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Full-on epic post-BM / cosmic space prog rock - 82%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, April 27th, 2015

After three short or low-key releases, Smohalla released their debut full-length album "Resilience" in 2011 which should have vaulted that band onto most people's radar screens. But it didn't apparently and one possible reason is that like quite a lot of French black metal, listening to this album is such a full-on experience on a mental as well as emotional level that it really does take a while (and several listens!) for everything to be absorbed fully. The sheer power and thunder can be very overpowering, and the scale of the music from the vast and eerie backgrounds to the melodic and rhythmic complexities in each and every song - and there are eight of them! - is huge and hard to digest. Initially this music is very exhausting and you could end up with a skull-splitting headache with all that has to be assimilated. Possibly if the songs were more distinct, with their own readily recognisable motifs, and were less layered and intricate, with not so many melodies and riffs packed into them all the way through, the album might have found more fans. But perhaps a big part of what Smohalla aim to do is to immerse the listener deep into their sound world, because only by such absorption will you be able to tune in fully to the spirit of this music that encompasses black metal, post-metal, doom, trance and cosmic psychedelia.

Opener "Quasar" sets the scene for what is follow with quivering space-effects ambience joined by a deranged solo piano melody and a steadily growing bass rhythm, nodding towards the mighty juggernaut that is "Au Sol les Toges Vides". This track often bogs down in its melodic and rhythmic complexity and sheer weightiness, and multi-voiced choirs (humans and screaming demons alike) add to the sense of frantic chaos. The dense complexity, sense of disorder and melancholy mood follow the fusion of post-black BM and cosmic prog-rock through to the next track which does make keeping up with which song is on difficult if you're only paying casual attention. "Oracle Rouge", the first track to feature much in the way of black metal, can be a very deranged song with moments of insane machine percussion.

At the halfway point, listeners may start to notice a pattern with some tracks starting quite slowly and fairly gently - Smohalla don't do delicate here! - and then building up or exploding into an almighty sonic behemoth of aggression or madness. Songs are not always as subtle as they could be and the potential for the music to lurch heavily and lumberingly is always present. After a long instrumental, the band is back in business with the runaway "L'homme et la Brume". "Aux Mille Dieux" ("To a Thousand Gods") comes close to being singles material with an atmosphere of longing, a mix of clean and grim BM voices, and guitars raising hell. For their last track the musicians pull out all the stops and the song literally reaches operatic high-drama levels with a sample of an opera singer looping over and over

That the band can write and play heavy and heavily layered epic music of equal parts derangement, despair and fury is in no doubt. Smohalla do an excellent job describing the wreck and ruin of modern life and their style of post-BM / cosmic space psychedelia / prog rock suits their exploration of inner and outer space in parallel. The danger here with this kind of music though is that it can easily be done to bombastic excess, without pause for listeners to reflect and consider what they are hearing. Listeners can get lost and feel left behind, and the odd quiet and simple instrumental, however brief, can be an anchor to pull along stragglers. For all the grandeur and technical intricacy, the band can generate quite a cold air around several of their songs and this means listeners won't be able to warm much to these guys.

Smohalla have set quite a high technical standard for themselves for their second album, it's not difficult to see that "difficult second album syndrome" might hit them hard. Even if Smohalla were never to record another major full-length, "Resilience" stands as a very creditable first-album effort.

Avant-garde Post-Black Metal - 85%

LefterisK, January 29th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2011, CD, Arx Productions (Limited edition)

There is definitely something in the water of France, because there is no other way to explain the quantity and the quality of the bands that jump out of the country, offering gems in extreme music one after the other. Smohalla is no different as Résilience is one of those albums that can haunt you for a long time. The band’s music drifts in the air around you, dispensing a bittersweet taste of both pleasant and unfavorable memories combined. Smohalla, which actually means ‘dreamer’, was the name of a dreamer-prophet amongst the Native North American Indians; quite the appropriate name to define not only the band but the whole record.

