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Long expansive epic folk BM tribute to Loire River in France - 85%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, May 18th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, Digital, Antiq Records

Formed in 2006, Breton folk / black metal project Hanternoz revolves around core members Arzh Hyvermor and Sparda who also run the label Antiq Records. "Au Fleuve de Loire" is Hanternoz's second or third album and is a tribute to the mighty Loire River in France, and its role in French agriculture, industry and culture through the ages, and ultimately in the formation of French identity. The river has a warming and tempering effect on the climate of inland France with the result that it has long drawn people to settle along its banks and the Loire River region has long been the country's major wine-growing area. "Au Fleuve ..." attempts to portray the Loire from as many angles as possible throughout its history, including Hyvermor's childhood memories of growing up near the river and also from an environmental viewpoint. Interestingly the album notes that many people have drowned in the river over the ages: in past centuries of warfare and also during the French Revolution, the Loire was used as an execution ground / mass grave.

With such ambitions, "Au Fleuve ..." can be expected to be an expansive and meandering work, much like its subject. The Hanternoz musicians themselves play guitar, bass, flutes and hurdy-gurdy, and several guest musicians assist on guitar, percussion and bagpipes on most songs, and on choral duties on the first major track "À Cul de Grève". This track and its immediate follow-up "Ce Que le Fleuve à Pris" establish Hantenoz's style as epic folk / melodic BM with a fairly clean though still sharp sound and a light touch so that all instruments can be heard clearly and none dominates over the others. Lead vocals are usually harsh and raspy but clean vocals dominate the choral singing. Individual songs may be full of surprises - "Ce Que le Fleuve à Pris" alone incorporates folk, aggressive BM and melodic hard rock or progressive rock elements, and several changes of mood, so much so that describing it is hard. The songs that follow include even more melodic non-BM elements to the point where perhaps "Au Fleuve ..." is more a full-fledged avant-rock or progressive rock album with folk and BM elements than the other way round. Even space ambient music gets a look in ("Vieille Nasse Crevée") and by the time we reach the last track the musical journey has chewed through atmospheric blues, post-BM, thrash metal and spoken-word monologues.

Most songs are long and wandering with unexpected detours and twists that introduce new elements almost right up to their end. They also have a ragged presentation, as if they were quickly put together in the studio and put straight onto the album with little editing. While this means the songs might not seem self-contained and might need more polish and maybe some pruning, at the same time this approach to writing and performing songs as though they were a continuous tapestry helps give the album the rough, almost improvisatory edge it needs. Listeners can't possibly hope to absorb everything the album presents on first, second or even tenth hearing ... this is a recording that sprawls over so many musical genres and elements, and over French history and culture. At the same time the album does have a distinctive musical identity from this eclectic selection of sonic elements and melodies. I'm certain that however the songs were composed and recorded while they were performed, the way in which all of this was done was intended. The songs don't appear to be bloated despite their length and they all ooze heartfelt passion and soul even in their slower parts.

The album might not make a lot of top ten BM album lists for 2021 but I'd say in the years to come its distinctive features will be appreciated more and more, and it may eventually become a cult album of epic folk black metal.

Hanternoz - Auf Fleuve de Loire - 93%

Edmund Sackbauer, May 3rd, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, Antiq Records (Limited edition, Digibook)

The stream of high quality black metal coming from France is a sheer endless one so there is always the danger to miss out on a great act. Despite having been formed 15 years ago it took me until recently to stumble upon the name Hanternoz. One of the two lads (going by the name Arzh Hyvermor here) driving this project is also a member of another great French act, namely Véhémence, who made quite a few waves and entered a lot of year end lists with their album “Par le sang verse” in 2019. Beside that he also runs the well established label Antiq Records, so based on those facts I went into the second full length “Au fleuve de Loire” with certain expectations. And let me tell you this straight at the beginning: I have not been let down as this album is an amazing journey and a fantastic piece of melodic and folky black metal.

A short intro with some spoken words paves the way for the first set of great riffs and uplifting harmonies. The melodies in “À cul de grève“, for example, are both fiery and gloomy but thoroughly entrancing. The music’s emotional intensity is enhanced by the feverishness of the guitar and the scintillating flicker of the leads, as well as by those often medium ranged and intense vocals and bursts of jet-speed drumming and hurtling bass notes. But the song also creates an atmosphere of grandeur through what sound like choral voices soaring in reverence. In the middle part we are also introduced to the folky instruments like bagpipes, a flute or a mouth harp. Those elements are perfectly woven into the music and are an important factor for creating a special atmosphere and driving the story forward.

Hanternoz have gone for pretty lengthy songs, with the shortest one still exceeding the six minutes mark. Lessor bands might have struggled to fill these kind of long tracks with interesting stuff, but Hanternoz are experienced enough to know exactly where they want to go with their approach, and they have got a clear vision how all these carefully crafted build-ups and interludes should enhance the album in its entire context. Their songwriting and performance skills deliver not only music of visceral, electrifying energy, but also melodies that convey moods and emotions. The album ebbs and flows and is able to communicate with the listener on a special level as it is clearly more than just a bunch of riffs bundled together and a few folky gimmicks put on top.

All of the songs have a lot of texture to them and are rich in emotion, personality, and presence. An obvious passion for the material can be felt straight away, and as the album unfolds this only becomes more apparent. Deeply atmospheric and filled with a vibrant, characterful life this is a captivating work of emotive dark art. This is an emotional journey with passages building upon simple structures and cascading at the perfect moments, with each track leading the listener on to the next station of the journey with the following track. Thanks to all the folky and more laid-back moments there is a strong medieval vibe inherent, which is absolutely perfect for this kind of stuff. Unfortunately my French has never been that great (ask my French teacher from over two decades ago – she will agree 100 % on that!), but I have a feeling that the lyrics further underline this outstanding and captivating mood.

“Au fleuve de Loire“ is rounded off by a stunning cover and a nice production job. The guitars sound clear and powerful and the drums have enough punch and a natural and organic feel. The music comes across as being very vibrant, and while there is always something going on in the background no detail has been lost in the mix. There is a perfect balance of the grit that should always be present when it comes to black metal and the more fragile side of the music. A few guest musicians have been invited, and their contributions further help to paint the vivid picture of the journey down the river Loire. Hanternoz have created a very strong record and for sure one of the highlights of the year so far.