A band most of us are unfamiliar with paying tribute to a river many of us are merely vaguely aware of in a language quite a bit of us don’t speak. France’s Hanternoz asks much of its listener. But plenty a band has asked at least as much, if not more. And most do not deliver something quite as fulfilling as the rich slab of riff-driven folky black metal on Au fleuve de Loire.
The perfectly lo-fi and at times downright nasty feel of the guitars on this sophomore effort belies the album’s largely lavish touches. Rarely have so many folk elements been married so seamlessly with an undeniably harsh sound. Perhaps that should come as no surprise given that the man behind the mouth harp, flute, bagpipes, and bombard here is none other than Hyvermor from Véhémence, who released the absolutely stellar epic/medieval black metal album Par le sang verse in 2019.
Proof of the album’s diversity, the anthemic “Bateliers de Loire” follows “Vieille nasse crevée” on the tracklist, trudging along at a considerably slower pace, and features an addictive sing-a-long chorus. The band’s ability to switch things up so naturally is impressive and gives the album a confidence one is more likely to hear from a band with a few more albums under its belt. “Bateliers de Loire” feels raw in that headbang-inducing way that riffy black metal should despite what must be a very deliberate and deft arrangement.
The subtle flirtation with experimentalism amidst orthodoxy defines much of the listening experience here. “Le roi René a fait mander,” for instance, says to hell with the folk theatrics and jumps right into blast beats ala Forteresse at its blastiest. Give it five minutes, though, and there’s a nifty spoken word interlude. While not quite as polished or progressive, Hanternoz’s approach to integrating identifiably cultural instrumentation—the bombard, for instance—into a more dominant black metal aesthetic is not too far removed from the decidedly more avant-garde territory occupied by Thy Catafalque. The ren faire introduction of “Ce que le fleuve a pris” is as appropriate a representation of that approach as any.
Au fleuve de Loire is an inviting album. Striking cover from David Thierree. Creative band logo. Warm production. Identifiable concept. Consistent and well-integrated folk instrumentation. And while there’s no shortage of black metal bands incorporating said folk instruments, none sound quite like Hanternoz does here on their sophomore effort. The care with which Hyvermor (vocals, guitars, flute) and Sparda (bass, hurdy gurdy, vocals (choirs, backing) designed, developed, and recorded this album is obvious throughout its nine tracks. While not quite flawless, the album’s melding of Breton folk music and black metal has a trancelike effect that feels strangely familiar despite sounding outwardly adventurous.