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Seulement étreinte d’une âme solitaire. - 80%

GrizzlyButts, June 26th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions

The same disclaimer precedes a valuation of any split release, that I will inevitably favor one artist because the only reason I’d been drawn to any uneven experience is for the sake of a beloved group. In this case the two French melodic black metal bands in question are actually quite a good fit between the castle-worshiping discography of Nice based Darkenhöld or the lesser known ‘epic’ pagan black metal of Parisian quintet Griffon. The latter of the two is relatively new to my ears with their Sognametal-esque soaring lead guitars and later Windir style of pagan metal that avoids much of the campiness of Norwegian constituents. Griffon features key members of Geisterfels and Moonreich, for those keeping track of the finer things coming out of the Paris underground in the last few years, yet their style is something a bit more traditional and accessible at once. “Jérusalem” and “Si Rome vient à périr” both sound as if they could have come from a less produced version of Cor Scorpii as much as they represent the ‘medieval’ side of French black metal that is so exciting today. The instrumental included should reinforce that sentiment between its baroque gestures and medieval intro but, the star of this album isn’t Griffon in my eyes; Though they make a brilliant entrance with quite long and involved compositions, it is the unexpected form of the second act that takes all breath from my lungs.

I’d discovered Darkenhöld soon after Ysengrin‘s ‘Palimpseste’ EP in 2014 as I sought similar projects from related musicians. Though they were not similar in style, ‘Castellum’ was one of the best melodic black metal records of 2014 that set up high on my top favorites of that year. I’ve kept an eye on the project since. There exists a great lineage from Artefact‘s discography that follows some subtle thread through Darkenhöld (and Geisterfels) to this day and that majestic use of ‘medieval’ melody, which is distinctly French, pairs swimmingly with fantasy themes in an endlessly entertaining way. With such big and impressive releases from contemporary groups like Sühnopfer and Aorlhac in recent memory, I think I’d expected this material from Darkenhöld to be very bold but, not exactly different from their usual style. The revelation was instant, though, as I came to realize this wouldn’t be twenty minutes of Aldébaran‘s usual electric guitars which are now entirely achieved with acoustic guitar. The result is almost too beautiful to describe if you are a fan of folk/black metal and folk metal in general as the whole of the experience plays as a beauteous pagan metal seance, complete with the full drumkit from Aboth. It will quickly become clear how uneven the experience was for me between the two bands if I become too hyperbolic about Darkenhöld‘s music but I am so irreparably enamored by its immaculate statement.

If it were possible to explain the sentimental (and weirdly emotional) reaction to this adept folkish treatment of melodic black metal then it’d never come as easy as the reaction itself. There is a part of my mind that is inspired so deeply by these performances that my eyes begin to blur each time I am greeted by sound of Darkenhöld kicking off into “Marche des Bêtes Sylvestres”. Why should my heart swell full as “Les Goules et la Tour” reaches its melodic apex? It is as if I am swooning at the sound of the guitars themselves when it should be the fantastical poetry of ancient beasts and worlds apart instead. Of course this is my well-hidden addiction, within a box full of Falkenbach LPs and October Falls acoustic albums is a love for the pyre’s surround and the intricacies of the acoustic guitar applied to European folk music. Here, it is potent as the most ill-gotten heroin and I’ve sunk so deeply into it that I’d become a pale, dark-eyed beast moaning into the shadows were I to spend even a moment without it. Darkenhöld‘s compositions here aren’t stripped down, though, and do not suppose we’re given mere acoustic versions of auld songs but new compositions as detailed and beautiful as anything they’d produced prior. Their high standards are in tact and if anything this is perhaps the first meaningfully achieved acoustic guitar driven melodic black metal I’ve encountered. It haunts me in the best possible way.

So, it would suffice to say that my own experience with this split album found the spirit torn way from a gleeful genre-entry towards a glowing, resplendent love affair with an acoustic guitar and melodious flute. Uneven as it might seem from my perspective I think the established Darkenhöld fandom will find Griffon exceptional (if they weren’t ready initiated) and the new material brings a welcome bout of new ideas and warm inspiration. My recommendation of this split won’t be entirely suffocated by my crooked addiction to catchy, infinitely repeatable folk/black metal but it does tip my hand. Highly recommended. For preview I’d suggest “Jérusalem” as an introduction to Griffon and then “Le Sanctuaire de la Vouivre” for just one of four spectacular outings from Darkenhöld.


Medieval musings, with and without mercy - 75%

autothrall, May 31st, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions (Digipak)

Always a pleasure to hear something new from Darkenhöld, one of the more consistent and consistently unsung acts on the French black metal scene, and in Griffon they have been paired up with another band that share their fancy for integrating the Medieval and antiquated aesthetics into their music without ever losing the style's core, traditional identity. Each of the bands offers four tracks here on Atra Musica, with the Griffon material clocking in longer due to some heftier cuts. I'd have to say that stylistically the pair are a good match on the release in some ways, or at least they WOULD be if Darkenhöld were performing something more akin to what is on their full-length albums...but here they have taken on a curious, almost more experimental folk edge to their material.

Essentially they're using a lot of cleaner guitars to represent what would normally be their heavier electric riffs, but keeping the vocals just as harsh as ever. It evokes a strange contrast, but one that becomes quite fascinating as you progress through their contributions. It's almost as if they had decided to put out a pure folk/acoustic EP and decided it would be better to include it as part of this split, but I'm not at all let down by the material, as it's super atmospheric and the vocals really drift over the busy clean strings in a menacing, obscure way. A Medieval Peste Noire? If they went in this direction for a longer record I would certainly be on board for checking it out, because all of their other traits are still present and there's enough variation and fertility of ideas due to the acoustic choice while it doesn't actually lack for sounding as majestic as they have when they're more 'plugged in'. On the other hand, Griffon is fully plugged in, and I think there's a contrast between the two bands' productions which might have served the split release better had it been smoothed over a little...

So the first half of this release is much louder, brighter, harsher in nature, with walls of force blasted sequences graced over by Romantic, winding tremolo picked guitars and all manner of voices that range from a nasty black metal rasp to cleaner, more narrative chants that sound quite cool in French. The riffing is quite busy, not always catchy but changing up the moods enough that it feels rich in its textures, and the rhythm section also sounds quite good, with dreamy bass lines and effortless blasts or double-kick breakdowns with a lot of splash to support the well-woven melodies. I do think the lead rasp is a little bit overbearing at times and sounds a smidgeon too nihilistic for the music itself, but overall there's just enough going on that I kept paying attention, and I dug the 'Interlude' which is all orchestra/organ and makes an interesting transition into Darkenhöld's less aggressive but equally elaborate material. Apart from the differences in volume and approach, which don't make for the most flush or consistently appealing split recording, the music here is all quite good. I wouldn't go at this for your first Darkenhöld exposure, any of their first three full-lengths would be the better choice, but they take a risk here which ultimately pays off.