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Those are too high for my wit
I prefer to omit.
... Thus spoke Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968), probably one of the greatest art historians ever, when it came to comment on Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings. And if this quote now headlines this review in an unexpected fashion, it’s not because Misanthrope indeed happened to have written a song about Hieronymus Bosch – which can’t even be found on this album to begin with -, but because in front of Visionnaire I’ve long felt like Panofsky in front of Bosch’s works. That’s a fact: this release is complex, hermetic, artistic, and often hailed as the best Misanthrope album... Is it all of this, really?
That it takes a lot of listens to be fully understood and appreciated, I’ll grant it. That it sounds more accomplished than its clumsy predecessor 1666... Theatre Bizarre, it’s so obvious I’ll grant it. That Jean-Jacques Moreac is a genuine bass virtuoso, I’ll grant it, but it isn’t specific to this release anyway. But the pinnacle of Misanthrope’s career? Nope.
Contrary to the impression too often given by 1666... Theatre Bizarre, it now seems the band knows where it’s going. “SAS” Philippe de l’Argilière and his minions manage to write intricate songs without sounding approximative or amateurish. Of course the production helps a lot, as the instruments, the drums especially, no longer sound like cheap toys but like authentic, costly musical instruments. As on the following Libertine Humiliations it also smells a bit of Gothenburg, but after all de l’Argilère is wearing a Dark Tranquillity T-shirt on the band picture, so there’s no doubt it’s a deliberate will. Vocals have improved a lot as well, as to the apparent frenzy of singing in every existing vocal style has succeeded a more rational, but also fully original, both harsh and exalted voice Misanthrope will further use on all their following releases – though through the years that will become more and more polished to end up fairly close to standard melodeath vocals. But here, it still showed all the freshness and ornaments of youth.
However now comes the most controversial part, the one which stood for so long far “too high for my wit” – the songwriting. After a lot of patient listens I eventually arrived to the conclusion that no, those songs weren’t shapeless or unstructured, but the simplest were by far the best. Take the mid-tempo opener Futile Future, it looks almost radio-friendly with its very common structure not that far from simple verse/chorus alternating; but add to it a weird echo on the chorus, the mandatory symphonic break and of course a twisted, unforgettable bass line, and it comes close to genius. Further it may probably sound futile (“How our lives are so futile...”) to overtly praise Bâtisseur de Cathédrales which up to now remains one of the best-loved Misanthrope classics, with good reasons for once. If it’s undoubtedly more complex than Futile Future, the basic formula remains the same – an easily memorable opening riff, symphonic breaks, and the bass reigning supreme.
But then, too much is too much. Futile Future may indeed be a bit TOO easy, Bâtisseur de Cathédrales already demands more attention and more listens to reveal its full potential, from Hypochondrium Forces on it becomes totally senseless. Actually, these eight remaining songs ARE structured, some aren’t even that complicated, and someone sufficiently digging amongst them will still find riffs, airs, melodies, and music as a whole. There is a genuine chorus in Hypochondrium Forces, there might even be one in the atrocious Irrévérencieux. But most of time those are buried under grandiloquent piano or keyboards, endless blastbeats and headache-inducing solos. The bass had been intellectually challenging since the first bar of Futile Future, now it too often seems to be living its own life without caring for what the other instruments play.
Oddly, the result of all this is several of these tracks end up sounding pretty similar, once one managed to catch the particular twist of the work. Especially the ones which could be called the “aggressive” ones – Hypochondrium Forces, Le Silence des Grottes, Irrévérencieux -, probably because their core is in fact devoid of any genuine substance. Most of the others end up surprisingly dull, like the slow, semi-balladish but finally not very imaginative 2666, the mostly acoustic La Rencontre Rêvée which never seems to truly begin, or Hands of the Puppeters in spite of a nice recurrent melody. As for the title track, its culminating grandiloquence confines to grotesque in the ending shout of “Visionnaiiiiiiiiiiiire!” which alone sums it all.
So here may be the paradox of Visionnaire: as long as one hasn’t really got into it it sounds complex, hermetic and forbidding, as soon as one has eventually managed to “understand” it it quickly gets old. It may constitute a necessary step towards the following, more melodeath-influenced albums, but not a pinnacle in itself. It isn’t the worst Misanthrope album either, but certainly the most overrated.
Highlights: Futile Future, Bâtisseur de Cathédrales
Holy shit...just when you thought that Misanthrope would toil in obscurity and eccentricity foreve, they score a total victory on Visionaire. In part it's due to having proper production (which somewhat hampered 1666), and in part it's probably due to the band having a stable line-up. Whatever it is, it work and it works amazingly.
