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A straightforward BM release with surprises - 88%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, March 30th, 2015

For a band that has been active in the Québécois BM scene for over a decade, Monarque have released just three full-length albums, the bulk of their discography being made up of short recordings and splits. This is an act that sure knows how to treat the full-length format: this isn't something to waste by filling it up with mostly forgettable pieces hanging onto the tails of a couple of good tracks. "Lys Noir" is a powerful and raging beast of absolutely frigid Arctic ambience and fury.

Introductory track "L'appel de la nuit" sets the stage for what's to follow with onrushing force, anchored in the main by strong energetic drumming and a battery of darkly acid tremolo guitar riffing and melodies. The vocals, melting under reverb, are very icy banshee screaming. For music that is mostly straightforward old school black metal, the band introduces touches of acoustic music in parts, and this tendency to surprise listeners with unexpected gifts in amongst the ghostly howling and the speeding music recurs in later songs. Most songs have their distinctive melodic or chord sequence motifs, as in the squiggles that appear in "Vigor mortis" or the changes in key that bring extra darkness and melancholy to "La quintessence du mal". The Monarque duo are certainly aware that they can experiment if they wish with their music but I think they prefer to keep such innovation to manageable proportions in most songs so that it fits the mood of the music or lyrics rather than dominate them. The style of the music is fairly minimalist and is dominated by the steely abrasive tones of the tremolo guitars and the forceful drumming.

A gentle though sometimes ominous ambient / acoustic instrumental interlude comes as a welcome break from the anger and aggression of the first half of the album before we charge ahead. After this break the second half of the album takes up the speed, fury and emotion exactly where the first three songs left off; this is a very focused recording and everything is very tight yet energetic and flowing. The tone of the album becomes even more frenzied in "Mes Condoléances", initially a speed-freak of a song which slows down to a steady and solid trot and a reverent church organ instrumental at the end. This pattern repeats in the following songs - on the whole, fast and aggressive, but with unexpected brief moments of quiet acoustic instrumental melodies - and this section of the album turns out to be musically and emotionally complex.

This whole work is crafted well with every moment made to count and hardly any slackening in pace, energy or direction. If anything, perhaps the album is a little too fast and efficient as most songs are jam-packed with layers of guitars, percussion, voice, ambience and (on a couple of tracks) organ; and on top of that packaging which might last an average of 6 minutes there may be multi-tracked demon vocals, spoken voice recordings and nature-themed field recordings. Quite a few songs merit furtther musical development into something very intense and atmospheric. On some tracks the percussion takes the lead and its energy carries the song with passion and power. When quiet introspection is called for, the acoustic and ambient parts can be stunning in their fragile beauty and stillness.

Monarque sure know what works best for their music and how to embellish it with other elements. The result is an album that initially meets most listeners' expectations of solid straight-ahead black metal but which manages to work in some surprises that give the music an epic quality.