Résilience consists of eight mysterious and grandiose compositions that run through the dark corridors of your mind until it’s fiercely torn apart; the sudden paroxysm of ‘Au sol les toges vides’, ‘L’ homme et la brume’ or the Arcturus-influenced ‘Oracle Rouge’ can easily transform the dreamy essence into a nightmare. The programmed, electronic parts are constantly present and whether you like them or not in your black metal, Smohalla’s music and sound would not be the same without them as they are deemed essential for the ambiance of this record. The variety of the album is another positive aspect. In between the heavy riff storms, Résilience features calming and soothing interludes of bluesy guitar work, spoken word sections or instrumental passages filled with electronic beats. Additionally, the medievalism that comes out after the first minute of ‘Les repos du lezard’ is something that I have to point out.

In closing, although Résilience is a very experimental record, Smohalla actually differs from Blut Aus Nord, DHG, Ulver and such bands, due to the fact that the instruments are quite distinguishable as a (dissonant) whole and they’re not buried under the heavy electronic parts. Smohalla respects its influences but, regarding the completeness of this opus, those influences are the ones that keep them from originality. In a time that most of the bands like to bear the ‘experimental’ tag, it’s quite difficult to unravel the true meaning of it. To quote the band itself: ‘’ The genre of post-black metal has often been mislabeled.’’ This is the case where it can be used appropriately. ‘’Incredibly well composed music with an intelligent progression.’’ Résilience is only a step away from this.

Lefteris Kefalas.
http://subexistance.com/

Intricate But Worth The Effort - 94%

Musical Warfare, August 24th, 2012

France’s Smohalla doesn’t get nearly as much attention as a lot of other French bands like Alcest or Deathspell Omega do, and it’s hard to think of a good reason why. It’s possible that it’s simply due a lack of exposure - even though the band has been releasing spits and EPs since 2006, Resilience is only the band’s first full-length. I think the reason goes even deeper however, and relates to the band’s music itself. I have trouble thinking of any band that even comes close to composing music the way Smohalla does, and perhaps the black metal populace just needs a little more time to digest and appreciate what these guys are doing.

Resilience is a startling realization of the sound Smohalla displayed glimpses of on their EPs. The album is dominated by their nebulous, moody style of post-black metal, with brilliantly layered guitars and arcane vocals complemented by some subtle keyboards. Smohalla has an almost classical style of composition, with the various instruments contributing equally to the melody and atmosphere rather than songs being driven by a single guitar or vocal line. Often the music builds dramatically with brooding guitar or keyboard lines, while other times the entire set of instruments are masterfully intertwined into haunting atmospheric passages. The vocals are probably my favorite aspect of Smohalla’s sound, as the band often uses harmonized clean vocals that give the music a very ancient, timeless quality.

Resilience isn’t particularly accessible at first due to Smohalla’s tendency to write songs that constantly shift and evolve, so there isn’t much for the listener to latch on to. Fortunately, as is often the case with albums like this, the end result is more than worth the effort. Arcturus is maybe the closest thing to compare these guys to, but with none of the off-kilter, playful elements that Arcturus’s music includes. Smohalla’s sound is much deeper and more focused. I’m obviously one of those black metal fans that loves to hear something weird and different, and this is some of the best and most interesting material I’ve heard in a while.

(Originally written for Musical Warfare)

Resilience - 85%

KonradKantor, April 25th, 2012

It's hard not to make comparisons when dealing with debut releases. For Smohalla's incredibly worthy freshman effort Résilience, Emperor clearly comes to mind. If time travel were possible and I could somehow play this album for myself before Ihsahn began his career as a solo artist, I would have guessed Résilience to be a work of his as opposed to After, especially keeping Emperor's later works and Peccatum in mind. We can end the comparisons right there, because where Smohalla might border upon the exploratory side of the Norwegian second-wave aesthetically, its structure, or lack thereof, is unique in all the right ways.

If one were to free-associate a description of Résilience as if it were a painted canvas, freehand, dark, colorful and cloudy are words that will most likely come to mind. That is not to say that the songwriting of this French duo Camille and Slo is completely void of structure, but the looseness with which the songs were crafted allows the listener to focus on a variety of different elements all without interpreting the album as a totally abstract piece of art. With all the howling and shrieking, blastbeating and shredding going on, Résilience contains plenty of recognizable song parts to make the listener feel at ease in the first go-around, but this is definitely an album that is better understood after a few spins. Perhaps the only flaw worth mentioning is the vast amount of various keyboard effects that Slo chose to incorporate into just eight songs. To put it simply, it adds flavor at times but slightly disturbs the coherant atmosphere at others. A very minor infraction, if I might say so myself.

