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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.