsetto wailing that in my opinion ruins Silencer's entire vision. The vocals on "Il Était une Forêt" are long, drawn out from-the-diaphragm screams, guttural and harsh to the max, sometimes even proving too much for the singer. The choking, gasping and cracking of the voice however add further soul and dimension to the pained vibe of the music.
Gris also get big bonus points from me for using real stringed instruments in "La Dryade." I normally cannot stand instrumental tracks on black metal albums as they typically scream "subpar neoclassical with a midi keyboard, or some crap Varg Vikernes composed with two fingers in jail." "La Dryade" however as the album's closer really blew me away. The oppressive nature of the rest of the album is lifted as dueling violins, flutes, and beautiful acoustic guitar work conjure up a melancholic vision of mythical life in some forest grove in a faraway land. The string parts sound wholly organic and as though they were all done in one take with a fair amount of improvisation. The sound of a bow bouncing in error across the strings or hitting too close to the bridge reminds the listener that real people are behind the music, real people with real passion and soul.
That's what really "gets" me about "Il Était une Forêt." The whole album is just soulful as hell and in no way feels contrived or forced. These two Canadian dudes do a fine job of convincing listeners that the vast catalogue of emotions conveyed in the music is truly theirs, and whether or not it's true is rendered irrelevant. Through the buzzing dirge, heavy keyboard washes and steady percussive beats, interjectory moments of beauty (such as 4:31 in "Cicatrices") pervade and push this album to excel above others in the genre. It's the rare acoustic guitar interlude, wailing solo, sudden entrance of a violin, the breaking point of a long scream, that make "Il Était une Forêt" a beautiful masterpiece rather than just a good depressive black metal CD. It's also worth noting that this is possibly the most tasteful use of keyboards I have heard on a black metal album; not once do I find myself rolling my eyes at some cheesy keyboard line that's better suited to LARPing than metal.
This album is recommended, of course, to patient listeners who have the time and focus to really become one with the music for an hour. Your efforts will be rewarded. I never feel quite "right" when I finish listening to "Il Était une Forêt," as every listen is more or less like an exhausting journey through the depths of gloomy, ethereal perfection.
Maybe its just me, but something about the concept of French/Canadian depressive or ambient black metal is just orgasmic, and almost literally. Il était une forêt... is possibly one of the best depressive black metal / ambient black metal albums I've ever heard. The soul haunting ambiance, the suicidal guitars, the ghost-like vocals, everything just adds up.
Even from the beginning this album is flawless. The first track (Il était une forêt...) commences with incredibly melancholic strings in a slow flowing manner. Its very depressing but in a good way of course. After a little bit the guitars shred in. I say shred because their what I'd call "raw". Their crunchy as hell and skull penetrating. Along with the guitar come drums with a slight reverb or echo (can't tell the difference between the two) on them, making them seem all the more haunting. As soon as the vocals come in, you know your in for a helplessly depressive ride into an abyss unknown, or something like that.
One other track that definitely caught my attention was "La Dryade". It was a track of entire ambiance, or just pure epic. Whichever one it is, its insanely melodic and soul-crushing. They used a combination of piano's, harmonized violins, acoustic guitars, and many other instrument to create a track of beauty. It's a nice closure to the album, and a break away from the black metal aspect of the album.
Before you listen to this album, you may wanna know that Gris uses Silencer vocals. If your not familiar with the band, then just imagine what a screaming ghost would sound like, and thats the basic idea of the vocals. Its a little obnoxious at first, but it soon will blend into a beautiful mixture of win-sauce soon enough.
I’ve got the music playing loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to drown out the sound of the thunderstorm in the distance. I looked out of my window just before I started to review this record and saw the droplets of rain fall like angels from the sky, the wind howl behind it like a creeping barrage of soldiers preparing for battle and the mist beginning to descend over the hills in the background. Perfect conditions to begin reviewing a band tagged as a depressive black metal act. Gris have provided me with the perfect backdrop to a stormy night in England. It sounds like a chapter out of Wuthering Heights, the classic novel. Although I may not be in Yorkshire, the weather is certainly providing me with ideal conditions. It’s a stereotype that us English folk like to drone on about the weather and in situations like these, with a superb black metal anthem raging in between it all, how could one not?
