Friends, if you’ve been reading our exploits here at Last Rites for a while, you know that we take things extremely seriously. We eat metal, breathe metal, sleep metal, shit metal, grimace metal, hug metal… all of it. Last Rites: 100% No Joking Around Allowed, 200% Of The Time.
So, naturally, when it came time to review the latest missive from Quebec’s Forteresse, we put on our dour philosophizing caps and dispensed with even the slightest hint of jollity:
No no no, wait! Pay no attention to the man-children behind the curtain. Surely that was just a flu-
Okay, you got us. We are a false. We do not entry. Last Rites: 10% No Joking Around, A Couple Of The Times.
Although certainly not the oldest black metal band from the province, Forteresse represented the leading edge of a particular strain of Québécois black metal with their debut (the somewhat redundantly named Métal noir québécois). Over the course of four albums, Forteresse came to embody something like the Platonic ideal of the regional style, with rustic folk themes at times both amplified and eclipsed by a sweeping sense of aggressive melancholy.
The band’s fifth album, Thèmes pour la Rébellion, seems at first blush like a radical departure for Forteresse, due to its rampaging speed and dense, powerful production. Forteresse’s drummer Fiel (also of Quebec luminaries Csejthe and Grimoire) turns in a truly massive performance throughout, juicing and massaging these riffs to even more impactful depths in a way quite reminiscent of Darkside’s drumming on the last two Mgla albums.
Though initially startling due to Forteresse’s previous production choices, a huge part of the album’s success is due to the impeccable and easily identifiable sound of Necromorbus Studios. In truth, I had grown tired of the Necromorbus touch in recent years. Because the Swedish studio had experienced such massive (in underground metal terms, at least) success with the emergence of the ‘orthodox black metal’ scene in the early 2000s (particularly Watain’s Casus Luciferi and Funeral Mist’s Salvation), the numerous tiresome imitators sought out the same sound, and thus the increasingly tired tropes and dull songwriting became somewhat synonymous with a Necromorbus-y sound. (Think, for example, of too many of the recent releases on WTC Productions.)
On Thèmes pour la Rébellion, however, the Necromorbus production, with its tight crunch of guitar and booming but precisely articulated drums, manages to cast Forteresse’s well-established ease with emotionally deep songwriting in an entirely new light. Athros’s authoritative snarl has the presence and charisma to elevate the vocals well beyond “rote, serious black metal vocals,” and the surge of strings and drums hang together as a compact unison.
Although the album is universally excellent, major highlights include the joyously intense “Le Sang des Heros,” the downcast and wistful “Là où Nous Allons,” and the lengthy coda to “Forêt d’Automne,” where Fiel’s sneakily diverse fills follow a brilliantly oscillating tremolo guitar line out of the city, into the pastoral hinterlands, and beyond to whatever mythical darkness beckons out of the snow-deafened Northern winter.
Truthfully, however, each song on Thèmes pour la Rébellion features at least one keening guitar lead that sounds as if it could go on forever, sounds as if maybe it had already been echoing through the forest long before Forteresse plugged in and channeled it. The album closes with an ambient instrumental that lends further credence to this suggestion, as distant voices float above chiming clean guitar, ushered either into or out of the realm of perception by the sounds of reassuringly uncaring nature.
Joy comes in many forms. As I type this, I’m also watching my daughter jump and run and tumble in a gymnastics class with the kind of pure happiness that so many of us forget how to feel as we age. Maybe music doesn’t fix us, exactly, but at its best it can remind us that no matter how long they have lay dormant, dusty, or unforged, it’s never too late to pick up the tools and try – again – to fix ourselves.
Let’s try it one last time, with feeling – Last Rites: 100% Listen To What You Love, 200% Laugh To Keep From Crying, 300% Live Because Living Is All We Have.