I like to think I’m the kind of person who doesn’t judge books by their cover, but I am, and I do. I also buy real LPs and CDs so I can enjoy the artwork and liner notes as I listen (apparently during breaks from painting fleeing wildebeests on my cave wall). So yes, an artist’s decision to adorn an album cover with, say, something that looks more suitable for a bottle of floral douche (coughFallencough) definitely affects my overall enjoyment of said album.
I have these same judgmental eyes to thank for my introduction to Québec’s patriotic flailers de métal noir, Forteresse; it was the decision to adorn their 2006 debut with an Eraserhead-esque black & white photo of French Canadian violinist/composer Joseph Allard that was an immediate magnet for me. Sure, it wasn’t exactly a Kev Walker illustration kick in the ass, but it was interesting, and that’s precisely the kind of thing I often look for. Of course matters were certainly helped by the fact that Métal noir Québécos also turned out to be one of 2006’s finest examples of repetitively buzzing, mesmeric roots black metal this side of Mt. Ildjarn.
But, like a number of others who similarly fell under the hypnotic radiance of that early droning attack, I lost the connection following 2007’s Traditionalisme EP when they decided to allow the lighter, more atmospheric end of the formula pump the heart of the beast. Les Hivers… was still a far cry from something as distressing as the Drudkh Microcosm/Handful of Stars shift, but still, it was yet another band that once gloriously upheld the elder tenets of drilling, repetitive rudimentary black metal turning their attention toward lighter, more atmospheric explorations.
But what is this? This beautifully simple, yet strikingly inviting album cover and glorious return to la Forteresse d’antan? Crépuscule d’Octobre channels the same entrancing, buzzing rawness the band emphasized in 2006! In fact, this record sounds like a direct tap into the Métal noir Québécos canon, including the triumphant return of those foot-stomping violin intervals that kick off “La Lame du Passé” and “Spectres du Solstice.” During a time when so, so many new bands continually insist on re-filtering Weakling through yet another “new” post-jangle-angle, it’s wonderful to hear a band like Forteresse return to the drilling, trance-inducing sprawls that brought so many of us to their doorstep in the first place. And it’s all here: the sweetly melodic tremolo picking to give the ears just enough interesting flair, the long bursts of ripping speed interspersed with short stints of funereal-paced marches (I love that filthy riff at the 4:43 mark of the aforementioned “La Lame du Passé”), and those suitably stone-scraped vocals venomously spewing lyrics I’m all-too-happy to see remain in the band’s native tongue.
But what really helps to deliver an added level of enjoyment and a surprising amount of heft is the heavy-handed drumming style of Fiel, who joined the Forteresse ranks in 2010. His style is fittingly crude & violent when things are speedy, and exceptionally heavy when he thunders through fills and during the slower measures — just listen to how well he compliments the samples of true thunder in the midst of the closing epic, “Enfants du Lys.”
Black metal has been weirdly absent from my overall 2011 playlist, but Forteresse has managed a last-minute charge into the spotlight with an album packed with precisely the sort of austere, coarse material I’ve been pining for all year. Those who don’t like it raw, repetitive and delivered with a production dropped into your lap from a burning trashcan should probably look the other way, but if you’ve been anxiously awaiting this band’s jump back to the more visceral times of yore, Crépuscule d’Octobre is undoubtedly worthy of your ear.