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When I first got this album, I really liked it. Loved it, even. The songs were catchy, heavy and really enjoyable. Kind of like Metallica's black album, but sadly, not as classic or as good. It seems that Misanthrope took all of thier eccentric elements, cast them aside, and made a straight up metal album, which though really fucking well played and expertly arranged, is dated and highly unoriginal.
I'm not going to do a track by track review. "Matador de l'Extreme" is a great song, with excellent bass work, which is prevalent throughout the album, and the best turns in songs. They redid a song from their demos, "Crisis of Soul," which is basically well done and primitive death thrash. I hate to say it, but the production here works against the band, and makes them sound quite (but not totally) like all the Gothenburg bands. Had this been their last album doing striaght up melodeath, I'd be fine with it, but their later albums really didn't go back to being the sick, twisted music that I love Misanthrope for. Keyboards are kept in the back, guitars and drums create a grindstone, a strong contrast to the very seperate, jazzy interplay on Visionaire, and the bass cruises over everything (which is good). Even Philippe's vocals are rather monotone on here...a real shame, as a maniacal vocal performance could have really given this album a boost. With the open structures and simple riffs, he had more than enough room to work around.
Sadly, at the end of the day, this album brings very little to the table as far as originality. Misanthrope basically ditched all their innovations (minus the bass mastery) and went for straight up melo death on here. It sure didn't age well, and was the last Misanthrope album that I ever bought. They experimented with different approaches throughout their career, much like Sentenced, before finally settling in this comfortable little niche, but ran out of runway.
Defining what would be the « true » Misanthrope isn’t an easy challenge. While they are above all a melodeath band, each of their albums sounds sufficiently different to reflect a particular facet of their complex personality – it’s also true almost each of them has been recorded with a slightly different line-up. However, Libertine Humiliations might well capture the essence of Misanthrope the best. First of all it is overall very good, what is far from being the case of each of their releases. Then, it shows this little bit of megalomania the French act is renowned for, but it isn’t excessive.
Excessive was 1666 Theatre Bizarre, considered by many as the first Misanthrope album (even if it’s not entirely correct): excessive in its lousy production, showing by far the shittiest sound of the whole “accessible” Misanthrope discography, making it most of time unlistenable for this reason alone. By comparison the sound on Libertine Humiliations is correct, reasonably clear, slightly Gothenburg-influenced – Hey, it’s Fredrik Nordström behind the mix – but devoid of any dubious modern influence.
Excessive was Visionnaire, excessive in everything, from song lengths and structures to lyrics. Actually, distinguishing genuine “songs” in that headache-inducing, twisted, lunatic album was already giving hard times. While Libertine Humiliations is its follower, it on the other hands strikes by its simplicity. Simplicity by Misanthrope standards, that is: don’t expect any radio hit! But one just has to admit that all tracks are short and calibrated, ranking between 4:00 and 5:32. That songs, while not consisting in verse/chorus only as there never are real “choruses” with Misanthrope to begin with, aren’t plagued with 463 breaks. Finally that, most important, this albums seems to be internally coherent. Of course technical demonstrations are present, of course there are bass solos: just listen to Combattant Sans Sépulture, or the monumental Matador de l’Extrême! But one never gets the impression, like in Visionnaire, than every instrument goes its separate way without caring for the rest of the band!
Excessive is Misanthrope Immortel with its overuse of keyboards, delirious samples, and overall pomp. Once again, its predecessor seems far wiser in this area as well. Keyboards are present, but remain overall discrete, often relegated in the background and/or slightly muffled down. There are no orchestral parts but at the very beginning of the first song, and while Misanthrope lacks a bit of its characteristic grandiloquence without them, it makes Libertine Humiliations sound far more straightforward, far more natural, which isn’t unpleasant.
