Creature is the type of project that happens when one man gets out his heavy metal blender and decides that there’s no real limit to the ingredients he’s willing to take for a spin. Some symphonic black metal here, some modern prog and avant-garde there, heaps of trombone and flute and keys all over the place, a good amount of pomp, plenty of yadda yadda and puree.
Ex Cathedra is a meticulously crafted, arranged, and performed album, but when the horns, keys, and various vocal techniques (death metally “spokals,” choral lines, and even weird robot background parts) are stripped away, it’s still mostly an album based on the guitar. The riffs are often infectiously technical and punchy, while the leads weave in and out of the trombone and keys to create that orchestrated feel; the tremolo pairing with the trombone in “L’Odyssée Hyperpropulsée” is particularly stunning, for example. It’s often very easy to imagine Fournier on a platform, conducting his dream ensemble as they perform his songs in a majestic theater.
The record is by no means perfect, but when it cooks, it positively cooks. The stately piano melody that kicks off “Involution – Expectations” seems to carry through the whole song, even as it takes on catchy prog and quick, shreddy leads. “Neo Habilis” features some rapid, slightly brutal riffing, grandiose choir vocals, and even a modern prog chugga passage that really works (song rules). Most of all, the record is quirky, dramatically fun, and kind of endearingly off-balance. Even when a horn line feels a little awkward within its setting it can’t help but add to the character of the record. Nothing is ever uninteresting, even when songs sometimes get lost a little within their own structures.
So if Ex Cathedra has a pitfall, it isn’t all of those avant-garde and orchestral sounds that Fournier felt confident throwing into the blender, but in the full scope. Part of this is due to the closing duo of “Atlantis” and “Éthernellement.” Both feature plenty of great moments (the mix of bouncing bass and strings in the closer, for example), but both also get a little lost in their 10-plus minute lengths, and as a result don’t really give the album the grandiose finale it deserves. At over 64 minutes in total length, the album really could have used a big finish.
Still, this is pretty far from being a deal breaker, and the highs on Ex Cathedra greatly outweigh the relative lows. Plus, with music this idiosyncratic, it’s hard knowing exactly how any one listener will react. It could as easily be totally forgettable to one fan and become the next Linear Scaffold for another. The most important thing is that it has the potential to connect in such a way, and anyone into the aforementioned bands (and curious about such a blend) is encouraged to see how their quirks meld with these quirks.