A lot of bands and artists are not aware of their limitations. One could run down a list of musicians that have honed their craft in a simpler, more time-honored style only to attempt an experimental diversion into something else. Sometimes bands get lucky and find lightning in a bottle, and sometimes it’s a disaster.
France’s Glorior Belli started their career being really good at making black metal. Really good at it. After a quality debut, 2007’s Manifesting the Raging Beast was a kind of minor classic, as blazing with malevolence as it was sophisticated in melody. 2009’s Meet Us at the Southern Sign then began the shift, with sole member Infestvvs indulging his love for all things twangy and swampy. And it worked brilliantly, largely because Infestvvs kept as much of an eye on his own roots as he did on the roots of NOLA bands. The ensuing The Great Southern Darkness furthered the blues and sludge tones, but lacked the memorable songs of its predecessor, and the utterly bland Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls was only notable for its incredible mediocrity.
Point being, Infestvvs had simply veered too far from his wheelhouse. The southern approach became a gimmick, and it became both embarrassing (the “Billy Bayou” pseudonym… ugh) and musically forgettable. Thankfully, the man seems to have some self-awareness, and is clearly hitting the reset button with Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes). A return to the style of Southern Sign would have been welcome to many ears, but Infestvvs went further, stripping away nearly every bit of southern metal influence in favor of his violent origins.
For the most part, Sundown acts as a spiritual successor to Manifesting, a truth that is clear from the opening moments of “Lies-Strangled Skies.” Blazing tremolo riffs are all over the place; drums blast amid their general battering cacophony; and Infestvvs’ vocals offer as much dry gruffness as they do restrained attitude. Most of the album follows suit in terms of intensity, but brings enough subtle variety to keep things interesting. Wickedly cool moments include touches of Mgla in “World So Spurious,” a great dynamic range – not to mention some fun Celtic Frost drive – in the 8-plus minute “Thrall of Illusions,” and Infestvvs emptying the vocal tanks in the title track. In truth, just about every song here is a downright banger, adding more truth to the old adage: stick to what you know best, even if it involves naming a song “Satanists Out of Cosmic Jail.” Yeah, that’s a puzzler (also, it rips).
However, there are aspects from Glorior Belli’s bayou days that remain. Most notable is “Rebels in Disguise,” which bends and churns like much of Southern Darkness, putting the focus squarely on the chorus. Another album full of such tracks would have been tiresome, but mixed in with the rest of Sundown it’s just fine. Elsewhere is the aforementioned hint of rockin’ attitude. It is subtle, to be sure, but its presence is something never heard in the band’s early days, and helps to distinguish Sundown as more than just a Manifesting clone.
So perhaps Glorior Belli did not completely hit the reset button, but this is much more of a regression than anyone expected, and that is meant in the most flattering way possible. Sundown is their best album since Meet Us at the Southern Sign, and truly stands strong next to their two great albums. Infestvvs is back in the business of massively intense, blistering black metal, and business is damn good indeed.