Overall, you could probably say that this album combines the best of melodic death metal, and combines it seemlessly with jazz fusion and possibly even electronica. Philippe Courtois is still on here, penning bizarre, highly poetic and intelligent lyrics (best in French, I must say), and lending his absolutely unique vocals all over everything.
The whole album is such a smorgasbard of different styles, that it's nearly impossible to dissect it track by track. "Future Futile" is a bit of a straight ahead song with a nice melodies, and "Hypochondrium Forces" is an eccentric and anthemic tune complete with a nearly sing-along chorus. Jesper Stromblad has a solo at the end, sounding just like he does in In Flames. "Bâtisseur de Cathédrale" is just raging, with a ton of cool little bass fills and keyboards used very effectively to provide an oppressive atmosphere. This track also goes through a number of different tempos, but never loses the listener. Easily my second favourite on here.
"Le Silence des Grottes" is a metaphorical song about exploring caves, but is pretty much straight up death metal, complete with absolutely twisted solos of the Vader/Morbid Angel variety. The keys on here are maddening, tearing at your sanity as the guitars, bass, and drums hammer at your relentlessly. It breaks down in the middle into a more atmospheric, doomy part with Philippe using his "weepy" vocal style, but this is all done with pure class. Probably my favourite song on here, and is only matched by the ferocious "Irrévérencieux" in terms of speed and aggresion.
"La Dandy" is a gloomy, dreary tune, somewhat uninteresting when compared to the other songs around it. "2666" and "La Rencontre Rêvée" are very atmospheric, complete with a lot of clean guitars, warm bass lines, and haunting, bizarre keyboard work. Lovely stuff, but as far as them having beautiful sounds, there is an equal amount of grotesqueness underlying them, like a beautiful woman with some sort of hideous deformity, or even mental illness.
The title track features an excellent Cliff Burton-esque distorted bass solo, and more creepy keyboard playing. It's rather plodding, but almost like an afterthought to end the album on a pretty eccentric, fading note.
Everything about this album is perfectly presented. Studio Fredman perfectly captures the band's sound, not making it sound Swedish in any way, and probably helping them refine their approach to keep it eccentric but very focused. Even the fucking packaging on here is marvellous! I could bitch about maybe the drum sound not being heavy enough, but that's the ONLY thing I could rip on.
All the musicians deserve the highest praise, most notably Sergio Gruz with his very tasteful and innovative use of keys, and Jean-Jacques Moreac for his great bass playing. His smooth finger picking style is virtuoso in design, clearly presented and never too overbearing. He fits in alongside Steve Digiorgio, Roger Patterson, and Tony Choy in the realms of death metal bassists. If you are a bassist, you simply have to hear this album.
Totally unique album, both on its own and in Misanthrope's career. They hit the peak here, and never returned.
Good god, now this is a leap forward ! This is the album that got me hooked on Misanthrope. After an innovative but somewhat lackluster "1666...", the band returns with full force ! The band sees the welcomed addition of Jean-Baptiste Boitel on the guitars. His guitar work really add a new dimension to the band, and there's no doubt he was a driving force behind the writing on this record.
Another high point is the production. Misanthrope got some help from long-time friends In Flames, and finally recorded in a decent studio (namely the Friedman). Don't worry though, this doesn't mean Misanthrope turned into a swedish melodic death metal band ! "Visionnaire" picks up where "1666..." left off. The songs still have that baroque feel, but are more focused. Each part of the songs fit together well, and don't have that disorganized feeling they had on "1666...".
Musically, the band remains the same. The song writing got better, and Misanthrope dropped that "elitist" schtick that plagued "1666...". They also lean towards a more extreme style, with songs like "Le Silence des Grottes" or "Irrévérencieux" being almost black metal. Songs like "Futur Futile", "Hyponchondrium Forces" and "Bâtisseur de Cathédrales" are more mainstream, but fully demonstrate both the skills of the band and the way following albums were to take.
Songs are once again driven by Moréac's amazing bass playing, and S.A.S. growling and weeping. Boitel's guitar work alternates from death / black riffs to more eloquent riffs and patterns close to early Dark Tranquillity. Keyboards are mainly used as a background element, like a shroud giving the record a slight gothic feel. Unfortunately, S.A.S. still sings sometimes in english, and hasn't done anything to improve his accent.
To sum it up, this is the album I would recommend to anyone who wants to discover Misanthrope. The fans of extreme music should enjoy this very much.