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Pensées Nocturnes > Grotesque > Reviews
Pensées Nocturnes - Grotesque

The Hollowness of Experimentation - 60%

reconcile, July 11th, 2010

Following the undermined success of Nocturnes' debut album, we're suddenly dropped Grotesque - a divergent follow up to an extraordinary debut. As per my initial review of the debut, I'm quite fond of the song writing applied ( atmospheric fallouts and immemorial aside ) and many of the classical nuances employed. He had a sense of style, of personal application with feeling and expression; something lacking severely in the black metal genre. None of it was very showy or clichéd, lacking the me-too persona and the idiosyncratic ploys found elsewhere. Grotesque is essentially his experimentation with sound and style, an avant-garde deployment from everything that made Vacuum so wonderfully unique and passionate.

Grotesque rings true to the name and cover it touts - unnatural miserablists wading through impatience, death, fragmented shivers of atmospheric revival and tension, stirring, exuberant overtures and creepy chamber interludes. The album oozes atmosphere in many of the ways Vacuum did, but on a much less effective level. Tracks are not built around chords, riffs, styles or moods. In fact the entire structure of the album really doesn't expose itself until the fourth or fifth track. With the opening two/three tracks, we're dragged into a shuffling audience, observing, from below. The band is up on stage between two medieval statues, set to the backdrop of a midfall festival. It's cloudy, slightly pale, and the rain is withheld - momentarily. The crowd is this aggregation of inmates; diseased, copulating corpses. Graveyard poets. The band is stringing their instruments, the interlude protrudes. A soft, delicate ambiance breezes through the crowd, stricken with awe. Emotion permeates the air. All is silent. The crescendo explodes in an emphatic rupture - faces now ablaze with sincerity and passion. The track ends, the crowd erupts. These types of introductions are always so incredibly important to an album for setting the forthcoming tone. Stanley Kubrick once said the first ten minutes of a film are the most important, and the exact same rings true for music. Without an introduction, there is no album. Without that deployment of setting and soundscape, there really is no catalyst between listener and music. Thus far, Vaerohn is two for two with album interludes and mood derivation.

The second song ( and the third ) employs this disastrously dynamic structure between sound and ambiance, alternating his percussive nuances with this avant-garde blast beating. I guess it's an interesting way to sort of explore the complexities of horror/neogothic soundscapes and his ( however tenuous ) orchestrated classical bits, but the way its strung together feels too loose. Both of these tracks build through this exhausting trudge of stop/go rhythms, classical acoustics, and rampant black metal, but nothing is ever very striking. The mood is stretched much too thinly - momentum with blasting diminished and castrated by interludes, interludes never really given their respect to indulge the listener. Too fleeting? Perhaps, but Vaerohn is never one to really deploy his atmosphere in a mood-driven way; most of his ambiance tends to be nothing more than a slight fervor, a moment of stillness that escapes itself. The fourth track brings about his exceptional talent for this fleeting ambiance, and is borderline DSBM - a striking melody, desperate vocals, a sense of complete submersion. It's easily one of the finest tracks on the album.

The rest of the album sort of regurgitates the structure above - it's less of a concept piece and more of a meditation on sound/style regression. There's almost always a sort of moody ambiance floating about before, during, and after tracks ( sometimes bleeding into one another ), but it's never really USED. That's my biggest issue with this album. There's so many wonderful experimental sounds gushing around the edges, but they're only hinted at, merely suggested. On top of that, he attempts to snag just about everything surrounding his sound at once. There's simply no structure to progress a track, it just bumps and grinds around to hit all of his doctored preconceptions; it almost becomes frustrating. Hel is the most guilty track of losing itself to its own notions of experimentation. It's literally a repetition of the bm/ambiance/bm/ambiance/ambient bridge/bm/close structure. It's ineffective and disgustingly dull.

In short, Grotesque is an album of innumerable and glaring downfalls, but one that presents nothing but an opportunity. I'm still awaiting Vaerohn's masterpiece, and believe that, soon enough, and with enough patience with himself and his music, we'll be brought an unrequited, monumental album of such unimaginable brilliance. If his debut is of any indication, his classical nuances are incredibly well rounded, as is, for the most part, his ability to conjure emotion and create the catalytic moodpieces necessary to delve the listener into the self. To explore. To explore the recreance conscious of thought. You're almost there, Vaerohn.

