Two simple truths to begin:
1. Cantique Lépreux are very good at what they do.
2. What they do is play Quebecois black metal.
For most of you, those two brief sentences are likely sufficient to indicate the appropriate course of action. If that risks stereotyping this quite good album, the responsibility for that is nevertheless equally split between the laziness of the reviewer and the rigid style of the band. Cantique Lépreux’s debut album, Cendres Célestes, is a very particular kind of black metal album. It is the kind of black metal album in which the band is contractually obligated to snarl the words “dans la forêt” at one point or another; the kind of black metal album in which the person writing about it is contractually obligated to use winter imagery (ideally a blizzard) as a metaphor; the kind of black metal album that succeeds because of (not in spite of) how precisely and thoroughly it hews to the exact prescriptions of other black metal albums of its kind.
Among their countrymen, Cantique Lépreux are perhaps closest to Csjethe or Grimoire (with far more understated keys), but as with most Quebecois black metal, the predictability of the form rarely detracts from the thrill of its execution. The acoustic guitar doubling on “Tourments des Limbes Glacials” carries shades of Satyricon, and Cantique Lépreux at their fiercest occasionally tread close to Horna, but the melancholy grandeur of the atmosphere is still recognizably Quebecois. The guitar tone oscillates as thick, clotted swarms of notes, allowing the high, clean tremolo leads to soar in sharp contrast. The cyclical flourish that animates the midsection of “La Meute” is a wonderful example, particularly as it burns out in perfect service of serving up one of the album’s most gripping passages of riff and vocal unison.
Cendres Célestes is far from a perfect album. “L’adieu” stops so abruptly that it feels like an unfinished sketch, and some of the guitar leads don’t quite reach the captivating heights to which they clearly aspire. Rather than indicate that Cantique Lépreux is a provincial also-ran, these flaws instead highlight how much room this brand-new band has to grow, which is always an exciting prospect. The legitimately shredding and tap-happy guitar solo in “Transis” is a notable surprise, and makes a compelling case that as much as black metal is about atmosphere and discipline, there’s always room for a little joy.
You will not, most likely, find yourself humming these tunes for very long after they are finished. That’s hardly an indictment of Cantique Lépreux’s skill at weaving this very particular set of musical threads, but simply a limitation of the form. For those of you who read the two-sentence assessment up top and thought, “I know what this will sound like,” you’re right. For those of you who read it and thought, “I know what this will sound like, and I know that it will be good,” you’re right, too. Cantique Lépreux’s typically majestic black metal is a security blanket, a comfort food, a worn-in jacket that fits just right. In an uncertain world, that’s a beautiful thing.