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Neige et Noirceur are yet another one of the many impressive bands currently plying their trade in the burgeoning Quebecois black metal scene, and finally get around to unleashing their latest opus entitled Hymns de la Montagne Noire, and if you thought their previous efforts were cold then this will freeze you to your very core. So Zifond is back, and appears to have slightly shifted to focus this time around to a slightly heavier weighting on the metal aspect of their brand of black metal and less on the droning ambience yet still retaining a huge atmospheric presence that helps deliver his style of minimalist, hypnotic black metal so seamlessly. Indeed if there was a more suitable album this year to listen to just as winter threatens its first ice laden advances on the landscape then I’ve yet to hear it.
Hymns... contains five tracks of repetitive, atavistic black metal set somewhere in between the Norwegian style of the early nineties and the deathly cold standoffishness of ambience focused acts like Paysage d’Hiver and Darkspace. Take the first track “Hymn I”, the Norwegian influences are hugely apparent with its raw swaggering gait reminiscent of early Gorgoroth, but break this up with subtle use of synths and Zifond’s abrasive vocals and sparse minimalist passages of ambience and and you have the basic formula for the whole album. The riffing itself uses repetition to great effect and bolstered by the incessant drumming hammers through the effect of a perpetual blizzard grinding away at your very being. Indeed ‘Snow and Blackness’ as their moniker translates couldn’t really be more fitting.
Zifond’s vocals alternate between are more atypical black metal rasp and extremely sharp high pitched shriek, I suppose you could say in the same vein as many artists from the ‘suicidal black metal’ end of things. “Hymn II” is much the same expect broken up by vast swathes of atmosphere with some rather obscure guitar passages and kicks back in with some impressive lead work before closing out with an imposing, caustic dirge which again showcases the hypnotic use of the riff work. “Hymn III” even finds some space to utilize some nifty acoustic work which helps emphasize the change ups between ‘atmosphere’ and ‘metal’ and together with its sorrow laden riffing and synth make sure by this point if you’re not set to deep freeze you’re certainly on your way there.
“Hymn IV” is the best track here, a beautiful windswept acoustic introduction which eventually succumbs to a maelstrom of simple yet effective fuzzed out guitar driven majesty. By the time we reach the fifth track there’s not really much more to say I haven’t already (disregarding the rather unremarkable cover tacked on at the end), the only fault being the paper thin production. Simply put, Hymns de la Montagne Noire is a brilliant release for anyone who considers themselves a fan of atmospheric black metal. It’s complex and hypnotic arrangements are colder than a polar bears ballsack, and although you’ve heard it all before, hearing it again done this well is ever so welcome.
If you take a look on his discography, you’ll soon realize that one-man entertainer Zifond has a similiar release-policy we know from several other bands like Vinterriket. There is just one, but huge, difference between his band and other projects: If you listen to his records you’ll notice a difference in style. Since his last record La Seigneurie des Loupe featured several calm interludes or majestic moments through the use of slower passages with epic riffs, his new record is a pure rampage with varied vocals and only some calmer passages left. What remained the same is the high density of atmosphere that is created, although the quality of it has grown through the improvement in songwriting skills.
The dominating tempo on the record is a higher one, which features really fast, really cold but atmospheric riffs and aggressive drumming. Although this record features raw black metal, the song-structures are full of variation and slower passages are breaking through frome time to time to add some interessting turns, without ever letting the aggressivity go. Another important fact for both – the general mood and the variation – is the change of the used vocal style. The vocals range from – nearly hurting – high pitched screams, that could remind you of Cradle of Filth, and really low pitched growls that could origin from death metal.
