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For a band that's lasted almost a decade, Neige et Noirceur haven't released very many albums. "Crepuscule hivernal sans fin sur les terres de la guerre", translating as "Endless Winter Twilight in the Lands of War", was NeN's first full-length back in 2009 and as the title suggests is a sombre work of dark atmospheric black metal with considerable input from dark ambient and experimental musique concrete genres.
"Aux Portes de la Crypte" introduces the album with a blended series of found sound recordings. Church bells peal over fragments of rumble and fumble of everyday life before chants lead us to a trance-inducing loop of reverberating tone and deranged organ dronings. A hard beat and a serpentine voice compete for our attention.
The bulk of the album is taken up with the title track which runs over 26 minutes; this is seething and furious black metal with an intense steely sound. A rhythm akin to two knives sharpening against each other at full speed sets the scene for a few motifs continuing over from "Aux Portes de la Crypte": that never-ending snaking organ melody, a chanting voice in the background. The music gives way to a passage of samples of weather and water ambience and what sounds like a laser printer needle wandering aimlessly on rotating drums of paper. When eventually we return to black metal, the music is very business-like, the percussion whipping it into constant and steady though fast action. Although the music on the whole is unrelenting and repetitive, NeN avoid monotony by bringing in a repeating synthesiser melody that increases the track's urgency and the sense of impending catastrophe. Unearthly keyboard effects add an overwhelming, suffocating ambience to the delirious music, now running at insane speeds. Now the song runs at a pace and with a force no human can control, and where it will end the NeN main man Zifond may not have any idea. Wild winter ambience eventually absorbs the track.
Whereas "Crepuscule ..." was an expansive work of biting acid guitar noise and wintry atmospheres, "Hibernation" begins as a warmer piece of soft radiance morphing into soundscapes of combined alien effects, ghostly voices, crumbs of melodies that were never realised in full and a running drone that sounds like violins humming and warming up quite rapidly. There is very little black metal and what exists appears to have been separated into thin layers of crunch texture and snatches of grim BM vocal. The track turns out to be an experimental exercise in musique concrete / ambient in which the majority of samples are strung out like beads on a string.
The music is quite good but parts of the the title track are very long and could have been tightened and cut without losing the intensity; it's possible that editing the track for length might actually lift the music's intensity and give it more of an impression of being powered by something alien and urgent. The last track is interesting but the music can sound disjointed with samples that don't appear to have much in common juxtaposed next to each other for no reason. The best musique concrete usually has something in the track that unites all the sound recordings - it is usually a strong theme or an atmosphere that determines what samples work best and which don't - and "Hibernation" seems lacking in that unity.
The album demonstrates NeN's willingness to explore outside raw atmospheric black metal and bring in elements that might enhance the music. The fusion of black metal and more experimental music forms can be a bit awkward but when outside elements are used sparingly and with the music's needs in mind rather than the novelty of the fusion, the result is very agreeable. Black metal can only be enriched by this and in return offer more opportunities for more creativity and fusion.
So here I am again reviewing a black metal album as much as I don’t really consider myself a fan of it. I had never delved into ambient metal before, for lack of knowing what it is. While that does not really qualify me to say this, Neige et Noirceur’s first album is a very original interpretation on winter metal with an ambient twist.
The songs on here are long, epic, and for the most part, chock full of samples put together by Zifond. With three songs, there is a lot of atmosphere that can be produced to focus around the title track, which is a blistering 26 minutes long. The first is track is filled with religious sounding samples with a man carving wood in the background in the rain. The atmosphere is very powerful and builds up the beginning of the title track very nicely with some psychedelic chants and vocals.
The main song is very repetitive and doomesque, but there is movement in the waves of sound. It begins with some ripping distorted guitar, with sounds of muskets being fired and the howls of wolves. This really sets the tone for the Quebecois history of the lyrics and the winters. The drums come in and add to the speed, and there are some subtle changes in the guitar part that can be noticed. The vocals are very diverse throughout the tracks, and they do a good job at keeping me interested.
The guitars and drums fade into electrical noises with other samples coming and going of nameless instruments that create a delightfully creepy and haunting atmosphere. The song comes back with more guitars and finishes with about a minute of samples that gently leads you out of the song and back to the warmth of not being in Canada or any Northern region.
Hibernation is a 12 minute long song that through many, many, many different samples describes for us a harsh winter holed up in something that can only muffle the harsh winds of winter. The imagery throughout the album is picturesque and top notch in my amateur opinion. Events happen that your ears can process and only get a rough idea of what is happening, while some string instrument provides melody throughout the song. A bit droning at some points and not as quick moving as the first sample instrumental, it serves its purpose but is not the high point of the album.
Neige et Noirceur have crafted an album that frightens the soul but leaves it wanting more. This album should, no MUST, be listened to the first time in complete silence. If you do not manage to do that, this album is a waste of your time. Speed freaks leave now. This kind of music transports your mind and is not packed with riffs and insane drumming (which I like in other types of metal). Also, the vocals are varied but are not at the forefront of the mix, which I personally prefer it to be.
