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Beauty of Despair - 92%

Sean16, November 21st, 2005

I can’t recall the reason why I once bought this album from this rather unknown French doom band, but the only thing that is sure is after a few listens it took place into my favourites – and it still is, more than two years after. This may stand in a single word – Beauty. Beauty of despair.

Despair doesn’t imply to go to the extremes of funeral doom or drone. No fifty-minutes-long tracks (the longest one must last around eight minutes). No excessively down-tuned instruments. No violins. No indus noise. Still Anthemon is undoubtedly playing doom - though the band had sometimes by the past qualified itself as being atmospheric metal – and indeed, speed and happiness have been definitively banished from this album. The mood is set as soon as the minimalist intro has begun – an elementary piano tune, repeated over and over again, and leading to the crushing No Rest, No Peace, anthem summing up the whole album. Plaintive guitars, heavy drums, some desperate vocals by the female singer and above all this never-ending slow piano and guitar part contribute together to create an oppressive, uneasy – and beautiful – atmosphere. But – after all, nothing original, it’s the doom essence, isn’t it?

The strength of Arcanes is that on this album all that is done perfectly. Melodies sound inspired, melancholic, haunting. The dark and heavy atmosphere manages to be preserved without the album becoming ever monotonous. There are no real solos, but rather endless exchanges of desperate leitmotivs between the two guitarists, often reinforced by the keyboard or piano playing some arpeggios which could have taken place in a Chopin sonata. The long instrumental parts in Semen (the song about sex which sounds so sad it will prevent you from having sex for one week) or Another I are good examples. Eventually the vocalists deserve special praise. As I already said, on this album Anthemon features a female lead singer, Nathalie Bonnaud (who will leave and be replaced by a male vocalist on the following album), as excellent as unknown. She adds this gothic vibe that contributes to make Arcanes so unforgettable – Beware! Nothing to do with crappy bands like Within Temptation, their basic chords and tons of useless orchestral parts to hide they can’t play properly. She actually shares the vocal duty with the drummer (clean vocals) and the bassist (growls), who both do far more than simple backing vocals. It’s indeed the perfect balance between the three that is remarkable. Listen to tracks like Keep dying, Another I or Reed – songs where every singer at his right place melts perfectly in the mix, with endless alternation of clean, growled or female vocals, and spoken parts.

Yes, spoken parts are important in this work. They’re here, always told in an atonal and depressed voice, in almost every song, but best examples are the spoken intro of Meaningless and, of course, the entirely spoken title track, more a poem backed by music than an actual song, and the only track written in French on the album (however was it really necessary?). It may explain why it is the only weak track of the album: spoken-only verses become rapidly boring, especially the last sentence (which could be translated by “Explore the arcane of eternal knowledge / To make power rise from the dark” – well... so smart) repeated over and over again – puerile, useless and boring.

Lyrics, of course, are dealing with life hardships, despair and suicide – nothing really original here, apart the slight mystical dimension of some songs (apart the obvious title track, see lyrics from Meaningless of Another I). And when Marc Canlers (the bassist) evokes his dead relatives (his wife and his son) it leads to Never born, Forever dead, the slowest and most desperate track of this album – and the only one to feature some (discrete) electronic noise.

And I had forgotten something – to allow the listener to breathe a bit, another minimal instrumental track, perfect image of the intro in spite of the different melody and the presence of the bass backing the keyboard, has been included in the middle of the album and is simply called... Forgotten.

An undoubtedly haunting gothic / doom metal album – and a must-have.

Highlights: No Rest – No Peace, Semen, Keep dying, Another I, Never born – Forever dead