If you listen to enough of a certain style of music, it can become difficult to articulate exactly what separates the good from the great. This is why, in part, anyone who tries to tell you that art can be experienced in any way other than subjectively is probably kind of a jerk. More to the point, though, black metal has been around long enough that most of the riffs have been riffed, most of the tricks tricked, and most of the blasphemies blasphemed. In such crowded territory, how does anything stand out?
Happily, there is a tidy answer available in the form of L’Aorasie des Spectres Rêveurs, the spectacular new EP from Québec’s Grimoire. Grimoire is a one-man black metal project from Fiel, drummer for other notable Québecois black metal bands such as Forteresse and Csejthe, and on paper, there’s little that should separate Grimoire from Fiel’s other bands, or from an entire universe of similarly minded atmospheric black metal, for that matter. In practice, however, this EP, although only a scant twenty-four minutes long, is a more immaculately complete journey than almost any other black metal album in recent memory.
The production on this EP is much richer and fuller than many other Québecois black metal bands, and while Grimoire’s songs trade in a similar sort of riffcraft as many of its province-mates, the atmosphere frequently calls to mind several of the epic black metal acts on Northern Silence Productions (such as Woods of Desolation, Nasheim, and Caladan Brood). This means that while the songs rage furiously at times, they are greatly enriched by sumptuous keyboard accompaniments and a marvelous variety of vocal styles, from fiercely enunciated rasps and throaty yells to triumphant (yet understated) clean vocals.
The album’s transportive magic isn’t limited just to its overall arc, as the songs themselves are each individually narrative. “Les Rumeurs des Astres” seems about ready to burn itself out around four minutes in, but then with a rumble, it re-centers itself with a colossal, melancholy outro-sounding riff that then morphs into an absolutely perfect tremolo line which carries the remainder of the song, even as Fiel creates a pantheon of voices crying out in unified lament. Earlier, the principal tremolo melody of “Tragédie des Ombres” is achingly beautiful enough were it to stand on its own, but instead it is couched in an almost deliriously unexpected set of chord progressions.
By all rights, music this committed to its long-established genre shouldn’t be able to generate such powerful surprise, but by expertly mining controlled tension and euphoric release, Grimoire’s black metal feels almost wholly new at every turn. There’s certainly blasting and guttural rasping aplenty, but just as often, the atmosphere of the EP is one of simultaneous calm and sorrow, like the pregnant silence of an ice cave. Nowhere is that mood captured as rapturously as on the EP’s concluding piece, “Cantilène Céleste,” which summons a cathedral’s resonance with its choir of voices singing “Agnus Dei” while Fiel provides twinkling, crystalline synth accompaniment.
If any single thing defines Grimoire’s brilliance, it is Fiel’s ability to take basic musical figures and simple gestures and build an entire landscape by stretching them out, shading them with menace here and delicate clarity there, embellishing them until they have revealed all of their possible selves. Music isn’t medicine, exactly, but the almost painfully sharp beauty of L’Aorasie des Spectres Rêveurs has felt restorative to me this winter. Maybe you, too, can find those sounds here, the ones that hold your hand and remind you that the future is opening up in front of you.
I think they call that hope, and it’s a hell of a thing.