Excessive is Sadistic Sex Daemon when it comes to lyrics, far-fetched as they never were. While Libertine Humiliations is by comparison devoid of lyrical excesses, it turns for once to its disadvantage. SAS de l’Argilière, whatever you may think of his monstrous ego, can be an excellent lyricist, but texts here, revolving mostly around revolt, sound a tad empty. There may be the mandatory historical song (L’Ecume des Chouans), or the title track exhibiting gems like “pornoramatherion, megapornoramatron” or “Alceste’s humiliated but a sadistic tortured cracked-brain”, but for the rest the band seems to have mostly directed its attention on the music rather than on lyrics. No big deal, after all.
Excessive eventually is Metal Hurlant in its melodeath linearity, its long, boring tracks – and that’s where Libertine Humiliations triumphs. The comparison is tempting, as both albums may be the most aggressive Misanthrope ever did. But when on the former every song sounds more or less the same, on the latter each of the ten tracks is easily recognizable after only a few listens. There’s the mid-tempo Misanthrope Necromancer, a somewhat misleading opener as it sounds closer to the works on Misanthrope Immortel than to the following tracks. There’s one of the heaviest Misanthrope songs ever, At 666 Days, fast-paced, blastbeats-driven, tormented and chaotic at will, which still goes side by side with the solemn, melodic title track, not devoid however of its little adrenaline rush – LIBERTINE, LIBERTINE, LIBERTINE, HUMILIATIONS! And how could be characterized subtle works like Matador de l’Extrême or Sous l’Eclat Blanc du Nouveau Millénaire, which manage to wind through tempo changes, lashing DM parts or soft, contemplative moments without ever losing their coherence?
Not to say this album isn’t devoid of letdowns. Antiquary to Mediocrity is exactly what the title says: mediocre, while Crisis of Souls just sounds like a heavier and less imaginative offspring of Sous l’Eclat Blanc du Nouveau Millénaire, which indeed precedes it. Finally there’s the odd case of L’Ecume des Chouans. The best Misanthrope song ever, as some pretend it to be? Or the most overrated? It seems the unforgettable opening riff has too often masked the fact this track soon sinks into the quicksand of slowness, of painful repetition and overall structural nonsense.
So, did we reach our primary goal, defining the true Misanthrope? Almost. Libertine Humiliations isn’t the most famous Misanthrope album (does this one exist to begin with?). It isn’t even my favourite, as I deem Sadistic Sex Daemon and Misanthrope Immortel superior. But it nonetheless constitutes a good start for listeners who are new to the band. It just lacks the obligatory crappy ballad, but who the hell would complain about it?
Highlights: Misanthrope Necromancer, Matador de l’Extrême, Sous l’Eclat Blanc du Nouveau Millénaire, Humiliations Libertines
When this album first came out, I was all over it. "God, this is really good !". But as the novelty wore out, I found myself skipping songs, almost narrowing the record to three songs...
"Libertine..." is basically "Visionnaire" part two, music-wise. All the elements that make Misanthrope are still there : the brutal death parts, the prog elements, the baroque feel, the doom lyrics... But everything sounds really uninspired. Songs like "Total Eclipse Chaos" or "Sous l'éclat blanc du nouveau Millénaire" are tedious, almost like it was a burden to record. On the other hand, "Antiquary to Mediocrity" is a really brutal song that would certainly appeal to extreme fans, but is unworthy of Misanthrope, given what they shown on "Visionnaire".
It's not that "Libertine..." is a bad album per se. There are several gems in there. "Misanthrope Necromancer" is a great number and "Combattant sans Sépulture" demonstrate a new face of the band, leaning towards a more dynamic, almost speed metal side. But everything sounds, well... soulless, like the band tried to repeat their previous success, while cutting down on their creativity. The guitar riffs sound like they're leftovers from "Visionnaire", and tend to drag into long solos ("L'Ecume des Chouans").
All in all, Misanthrope delivers, with "Libertine...", an average album, certainly unworthy of their previous effort. On the other hand, it's their most accessible album to date, and so could be a good place to start with the band. Many fans of the band tell me it's their favourite, so I guess I was expecting too much of the band after the masterpiece "Visionnaire"...