Besides those variations in tempo and vocals there are several elements that are shining through from time to time to loosen things up. There are several synthesizer sound walls as well as some dreamy guitar melodies like the intro of Hymne IV – L’aube des magiciens, some samples of natural sounds (wind, the sound of a bird etc.) or some rock/doom influenced riffs here and there. That combined with the fact that no riff is to long-drawn, as they are varied and/or replaced before they get boring, causes the record to be of a good quality. Although the riffs are well composed and quite catchy, they lack something unique and unheard. Some other “real” flaws can be named easily: The machine-like drums are really arduous and the drum patters are predictable and overladen too after a while. Less is more would have been the idiom Zifond should have remembered. Although there is structural variation, the constant thrashing/driving parts are a bit exhausting as well and more calm interludes would have been really nice. The production is, at least for raw black metal, quite good as, although it’s not crystal clear, you can hear every instrument and only the vocals could have been a bit more specious.
Neige et Noirceur respectively mastermind Zyfond just released another quite solid, well done record with only some flaws left to criticise. The cold of the Canadian winter is beautifully set to music and full of atmosphere, so that you can experience it even in the, still quite warm, Europe. The variation of the vocal styles is really well done and the majority of song structures is convincing as well. There are some points to criticise though and all in all I would say the record is slightly above the average.
Written for http://threnodies.com
It took all of a single song for me to be more impressed with Hymnes de la Montagne Noire than last year's La Seigneurie des Loups, and this is all due to the marked improvements in songwriting skill and atmosphere that involve the listener directly through the driving, memorable riffs and an excellent, balanced use of synthesizers. Sole instrumentalist Zifond has not exactly created a more complex outlet than his prior full-lengths, but Hymnes is the sort of effort which so successfully infuses the nostalgia of black metal's Golden Age (the mid 90s) of second wave development into a burst of controlled chaos that haunts the Canadian wilds.
There remains a clear Scandinavian undercurrent to this recording, and I was very often reminded of the late 80s Bathory shift towards pagan hymns of myth and warfare that manifest through the steady, marching and crashing guitars; or a bit of earlier Mayhem and Enslaved. The riffs in "Hymne I - La grande faucheuse ouvre le marche" are nothing more than bark-skinned, minimal and sturdy patterns of chords upon which Zifond's salacious, wretched rasp is slathered like an acidic spiderweb, but as they gradually twist their course throughout the six minutes of the track, they take the listener on an obscure, epic cold evening pilgrimage. The slight spikes of screaming synthesizers and distant rasps create an apt, biting atmosphere that fully supports the central rhythm and machine-like drumming, and he never sticks with a particular riff so long that the listener grows tired, even on more expansive pieces like "Hymne III – Là où demeure la sorcière des neiges" or "Hymne V – Le chemin de la montagne noire", both of which eclipse the 10 minute mark.
Neige et Noirceur also has this distinct ability to drop out of an aggressive partition into a segue of wintry ambiance or chordal resonance, reminiscent of some of Emperor's better material (In the Nightside Eclipse, for one), without feeling disjointed. This technique can often seem like a cheap ploy to section out longer tracks, but just about every time it happened on this recording I was quite eager to hear just what would explode out of the headphones next. But certain tracks are also adept at a gradual buildup, like the briefer "L'aube des magiciens" as it transfers from scintillating acoustic lines and whispered winds to pummeling, thundered chords glazed in frosted fingers of melody. The only song I wasn't quite feeling was the closer "Les Bûcherons", a cover of a 1983 tune from some French punkers Bérurier Noir, but this is only because it takes on a more sewage like style of vocals, and despite the applied wintry overtones, it snapped me out of the core experience. Then again, it's placed last on the album, so it's hardly an obstruction to the better content.
Hymnes de la Montagne Noire might not be the most novel or unique recording on the Quebec scene, and the riffs might never pass 'quality' territory into that of the profound, but it's an adequately absorbing listen that carefully melds between the aesthetics of darkness and sublime grace and never lets the audience stir despite what might normally seem a bloated sense for composition. The only numbing you'll feel here is the cold clutch of the dead season as it creeps into your joints and freezes your soul, and that's more than acceptable.