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Baudelaire on Death Metal - 80%

Sean16, July 31st, 2020
Written based on this version: 2008, CD, Holy Records

In Misanthrope’s local mythology, IrréméDIABLE is generally acknowledged as the album which put the band back on track. Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, it took a path opposite to their previous effort, the controversial Métal Hurlant. Forget about the never-ending songs, the maths speak for themselves: Métal Hurlant was twelve tracks for 82 minutes (not counting the bonus), IrréméDIABLE is fifteen tracks for 70 minutes. Métal Hurlant’s lyrics lost themselves into pretentious pseudoreligious or political ramblings, Irrémédiable is a concept album, Misanthrope’s first and last to date, about world-famous 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire. One may still argue that not all of these fifteen tracks are equally memorable, or that the text too often reminds more of a lecture about “Baudelaire, his life and works” than of death metal. But who cares.

Yes, who cares, when for the first time in many years it seemed like the French foursome took a real, actual pleasure in writing and recording an album. IrréméDIABLE sounds fresh, and here’s the essential. Frontman and lyricist S.A.S de l'Argilière has been a sincere admirer of Baudelaire since his teens, openly plagiarizing the poète maudit during the band’s early days (remember L’Erotique courtoise, that was essentially Baudelaire’s Bijoux); there might be a bit of posturing there – like, we’re the Baudelaires of metal – but there’s above all a genuine love for the man and his works to be felt. Baudelaire’s tumultuous life was the ideal subject for fuelling a rejuvenated inspiration, his multiple experiences – travels, writing, drugs, whores, depression – serving as good pretexts to explore a wide array of sonic moods, a game the band has always been particularly fond of playing.

Generally speaking, IrréméDIABLE belongs to the “soft” side of Misanthrope, especially when compared to its two immediate predecessors. Death metal it is, obviously; but the really brutal moments, think furious riffing and blastbeats all-the-way, are mostly limited to a couple of short tracks, like L’infinie violence des abîmes or Ixion. For the rest, it leans more towards the melodic end of the spectrum, at times even more trad metal than death metal, save for the harsh vocals. Orchestrations are back, and with them a sense of grandeur which was sorely missed since the days of Misanthrope Immortel. A good choice is to have made said orchestrations not omnipresent, but circumvented to roughly half of the songs, most remarkably on Les Retourneurs de Pierres, Le Maudit et son Spleen, the chaotic Névrose, and, above all, Phénakistiscope, which works as the textbook example of how a mundane, bare-bone “nice-hooking-riff” tune can progressively build into a real monster as it gains in complexity, culminating on orchestral galore fronted by a de l’Argilière’s in all his frenzied glory.

Experiments are back, too. Of course, declaiming Baudelaire’s L’irrémédiable over a background of indus / electro synths may not be the most revolutionary idea ever – they’ve done it before – even if it makes sense, conceptually-wise. But Le Passager du Hasard may well be their most original brainchild since, perhaps, the 1666... Theatre Bizarre album: this is, basically, a song where the parts traditionally devoted to bass and guitar are switched, the bass taking the front, at least for a good share. Jean-Jacques Moréac must have had great fun recording that one, and his fun is communicative. Granted, one may feel it could have become even more experimental: Fantasia Artificielle, the song about drugs, is too... wise, almost boring as it never seems to really start, when one remembers the many truly hallucinated moments the early albums offered.

The clear production not only helps appreciating Moréac’s ubiquitous bass skills, de l’Argilière’s exalted growls and sick moans, Scemama’s intricate riffing and Féret’s metronomic snare pounding, but also all of the subtleties of an album which boasts enough of them to withstand the test of repeated listens, over these fifteen numbers which all sound markedly different: vintage thrashy riffing (1857), dreams of lesbians over acoustic guitars and crystalline synths (Plaisirs Saphiques), a melancholic grand-piano-and-vocals interlude (Prodigalité) opening a bouncing ode to 1850’s Parisian brothels served by an irresistible main riff (Le Dandy de Bohème), the list goes on. Even when, reaching the penultimate track, one would begin to think little was left to be said, the guys suddenly pull out of nowhere a My Dying Bride impersonation(*) for five minutes and a half of pure doom-death metal (L’Oracle de la Déchéance). That’s Misanthrope’s irrationality at its finest.

As a concept album drifting away from Misanthrope’s usual themes and images, IrréméDIABLE takes a unique spot in the band’s catalogue. Paradoxically, it may also work as the perfect introduction to its distorted realm, nicely capturing what may be its true essence: musicians with irreproachable technical skills, extensive metal culture and, above all, an original French twist of mind, recording whatever fits their fluctuating definition of extreme music at the time, sometimes for the worse, sometimes, like here, for the better.

(*) Pure metaphor of course. Could anyone imagine the Victorian-to-the-bones Aaron Stainthorpe singing in French?

Highlights: Les Retourneurs de Pierres, Phénakistiscope, Prodigalité/Le Dandy de Bohème, Le Maudit et son Spleen