Cover artwork by Romain Barbot
French black metal stands proudly, shoulder to shoulder with their Scandanavian and American brethren, having provided the world with gloriously hateful music since the second wave. Bands like Merrimack, Deathspell Omega, Mütiilation and Vlad Tepes all began in the 90s, and paved the way for the expansive and progressive sounds incorporated today. Some bands, like Blut Aus Nord’s ongoing evolution through progressive black metal, or Alcest’s near complete abandonment of aggression for shoegazey, dreamy tapestries take the genre beyond any scene. Add Vous Autres to the list of French bands embracing the evolution of black metal without losing sight of their history.
For starters, they embrace the enigmatic ethos of underground black metal. Going by unpronounceable (at least to this dumb American) letters instead of even full pseudonyms, and avoiding photos, the duo prefers to put their music front and center. Given the passion and power of Sel de Pierre, this is not a bad choice at all. But our Frenchpersons are relatively new, having introduced themselves to the world in 2017 with a viciously dissonant if fairly straightforward EP. Then a year ago, Vous Autres really found their voice with Champ du Sang. That voice? A modern, dissonant black metal core with post metal and ambient sounds swirling about, fully integrated for maximum emotional impact. If you’re imagining Deafheaven, go ahead and stop. On both ends of the spectrum, Vous Autres outclasses. The vocals are demonic shrieks, but with actual personality and a harrowing timbre. There are moments of calm, but nothing sunny or overtly poppy. This is not fashionable metal, but necessary, regardless of what is currently en vogue.
Many of the riffs on Sel de Pierre are just giant slabs of apocalyptic weight, made heavy through crescendo and release. No one gets credit for drums on this album, so I assume they are programmed, but they are done so perfectly. The tones are crisp but not unnatural, and the militant, hammering kick drums often lead the charge in establishing a particularly gnarly riff or massive breakdown. Like a good story, Vous Autres’ moments of impact are often telegraphed in advance, but that only makes the huge hooks sink deeper. Take “Vesuve,” which also features vocals by Maxime Febvet, from fellow French black metallers, Déluge. There are multiple peaks, but at 5:36, they wind up the sledgehammer and drop it repeatedly on your head until finally slipping away into an ambient coda. But instead of a singular breakdown, they split up and reconstruct the tension-filled tremolo riffs and deep chugs, scratching the headbanging itch while subverting expectations.
Perhaps the best parallel for Vous Autres’ black metal and ambient sounds is Progenie Terrestre Pura. While those Italians have launched themselves in space and never looked back, Vous Autres applies warmer synth accents and never wanders into the electronica/dubstep arena. In fact, their simple terrestrial samples like a crackling fire or birds chirping in the forest adds to the earthy balance. But when both bands really get cranking, the clinical precision and acidic riffage grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. One could also easily argue that Zhrine or Ultha are equally apt comparisons, as these bands share a love of building suffocating atmosphere and writing long, winding songs that land crashing into huge moments of fury.
After two monster tracks of post black metal intensity, Vous Autres settles into the instrumental interlude, “Ecueil,” which begins with an alarm-like synth note, pulsing with danger. But there is also the aforementioned crackle of a fire, and as more synth voices build the atmosphere, the ‘alarm’ continues to fade into the background. Whatever caused the emergency, we are merely hearing the echo. Perhaps a shuttle from Progenie Terrestre Pura’s spaceship has crashed, leaving smoldering wreckage and no survivors. But although the alarm is gone by the end of the 5:16 track, the danger definitely isn’t.
“Sans Sèves” shreds the calm, and continues where the first two tracks left off in a more compact running time of just over four minutes. The bass drum continues to lead the charge, anchoring tremolo riffing and pummeling you into submission. Piercing guitar notes stab through the fabric of those riffs, again demanding your attention.
Even the female vocals floating through “In Humus” are attributed to initials, keeping the mystery intact while adding another dimension to Vous Autres’ sound. The song’s deep tribal beats and soothing synth notes also recall Wolves in the Throne Room’s “I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots,” while the bass lurches to the forefront, adding another layer of heaviness with gigantic riffs.
Closer “Nitre” feels like a well earned coda. It’s another ambient synth track, again paired with a field recording of nature, and birds chirp happily along as chords layer and shimmer. It’s four minutes of relaxed contemplation, and a chance to think back on what this duo just unleashed. To dismiss “Nitre” or “Ecueil” as filler or unnecessary is to miss the point. Vous Autres put just as much thought into the soft, slow parts as they do the powerful, decimating moments of rage. The contrast and dynamics make each part more impactful, and the album flows beautifully because of that understanding and attention to detail.
Overall, Sel de Pierre is a bold statement from a band that knows what they’re about, son. Vous Autres is as comfortable with ferocious blackened assaults as they are with warm, introspective passages, and they have crafted another masterful work that sits firmly at the vanguard of the scene.