Feels Less Refined. - 80%

Perplexed_Sjel, April 23rd, 2010

Reviewing for record labels is a difficult job. It is important to remember to remain as impartial as possible and not be swayed by feelings of guilt if one doesn’t actually enjoy what they’ve been supplied with. Although I would always like to offer record labels glowing reviews which heap praise upon the acts signed to their establishment, I know full well that it isn’t a formality that I will enjoy what they serve me every time I am in this position. Needless to say, I was relieved when I got round to listening to Pensées Nocturnes’ debut full-length, entitled ‘Vacuum’ because, even when taking into account the few samples I had heard beforehand, I knew in my gut that I would be happy with the overall outcome of ‘Vacuum’. Suffice to say I was and my initial feelings of trepidation were coolly swept away like tumble weed in the slightest breeze on a scorching day in the desert. ‘Vacuum’ was amongst the biggest surprises of 2009 not only in the black metal genre, but in the entire music scene.

It’s easy to get carried away with the use of hyperbole but, I truly do believe that Vaerohn’s expedition into black metal entwined with classical music, amongst others, was both visionary and expertly expressed. This leads me to the firm belief that ‘Vacuum’ was amongst the best debuts I had ever heard. One year on and with the release of the somewhat disappointing sophomore full-length, entitled ‘Grotesque’, my view of ‘Vacuum’ has been elevated to even higher standards than previous to its release. I suppose my only complaint would be the records production. Although the cleaner aspects of ‘Vacuum’ flourish in the dark atmospherics of the debut, the rest of the instrumentation has a heavy weight placed upon its shoulders and is therefore compromised. However, it is clear to see that ‘Vacuum’ has focused more on the classical elements than it did the black metal aspects which, on songs like ‘Coup de Bleus’, are often nowhere to be seen for long periods at a time as Vaerohn is content to meld blues orientated instrumentation with sultry jazzy sections and those now well documented classical exploits. Certain songs here, like the eclectic ‘Hel’ do similar things, but not quite to the same extent, mixing those jazzy bass elements with brass and various string instruments, as well as a divine piano.

‘Grotesque’ is a record which appears to want to highlight the black metal elements of Pensées Nocturnes stylistic approach which, in the opposite fashion to the debut, has compromised the position of the classical elements -- perhaps the most important aspects of the bands sound as it gave Vaerohn’s a clear distinction between himself and his peers because he had the nerve to try something so daring as to fuse classical music with a dirty, gritty genre like black metal. Juxtaposing the dirt and grime of black metal with the clean classical aspects was what made ‘Vacuum’ such a hit with both myself and my fellow fans. However, with the arrival of ‘Grotesque’, through each and every song on the record, it is as clear as day that these elements have been stripped down, torn almost entirely out and replaced by bigger, more bombastic black metal characteristics, such as repetitive guitars and brutalising double bass. ‘Paria’, probably my favourite song on ‘Grotesque’, is a fine example of this, though it does highlight a few of the startling elements which gave ‘Vacuum’ the impact that it did.

The jazzy bass is still a factor within songs like this, but it has been buried deep beneath the distortion of the guitars and Vaerohn’s shrieks. It does occasionally creep out from the darkness of schizophrenic atmospherics, which displays signs of split personality disorder through the repeated switching between influences -- which is done superbly well, I must admit -- but it isn’t as prominent as it was on songs like ‘Coups de Bleus’. With this particular song, Vaerohn’s tactics seem to be similar to that on ‘Vacuum’ with the use of a variety of instruments, such as a piano, eerie synths, wind instruments and even a variety of vocals -- an area of the record which has been improved upon significantly. Besides this song and small sections of other songs, like the acoustics and haunting programming on ‘Rahu’, I get the impression that Vaerohn was looking to improve upon the black metal structures on his songs and making them the base of the material, as opposed to what he did on ‘Vacuum’ which was to intertwine the two.

