I don’t usually listen to music when I work out, but if I did, I would likely turn to the fractured genealogies of death metal, thrash, and grindcore before I would black metal. Loi Martiale might just change that. This energetic and thoroughly confident debut album from France’s Moonreich is exactly the black metal workout album we didn’t know we’d been waiting for: driving, muscular, and effortlessly engaging. While Eastern Front’s debut of war-themed black metal fell prey to over-blasting and stale freezer burn, Moonreich pulls off a similar thing with great aplomb.
Moonreich’s debut is graced with a wonderfully thick sound. The excellent production picks up every nuance, managing to balance a very vocal-heavy sound with clear, uncluttered drum tone and rich guitar treatments. The band knows when to blast and when to ease back, as on the smartly effective “En Marche sur nos Terres.” The blastbeats on the album are almost always used to highlight and echo the comfortingly familiar tremolo melodies, rather than to paper over a lack of interesting riffs. At its best, Moonreich surges with the buoyant drive of Glorior Belli, Kvist, or even Mayhem circa De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Hell, these guys occasionally come within spitting distance of the more respectable aspects of Keep Of Kalessin, recent God Dethroned, or even a black metal siege of Hollenthon’s classy turf (while not actually sounding anything like them, if you can dig).
Instrumental precision, thoughtful pacing, and careful composition of, y’know, actual songs are the watchwords throughout Loi Martiale. The opening track is perhaps most reminiscent of Glorior Belli with its recurring bended guitar motif, while the wacky synth shit going on in “En Mon Ame et Conscience” doesn’t prevent the song from being completely awesome, especially as it shifts into mind-meltingly precise double-time blasting for the last few runs through its main, beefily-backed tremolo melody. The crinkly piano break in “Les Psaumes d’Iscariote I” leads perfectly – perhaps inevitably – into a sky-cracking, soul-stirring bit of epic stomping.
“Loi Martiale” itself crashes along muscularly before easing back into a bass-led groove that is joined by appropriately martial drumming which whips the song back up into a proper frenzy. A few of the songs fall flat when they veer toward an overreliance on standard black riffing and blasting (“Du Sang sur les Mains”), but there’s almost always a rhythmic shift, quirky drum pattern, or judiciously melodic guitar line waiting in the wings to stave off listener impatience. The slow fade-out of “Les Psaumes d’Iscariote II” is a neat way to cleanse the palate before succumbing to the epic melodicism of “En Preparant l’Assault.” Bagpipes make a brief but startling appearance at the end of “L’Aube de Cristal,” adding a quick nod to the excellent pagan black metal of fellow Frenchmen Belenos.
After a brief silence, the album closes with a (not so) hidden final track of stately, minor key pipe organ. My French is a few shades too poor to know if the band intends the album to be a stirring tribute to French soldiers fallen in service to Liberté, égalité, fraternité, or if its aim is a more politically-suspect militant nationalism. The elegiac organ fades out into the austere sounds of a howling wind, which suggests to these ears an acknowledgement that all the pomp and glory of war inevitably ends in impotent silence. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, but it doesn’t much matter how you interpret the band’s politics when the music on display is as thoroughly ass-kicking as Loi Martiale. There is nothing truly revolutionary about Moonreich’s sound, but the band oozes professionalism from every bellicose pore. This album is a real pleasure to listen to and a wonderful surprise from a promising young band.