Gris are the Canadian act reformed out of the demise of Niflheim. Technically, the band never ended, just changed their name, but it’s all irrelevant. The debut Niflheim album was also released under the new moniker of Gris, so one cannot treat ‘Il était une forêt…’ as the debut. Instead, it is in fact a continuation of the band’s material. A second helping, if you will. I wouldn’t necessarily call this record a typical outing for a depressive black metal band, although the band simply call their work black metal as, apparently, there are no words that could properly represent the material of the band. Despite that, many fans have taken to naming it themselves. Many things do remain the same for this band, as they do with many others of this nature. Considering the fact that the first album was released, to begin with, under a new name, I’ll lay off the comparisons between the two because that seems unfair to me. There are a few main features that strike the audience upon hearing this record. Those include the guitars, the atmospheric nature and the consistency of the material. Generally speaking, ‘Il était une forêt…’ is very well made. Song writing has to take a lot of the plaudits because it’s well thought out and superbly brought together. Music isn’t easy to make, however simplistic it may be. There are several areas of this band, in particular, that would take a lot of thought in achieving. Take the second track, ‘Le Gala Des Gens Heureux’. This song is simply superb, in it’s own right. I dare say I’d be satisfied if this was the only song on the album because:
A) The atmospherically driven aspects of it are excellent. It’s a high octane song, with many glorious moments in terms of the soundscapes. Atmospherically, this song is perfect. The guitars lay down some quite stunning soundscapes and all other areas of the music are very supportive in developing the sound into something significantly better than the majority of music of this nature.
B) The subtle aspects of this song are important. It’s easy to forget the smaller parts of songs, but those parts, on this album, linger on in the mind. The intro, for instance, with it’s clean vocals that portray an immense sadness and the emotive side to the album shines through. It’s not repressed and doesn’t lie deep within the albums core, it’s always on show. The bass also classes as a subtle section of the music because it's a very quiet instrument, despite playing a huge part in the proceedings.
C) The production. It’s perfect for the sound of the song. It’s also perfect throughout the album, but I’m using this song as an example. The production doesn’t take any importance away from any instrument, nor does it allow one instrument to dominate the others, like the guitars usually do during black metal records. Whilst the guitars are important, as they tend to be the main force behind the overwhelmingly depressing dirges, they are not the lone central figure. Neither are the vocals, which I think is important.
The fact that the musicians are experts at other instruments, as well as the standard one’s is a major positive too. Whilst the guitars are imperative, the use of instruments like the piano, or the cello add a different feeling to the music. The emotive qualities of this album aren’t too stretched. The use of such instruments allows for expression in a variety of different ways, such as a piano piece depicting a subtle sadness behind the aggression that the vocals portray for the most part. The ‘epic’ nature of the music is also something that I appreciate. The sheer intensity and dynamism of the album is what grabs you most, as an individual. Whilst the repetition of riffs is a useless device in securing a certain emotion into the fray, the little moments when the piano comes into play and the like are what really makes this album stand out. There is even diversity on the drums. It’s not all down to double bass, or crashing cymbals. It’s much more adventurous than that. So as the tortured screams sound out across the land, the damning drums beat to the cries of the melancholic soul behind the microphone, and the piano slowly presses on with a beautiful number to further the exploration in emotion. This is a stunning album with many qualities and few faults.
What I appreciate the most in metal music is the fact that there is one style for every mood. When I am angry I listen to Cannibal Corpse or Strapping Young Lad, When I am happy (like hippies) I listen to Finntroll or Die Apokalyptischen Reiter… and when I want to be alone for a while to reflect, I listen to Katatonia or, since I’ve discovered them recently, to Gris.
Gris, previously called Niflheim, is a two-man band from Canada. They have since released two full-length records: First “Neurasthénie” and, in 2007, “Il était une forêt”. I would describe their music as Depressive Black Metal with Ambient influences and you can compare Gris to bands like Burzum, Silencer or Trist. The CD consists of 6 songs and has a length of 60 minutes (+/- 10 minutes per song).
In the style of Burzum’s Filosofem(first song), Gris manages to hypnotize you with their repetitive riffs and the strong atmosphere, produced by the keyboard in the background. On metal-archives.com, I’ve found as lyrical theme “…Balance between Depression and Joy”, and I think that’s what their music is about. On the one side the created atmosphere is highly depressive, but on the other side Gris gives you some room to stand up and see the light at the end of the tunnel, only to smash you down again, a few seconds later.
The absolute highlights of “Il était une forêt” are the moments in the songs, which distinguish themselves from the repetitive riffs. These moments you recognize in their intensity and melancholy, and I think if you have some experience with depressive black metal, you won’t have problems to hear these special moments (just listen at 4:31 in the song “Cicatrices”).