The drumming is also substandard and the guitar does not change much, as I feel there are many times when I became lost in the music instead of being acutely aware of every change in pitch. This album is very refreshing with its instrumentals and is very unique in my opinion. If the guitar and drums become more complex in future releases I would be a very happy man.
Overall, the album is very good, but it can be a bore at some times. At the same time, this is what you are supposed to get with stoner/doom metal. Zifond has many negatives that he can improve upon in future releases, but it is far from all bad. The atmosphere made from the guitar and drums is awe-inspiring at times, and the samples throughout the album are very transfixing and impeccably done. A personal recommendation, yes, but not for everybody.
Neige et Noirceur, which translates to Snow and Blackness, were an easy choice for my “A Year In Winter” collection of reviews. Anyone who knows anything about this one-man French-Canadian project, formed by the mysterious and occult-inspired Zifond, understands why they have a place firmly guaranteed in this collection. As this short biography indicates, this act possesses all the right characteristics to become a wintry masterpiece of ambient black metal, “Québécois Black Metal, strongly inspired of Quebec’s wide winter landscape. The music wants to be a dark musical interpretation of long evening winters. The gloomy and distressing mood mask a cold stormy black metal.” Whilst this band, and this debut full-length entitled ‘Crépuscule Hivernal sans Fin sur les Terres de la Guerre’, do harbour an interest in black metal music, there are some other things going on beneath the surface of this enigmatic and very intriguing band. As the bands description suggests, Neige et Noirceur also deal in drone and doom metal influences.
Not only this, but there also seems to be a definite dark ambient inspiration behind the music, akin to bands like Paysage D’Hiver and Germany’s Trist, with this album particularly reminding me of the epic ‘Hin-Fort’, a grand ambient black metal meets dark ambient tale of astral empires and wintry weather. This album, much like ‘Hin-Fort’, is a mixture of ambiance and genuine black metal material. The album masks itself in a dark cloud, shifting between genres and sub-genres with a quick flick of a switch. Zifond is a very inspiring song writing and musician. Although he hasn’t managed to garner the reputation of bands like the aforementioned, as well as acts like Darkspace, he has mustered up one hell of a reputation amongst the avid followers of the truly black metal underground, deep beneath the layers of bands who’re considered far more accessible. Despite the relative inaccessibility of the material in general, certain passages within the main self-titled twenty-six minute epic can be considered comparable to bands like Deathspell Omega, or Clandestine Blaze. At least to me, anyway.
The comparisons don’t stop there though as they keep on coming during the ever-changing self-titled song. The mixture of raw and symphonic structures reminds me slightly of Poland’s Evilfeast fifteen or so minutes into the self-titled epic. As aforementioned, the self-titled epic is the main feature of this album as this is the only song to contain metallic forces. Both songs either side of it as instrumentals with varying purposes. The first, ‘Aux Portes de la Crypte’ builds with a really frightening atmosphere. The song is filled with a variety of samples taken from unknown sources. There’s a definite spiritual sense in this opening introduction with the Lord’s prayer being chanted out by a group of unknown individuals. The setting for this song is quite odd and very unique. I don’t really understand its purpose, but it certainly knows how to generate a really affecting mood with mind altering benefits. This album, as expected, is best listened to in the dark and by yourself. That way the music and use of samples can truly wash over you like rain from blackened storm clouds. As the song draws to a close, some instrumentation becomes apart of the scene setting with the use of a distant drum beat, presumably some keyboard samples and nightmarish vocals. The onset of whatever hellish play is about to begin.
A drum signals the ending of the first song and the opening of the song, alongside samples of howling wolves. The black metal material then begins to flow as it does on albums like the aforementioned ‘Hin-Fort’. In fact, the material present on the self-titled song strongly resembles the song ‘Hin’ for a number of minutes at the beginning. The eerie distant voices, the fast and repetitive drums and the monotonous distorted guitars all mesh together well. This song, as with ‘Hin’, has subtle movements occurring beneath the destructive foreground. Although the surface would suggest that this song has very little to it, there is a lot happening beneath with subtle melodies and changes that diversify the state of the song, and the album in general. As with ‘Hin’, these changes become more noticeable the more you listen to the album, as well as the more patience you grant to the song and its overall development and evolution. It’s a slow process. The song shifts between black metal and dark ambient as samples come back into play after a few minutes and a soft moving ambiance takes over the incredible distortion and fast style of play.
During these sections, the vocals take a back-seat and rightly so. These subtle, ambient passages allow the listener to catch a breath an examine what just happened in greater detail. The song soon shifts again after the electronic sound moves on out to be replaced by the black metal elements once again. This time however, things have altered slightly, though this isn’t noticeable for the first few minutes. After ten minutes or so, the vocals kick back in with the feel of bands like Clandestine Blaze. Zifond reminds me of Mikko Aspa with his deep and dark grunts. Finally, the black metal aspects fade away into the blizzard of the samples, becoming masked by the dark ambiance that takes over for the third and final song, one which concludes the album well enough. This is the type of album that keeps you on the edge of your seat whilst forcing you to crave for more as it finishes. Despite having a twenty-six minute epic in between two moderately long instrumentals, the album feels like it ends all too quickly.