I don’t necessarily think that song writing is an issue here. Vaerohn definitely has the talent, and the vision, to pull off such an audacious manoeuvre by melding different breeds of music together, but I don’t think the maturity is quite there yet in Pensées Nocturnes sound, as shown through the strange introductory song to the record which gives the whole thing a rather theatrical vibe to it and the seeming emphasis on black metal, as opposed to concentrating on blending the two together more harmoniously than ever before. ‘Eros’ is another good example of the problems which Vaerohn encounters on ‘Grotesque’. The short, condensed feel to this song isn’t appropriate. Pensées Nocturnes have too big a sound to cram into a short period of time and though the softer, shimmering instrumentation is a nice touch, with the jazzy guitars being a particular stand-out element, the nature of the band requires, nay, demands that the material be given a suitably long song length to be sprawled across as it needs room to move and expand.

Unsurprisingly, Vaerohn has allowed his other songs to weave their magic over long periods, with a number of songs scaling the eight and nine minute mark. This gives songs like ‘Paria’ and ‘Monosis’ ample opportunities to build upon the successful elements of ‘Grotesque’, which includes the unusual sinister, slightly theatrical sound to the samples in the soundscapes, as well as the imperative vocals time to add variety to the textures. Vaerohn uses far more clean wails and cries on this record than he did on ‘Vacuum’ and I, for one, appreciate and prefer their influence to the typical rasps. As ‘Monosis’ wonderfully displays, the light hearted, almost clownish aspects of the instrumentation sound perfect alongside Vaerohn’s Garm-esque clean vocals, just like the one’s displayed on Arcturus’ most circus inspired records, like ‘La Masquerade Infernal’. Of course, this aspects aren’t allowed to dominate completely with Vaerohn’s use of short, sharp bursts of black metal material (which features rolling drum beats and bombastic distortion from the guitar). All in all, I find ‘Grotesque’ to be not quite as rewarding as ‘Vacuum’. The songs feel strong, but nowhere near as memorable.

Pensées Nocturnes - Grotesque - 100%

Phuling, April 13th, 2010

A while ago I got an e-mail from a guy wondering if I was interested in receiving a promo of the upcoming Pensées Nocturnes album. I had never heard of the band nor the label, so I listened to a track from the band's debut album Vacuum. And after just that one track I was eager to be on the receiving end of Grotesque, as it had something very special about it. In anticipation of the promo I got a hold of the debut, and for a while there I just couldn't stop listening to it. It was captivating, intriguing and mesmerizing. And then one day it happened, Grotesque finally arrived. I was almost gitty as a child when I instantly popped the CD into my stereo and hit play...

Ahh, sweetness. How will I ever be able to put into words what has so carefully, skillfully, almost genially been put into music by Vaerohn, and how is it possible that only one man was involved in the composition of one of the most mind-blowing releases I've heard in ages... The atmosphere is supreme, and what schizoid emotions came across on Vacuum is nothing in comparison to what Grotesque brings forth. From the first minutes of bombastic anguish of Vulgum pecus to the brooding sorrow of Suivant I have to say this is nothing but a pure masterpiece.

Paria stands out as one of my favourites (although admittedly it's extremely hard to pick favourites from such powerful material all around). The seriously fast drumming adds tons of brutality while the melodic guitar lines adds a chilling touch, and in combination with the many variations in vocals it's near impossible to resist feeling an impact. As the tempo slows down the technicality of the drum patterns and the extremely slick use of samples the little resistance you had left is completely crushed by the sheer power of the music. The vocals range from classic shrieks of the depressive manner to a much deeper howling to semi-clean moaning. He goes through loads of variation in the vocals, and he absolutely nails them all. And I can't even begin to tell you the vast amount of emotions one goes through while listening, as the atmosphere goes through extreme anguish, pure insanity, joyful stupor and just pure catatonia. And somehow the artwork captures it all perfectly.

Nothing sounds out of place, no matter what little quirk is added through the sampling. One moment it's ultra-bombastic neoclassical music, while turning towards jazzy blues the next moment, only to be consumed by ferocious black metal. Suddenly it sounds like the circus has come to town, and with the blink of an eye all circus animals and workers were brutally hacked to pieces by a dozen of escaped mental patients. I know all of this sounds incredibly artsy fartsy, like all I'm doing is writing metaphor after metaphor, but I just can't help it; it's what Grotesque feels like. There are so many layers of music crammed into the sound it should've been impossible to make it sound as coherent as it actually does. It's agonizing, romantic, sophisticated and schizophrenic all at the same time. I don't know what inner demons Vaerohn is battling, but as long as he keeps releasing albums like this I hope he'll never be victorious. I've said it before and I'll say it again; a true masterpiece.

