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A step down, and a huge - 40%

Sean16, March 2nd, 2007

Philippe “SAS” de l’Argilière has become fat. And old. He’s looking at us from the inside photo with a little satisfied smile, the smile of the one who’s done enough money through years with his nice Avant-Garde/Progressive/Melodeath/Whatever act to have ensured himself a comfortable retirement. And who’s sure to do a bit more money with his last full-length to date, Metal Hurlant, again released in a plethora of editions: the luxurious numbered digipack is lying before me, with its bonus CD and extra pieces of art to discover (at least I guess so). So yes, I’m currently reviewing the copy number 540/3000, fro those who’re fond of precision.

Fine. I guess for taking the next Misanthrope output back to my lair, I’ll have to rent a special light truck. The Frenchiest of the French bands had never released such a heavy work. In every sense of the term, as Metal Hurlant is indeed likely to be by far their most aggressive one (“likely” only because I haven’t heard the two first albums I however imagine to be a complete avant-garde mess). It’s not surprising though: Misanthrope have from the beginning been huge Dark Tranquillity fans, and it’s no coincidence if Misanthrope’s most overproduced, though excellent release – Misanthrope Immortel – is contemporary with DT’s most keyboard-driven, and also excellent (at least for me...) output – Haven -, and if Metal Hurlant is in a similar fashion contemporary with DT’s return to a more in-the-face sound with Character in 2005. Unfortunately after only a quick comparison, Character wins.

Because Dark Tranquillity have always been a melodeath band; they might even be THE melodeath band. Misanthrope on the other hand always displayed important melodeath and Gothenburg influences, but through the years they also leant towards either power metal, symphonic, progressive stuff or even doom, so that they more or less only could fall into the huge mixed bag of so-called avant-garde metal. Jean-Jacques Moreac’s crazy bass solos, overwhelming samples, keyboards as-much-as-you-like, nowhere-going songs sometimes, awkward melting of melody and rage topped by De L’Argilière’s exalted and unique harsh, spitting voice, poetical or historical lyrics and monstrous egos, Misanthrope was all that altogether – and maybe much more. Now, apart from the monstrous egos, almost nothing remains.

Crazy bass solos? Forget them, Moreac only punctually escapes from the overall monotony of his now standard bass lines. Samples? Gone with Jean-Baptiste Boitel, who now he’s departed reveals how he’d been crucial to the older, characteristic Misanthrope sound. Keyboards? See last entry – even if some occasionally resound, but relegated in the background. Songs structure are rather wise, but it’s been a general trend since, let’s say Humiliations Libertines, so this isn’t a surprise. De l’Argilière’s voice isn’t as strong as before in the sense it’s become a more standard melodeath harsh voice and, worse, there are a non-negligible amount of clean vocals on this opus, of the worst kind you might imagine. De l’Argilière isn’t even whining in a pop-ish fashion like nowadays Nick Holmes for instance, he’s literally crying. The eternal misanthrope, crying like daddy’s little girl! Oh, the irony! And coming to the lyrical content it isn’t really better. Who cares about abstruse mystical, semi-satanic divagations like Théologie du Misanthrope, Le Supplicié, L’Exaltation de la Croix or the awfully long title track. Who cares for the grotesque sexually-explicit Le Haras D’Amazones. Please, Monsieur de l’Argilière, tell us about French History instead! And please not in the worst ballad you ever wrote, Reine Martyre, which would be laughable weren’t it pathetic. Don’t cry because the big bad Revolutionaries beheaded Queen Marie-Antoinette; you know, you won’t bring her back to life, without mentioning she’d been one of the worst rulers our beautiful country ever featured.

However if Metal Hurlant had been an outstanding melodeath album many things could have been forgiven. But it isn’t. Paradoxically, Misanthrope’s heaviest album is also one of the most boring. The band’s early releases were unlistenable because they were so intricate one couldn’t define when a song ended and the next one begun, and actually speaking about “songs” was already a challenge. On the contrary Metal Hurlant drags on because there aren’t enough variations between each songs. L’Exaltation de la Croix, Théologie du Misanthrope, Le Tryptique des Enfers – all random cuts from the same unimaginative melodeath cake with harsh vocals, hammering blastbeats and strafing, but linear, guitar lines, however still topped by occasional “progressive”, shredding solos. "Metal Hurlant" means "screaming metal" and it well sums up the album, in fact. It screams, shouts, blasts, and then? And then? While Misanthrope could almost have been despised for showing a dubious tendency to catchiness in their other releases, especially the two previous ones, only ONE song from the first CD (the only one you get in the “regular” edition if I’m not mistaken) exhibits a somewhat memorable chorus: Sentiment Nocturne. And if the ugly Reine Martyre is memorable as well, it’s not for the same reason... Songs have never been so long, long and devoid of any life, of any spirit.

The second CD isn’t really more interesting. The last four tracks are alternate versions of songs from the first part (instrumental, or sung in English), and the first four are the logical continuation of it. The second track Sulfureuses Contestations may show a larger amount of keyboards, but apart from that doesn’t fundamentally differ. Strangely though, the longest track is also the best of the whole release, Le Commerce du Crime. Eventually a slower, majestic tune! Eventually, variations, inspiration – especially in the sumptuous ending! Eventually, the bass can be heard! Eventually, historical lyrics! Given how this track is different from the rest of the work I first thought it had been a remnant from the Sadistic Sex Daemon sessions, but the (fortunately) scarce presence of the crying clean vocals invalidates this hypothesis. No, the band only put most of its remaining ideas in one single song, that’s all. And that’s very sad.

Some may like this album. Every keyboard-hater might, actually. It isn’t Misanthrope any more, but it isn’t a totally awful album. I indeed considered giving it a few more points (well, only a few), but I can’t forget the glowing digipack. Obviously Misanthrope are now cheating their long-time fans. Worse, I’m afraid Misanthrope are now cheating themselves...

Highlights: Sentiment Nocturne, Le Commerce du Crime