Having only a two-song, seemingly one-note EP (Le Jour Se Lève) to go on, you can imagine the surprise at hearing the diversity of sounds, the mellowness, the near desert rock-like atmospheric touches across French black metal artists Au Champ Des Morts‘ debut full length Dans La Joie (which my superior language skills lead me to believe means “In Joy”). And looking at the cover, awash with all its vivid colors and smiling faces, how can you feel anything but exuberance, joy and elation?
Alternatively, looking at the band, you might think you’re about to hear d-beat/thrash hybrid with just a touch of goth. Maybe some synth between songs for atmosphere. Even their logo screams crust with a near Amebix-like sharpness. Clad in leather, bullet belts jangling and battle vests too tight to button, Au Champ Des Morts are, on their face, the antithesis of their music. Further, they aren’t children. Fronted by Stéphane Bayle (age 42), previously of Anorexia Nervosa, Au Champ Des Morts bring an untypically seasoned approach to the more atmospheric, dark-gaze oriented stream of black metal as well as some soaring guitar solos that begin in chaos and end in sheer beauty.
Only six-and-a-half-minutes into the album and “Apres Le Carnage” struggles forward with exasperation. A multitude of voices combine. Screams are distant with more windswept, agitated and embittered vocals towards the front. The guitars hang back, providing methodically picked harmonies. The track builds and churns before it bursts forth with blast beats and more traditional vocals in the tenor range. As the track plods forward, melody and atmosphere lead the way as the band plunges into a near bass-break overlaid with a deep, baritone spoken-word. The track is perfectly emblematic of everything Au Champ Des Morts seems to be attempting to accomplish and it clearly displays how successful they are at this sound often championed by the younger seneschals of black metal.
Elsewhere, tracks like “Contempier l’Abîme” weave a more rhythmic, almost gothic rock feel. The drums not only march ahead but clean guitars accentuate the melody in time with a perfectly darkwave hi-hat roll. But, as is necessary to remain black, the track swoops full-force into a blackened blast with guitars taking on a crackling distortion. “Contempier l’Abîme” adeptly bounces back and forth between these concepts eventually combining them into one thing. The vocals sound as if breathed inwardly, filling the lungs with an ancient spirit of longing and despair.
Thematically, the album does not feel nearly as uplifting as the band looks. Rather, the vocal stylings, tension and overall cinereal nature combine to drag the listener into depths of emotional fissures if said listener is willing to let go of pomp and circumstance and accept the journey. Particularly, the end of the title track is the opposite of its English translation. The outro to “Dans la Joie” is anything but joyful. In fact, it evokes the deepest pangs of sorrow and loss as it slowly fades into the setting sun.
Do not be deterred by the presented sadness and dreadfulness of Dans la Joie. In fact, the record itself shows signs that Au Champ Des Morts, still young in their incarnation, may have something going here. Minor inconsistencies do not derail Dans la Joie but rather expose the humanness of the band. For human nature is folly at best and how can music achieve perfection while remaining rooted within the darker aspects of that nature? And that’s what Au Champ Des Morts display; the err of human nature and the desperation of our current predicament caught between mortality and the quickening demise of all that we know and hold sacred. Nothing is perfect.