Originally written for

Superb avant-garde, black metal weirdness! - 90%

necroluciferia, March 31st, 2010

This French one-man project seriously left an impression with their 2009 debut Vacuum; maybe not so much that it wasn’t overlooked when it came to the end of year polls but given the number of quality albums that came out in 2009 that’s certainly not an insult to Vaerohn’s ability. Already 2010 is shaping up incredibly well with albums from Negura Bunget, Finntroll, Sigh, Les Discrets and Heathen already in mind for end of year polls (and we’re only in March!)…but I digress.

I couldn’t wait to get this one in the stereo, and as soon as I did it was clear there has been a massive step up in terms of quality and craftsmanship. This is by no means an instant album and it’s not likely to clobber you over the head straight away but it is rather an album that, as opposed to having to work really hard to get into, has you wanting to dig, dig, and keep digging your way to the core to really get to grips with what it’s all about. I don’t know how better to explain it really. Opening with a dark and restrained orchestral passage, ‘Vulgum Pecus’ lends a definite air of foreboding to things and certainly has me intrigued and wanting more. The applause at the end of this one, and sporadically splashed throughout the recordings is one of a reserved and dare I say stuffy audience rather than a fevered, sweaty mosh pit quickly quashing any idea of this being a live album. It’s almost like a funeral march, and rises and falls back into quiescence leading perfectly into ‘Paria.’ This all starts with an eerie sense of calm and the drumming style lends itself to that kind of lounge-jazz sort of vibe. Suave and sophisticated, deep and mellow and swiftly swept away with a series of harsh guitars which disrupt everything and ascend into a frenzied chaos with wild, tumultuous drumming and sounds and noises flying around at free will. Even through the cracks we can hear a kind of wailing or crying in the mix. There’s a real turbulent wind blowing through, sweeping up and fizzling back down back into that ominous quiescence which this time is built upon with crepuscular keys and a child-like and psychotic series of la-la’s.

There is genuine anguish that comes through in the harrowing screams, though they also portray a sense of madness in the clean yet discordant cries on ‘Rahu,’ and especially on ‘Hel’ with the sonorous wailing vocals which sound fantastic. Madness and insanity is something that really seems to come across in the music whether intentional or not; ‘Monosis’ in particular with its momentary chitter chatter sounds rather twisted and surreal; a trip into deepest, darkest annals of the subconscious and drinking and cavorting with your inner demons. The accordion plays and the room spins and faces change shape and everyone in the brightly coloured room is laughing except you who is swiftly taken through a black hole and really, dear reader, should I be telling you all this and did someone slip a hallucinogenic in my cup of tea?

On with the show. There is a lot more light and shade in this album than with Vacuum; a kind of Grand Guignol-esque chiaroscuro that breaks up the darkness with some real carnival-esque moments that conjures up images of flashing lights and candyfloss and little ‘uns laughing on the Ferris wheel and big scary clowns. Sinister but light hearted, in a way. Once things get settled you can be lulled into a sense of security with hypnotic post-black metal guitars that play out in almost endless repetition. I love the creepy piano part on ‘Rahu;’ like footsteps on creaky floorboards approaching and then all rises into a crescendo with booming orchestration. The oboe shrieks discordantly, scraping against the plinky-plonky piano; it all feels very ye olde worlde like telling a tale from the Victorian era.

‘Eros’ brings an odd sense of calm, its reflective mood set by the clean guitars and resonant bass. There’s almost a sense of romance at one point and the following track, ‘Monosis’ is a more unusually mellow, reflective break from the anguished madness and there’s a bluesy note to this one as well.

Unpredictable. Unsettling. Unhinged. This really is a schizophrenic assault on the eardrums. Think Jack The Ripper seeing his reflection and picking a fight on himself. Probably in one of those creepy, distorted fairground mirrors. Claustrophobic. Maddened. Grotesque. Magnificent! Really, for an album I said was hard to put into words they really flow quite freely to describe this album. Twisted. Resplendent. Sophisticated. Spooky. Okay, okay, I’ll stop. This album isn’t going to be for everyone, but if my review has piqued your interest just a little then I urge you to go buy this album and make up your own mind. Well structured chaos and a great piece of visual, avant-garde black metal madness for the metal cognoscenti. It will take some beating to keep this off my top 10 this year. Outstanding.

Originally published on