Résilience doesn't merely pay homage to one of the more artistically inclined eras of black metal, it is helping the up and coming generations of musicians kickstart a new one. Smohalla has now proven that it is up for the challenge, and has done so with a strong appreciation and understanding of the roots from which it spawned. With so many French counterparts playing a loosely similar style of metal, recognition may be the band's most daunting task to come, but there should be no doubt that Smohalla contains just the right amount of, as we say in German, einzigartigkeit to become something special.

Originally written for MetalReview.com

Great post music with robust atmosphere - 84%

Morhguel, March 12th, 2012

The avantgarde/post black metal trend is undoubtedly strongest in France nowadays, even the plain black metal bands have turned toward to this more eclectic soundscape there. And this phenomena is not just because of the quantity of these kind of bands, the quality of their music also set a high standard for the post black metal scene. Smohalla is a newcomer band who have also chosen this path, but their music is different from the other formations who has the typical French black metal sound and also from those bands who like to involve jazz, shoegaze or rock elements.

The debut album Résilience is a complex piece with many layers so it's definitely not for background music. Even if it's not easy to listen to, it somehow catches you for the first time, maybe because of the strong and monolithic atmosphere. As I mentioned earlier, it's different from the other so-called French sound, it's slower, it has more ambient elements and just a very few black metal parts. You can hardly find any harsh vocals here but it doesn't matter, the choirs and the clean and soft vocal parts are fully merging with the other instruments and with the background. There is one exception though, the starting of L'homme et la Brume shows us that they can't deny where did they come from, even if they wanted to. But even the slower parts have the dark and dissonant black-metal influenced riffs and tunes and they could manage to make fit the symphonic and electronic parts into the overall image. These kind of things make this music more similar to the Nordic avantgarde/post black-metal/experimental scene with a hint of Kekal's later work. To be more specific, the riffs, the atmosphere and sometimes the approach is a bit similar to Ved Buens Ende or early Ulver, the ambient and experimental elements and the usage of the voice reminded me of Kkoagulaa, however the electronic elements are slightly used here.

It's hard to believe that this mature release is the debut full-length of this formation. However, there are moments when complexity is a bit too much but those “messy” parts are also adding some special feeling to the atmosphere. Although, this album is not for everybody, it's definitely worth a listen if you are a fond of sophisticated and complex music. It's not as heavy as you would expect and sometimes it's not even remotely metal, but there's something unexplainable which could catch you at the first listen. A pleasant surprise for the fans of the dark side of post music.

( Originally written for: Kronos Mortus )

Smohalla's Resilience - 80%

Fulgurius, October 17th, 2011

"Résilience" is the name of the debut full-length CD of the French band Smohalla released in October 2011 by the Ukrainian label Arx Productions. The band's name means "dreamer" in Sahaptian languages, and it was also the name of nineteenth-century prophet from the Wanapum tribe of Native Americans; and this name perfectly fits the dreamy and phantasmal nature of the band's music. Abstract, mystic and avant-garde artwork of the booklet that was created by Unreal Visions Design also helps to attune to the appropriate mood before listening to the CD.

The kind of music that can be found on this album can be described as avant-garde post-black metal, but "black metal" part of this description is purely technical and is used mostly because its lineage can be traced to the legacy of such bands as Emperor, Ulver, Borknagar, Solefald and Ved Buens Ende. In fact, clean vocals are more frequent here than harsh screams (including several guest vocalists) and the songs are mostly held in unhurried epic pace in the vein of Borknagar with some occasional more "extreme" parts. The abundance of dreamy cosmic keyboards and experimental, yet melodic guitar parts induce the associations with the space rock bands of the 1970's. As Smohalla's music is heavier, I think "space metal" could be another good description for it. And, of course, French lyrics add some special charm and help Smohalla to stand out against a background of Norwegian avantgardists that were listed above.

In short, "Résilience" is a good, well-performed album of keyboard-driven avant-garde post-black metal with dreamy space-like atmosphere, spiced up with some electronics and hypnotizing clean vocals.