But not only the great songwriting is a virtue of this record, Icare (Vocals) has managed to give his music with his doleful vocal-style, which you could compare also to Burzum or Silencer, an even more melancholic touch.
Personally, I’ve found nothing negative to write about! Yeah o.k. if you are a fan of well produced records, you should not listen to “Il était une forêt” and if you hate depressive black metal, “Il était un forêt” won’t change your opinion, but if those two things don’t apply to you, this record is an absolute must have! For me, it’s one of the best depressive/ambient black metal records ever, because “Il était une forêt” has a soul and isn’t one of these “Hell yeah let’s make some noise and call it black metal”-bands.
Reviewed by: www.mfgreview.wordpress.com
After being completely spellbound by Niflheim's NeurasthÃ©nie, I was eagerly anticipating the bands second monster, Il Ã©tait une forÃªt... This is, without a doubt, some of the most depressing and soul crushing black metal to ever grace my ears. It's not your atmospheric riff-happy black metal a la Peste Noire, but the type of shit to slit your wrists to. Enigmatic melody, eloquent in nature, and simply destructive beyond hope. This truly is an album to wash your soul with.
If you enjoyed anything done by Niflheim, you will surely enjoy this album. Production is, like the previous reviewer noted, top notch. Fantastic. Outstanding. Everything sounds beautiful and no instrument dominates the mix. The vocals are absolutely astounding. They're a mix between dreadful screaming (or morbid moaning) black metal shrieking, and soft, spoken lyrics. They are definitely a large part of the music and a high point of the album. The melodies in this album are precisely what makes it what it is. They are beautiful, mournful, and poetic without being overly cheesy or drawn out. To sit in solitude and confine yourself from life and its obligations recreates this album, especially in the first track Il Ã©tait une forÃªt... and final track La Dryade. Both are easily the best songs on this album. La Dryade is a painful 10 minute epilogue, wrapping up the album and leaving the listener in utter despair and isolation. It's purely instrumental, using a piano, a guitar, and a cello. Somber, to say the least. Il Ã©tait une forÃªt... is a very well composed song. The vocals for the two minutes are utterly devastating. No lyrics, no spoken words, just the vocalist hurling his angst at the unsuspecting listener. The song doesn't let up until the first break, where it seems the allow glimpses of hope and happiness to seep in. Low and behold, it does not.
A fantastic album from start to finish, a true Canadian masterpiece that deserves unabashed praise. This album, along with their first, requires the listener to devote their attention and emotion to sound of an emphatic, if ever fleeting, suffering. Gris definitely has a bright future, as clearly portrayed by their first two studio albums. I only hope they can keep up the fantastic work and continue creating some of the gloomiest despair ever recorded.
As the review title suggests, this album is pure brilliance compiled on a plastic disc with a playing time of a good 59 minutes. On this disc we are presented with some of the most hateful black metal ever presented to mankind, it far surpasses any form of garage band black metal that we are so used to nowadays. Thank goodness.
They had already managed to capture my attention before with their previous release "Neurasthénie" under their old bandname of Niflheim. That release was already very good and mature, but in my opinion doesn't quite reach the brilliance (or production value) that this album has. I would certainly advice to check it out though, it's worth the listen. These people don't make B-side music.
But as I mentioned, the production on here is topnotch - now, that doesn't mean it's your average Necromorbus production, or even Abyss Studio. This is what black metal should sound like in my opinion, the sound is so mutilated (I guess overmodulated is the right word) that it totally envelopes you in a cloud of dark riffs. This style makes you feel very dismal and it has a hypnotizing effect. Also it contains some of the most hateful vocals you have ever heard, approaching very much the suical black metal genre in style and passion. The passion is very important, if this is lacking it results in some terrible cheesy vocals, which luckily is not the case here. This guy (Icare) has more than enough passion for his vocals/music.
I suppose if you asked me to best describe the genre of this album, it would be depressive funeral black metal (not the boring type though). But this disc isn't all earrape and audial torture, the tracks feature some tantelizing breaks, but perhaps the biggest surprise is a 10 minute track at the end. This track is called "La Dryade" and is a fully instrumental song containing some piano, violin, cello and acoustic guitar work. A true work of art.
Bottom line, if you are into Peste Noire, Trist (Cze), Marblebog etc. - this is the album for you to get.
I gave it 95% because I think there should be room for improvement, a band always needs to aim for more and better. On their MySpace site they announced "Six albums, and the last is double, are planned." so that leaves much room for further perfecting their skills. I'm looking forward to it.