Friday, 11 September 2009

Vehementer Nos - Vehementer Nos. 92/100.

2007 was a very important year for black metal. Instead of adhering to the Chinese horoscope, black metal took a slight detour and 2007 became the Year of Experimentation, as opposed to the Year of the Pig. Delving into hybrids was no longer frowned upon and, the majority of the time, was praised because many critics stated that black metal had become somewhat deflated with the stupid amount of clone acts surfacing after the demise of the beloved second wave scene. Scandinavia’s influence was lagging behind the rest of Europe as the new millennium was in full swing and the idea of reliving the dark days when the likes of Burzum, or Immortal reigned supreme became neglected in search for a new identity. This identity was to be found in the forgotten realms of experimentation, an idea neglected by many black metal bands in favour of paying their respects to the golden generation of fallen idols, such as Varg Vikernes. Bands who were already well established by this stage, like Alcest, were pioneering a sound that would later become one of the biggest black metal crazes since the depressive sub-genre unleashed an influx of new bands upon the audience.

Experimental black metal, in this sense, is a coming together of subtle traditional values and overriding aspects taken from genres like post-rock, and shoegaze. These two genres have since become notable friends of the black metal genre, collaborating on many different occasions and sharing techniques like old chums since its introduction into the pessimistic lives of black metal musicians. A beleaguered genre had become reinvigorated with a renaissance of sorts when black metal met, and got on with, both post-rock and shoegaze. The chemistry between these vastly different genres is one that boils over and into the audience. Once you swallow the intoxicating melodies, as with alcoholic beverages, it is easy to become addicted to the hybrid style. Of course, as with any experimental faction, there is always going to be a small minority that stands firm over the supposed fact that black metal needs to return to its roots, as opposed to negating them with this new style.

As a fan of this experimental force, I may be biased. However, I have no attachment to any era of the black metal scene - including the notorious second wave - so I stand by my decision to praise bands like Alcest, and this fellow French act, Vehementer Nos, in their aim of rejuvenating black metal by mixing it with outside factors. The idea of mixing black metal with outside factors is a hit-or-miss game. Most people will either passionately love the idea, or passionately hate it. Alcest’s ‘Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde’ is a terrific example of this. You’ll notice, when reading the reviews, the majority either offer infinite praise or, in stark contrast, ridicule it for its belittling attempts at changing the black metal heart. Not many reviews take the middle ground and sit on the fence. Adding a post-rock base, or shoegazing guitar work is not intrinsic to black metal, it is not within the nature of the genre to sound the same as the aforementioned genres. Therefore, I suppose, it is easy to see why this style might ascertain a hefty amount of criticisms.

Generally speaking, I find a lot of them tend to fall of deaf ears with me. I find a lot of criticisms of these hybrids to be unfounded, or unjustifiable unless there truly is a universal feeling of disgust in regards to a band, or record. I’ve encountered a few bands who attempt this hybrid and fail, but the majority pass the test with flying colours - just as Vehementer Nos’ self-titled debut does. Think along the lines of A Forest Of Stars, Altar of Plagues and Ne Obliviscaris and you’re half way there. This self-titled piece is one hell of an impressive debut, though it doesn’t quite match the standards set by Irish acts like Altar of Plagues. However, this might be due to the fact that Vehementer Nos are incredibly affective when it comes to covering up their tracks. Whilst it is easy to recognise this self-titled piece as an experimental record, taking influence from outside factors that evolve the environment this would normally live in, the French musicians have made their approach of experimentation as delicate and subtle as possible, despite the fact that it is in these sublime moments that we can pick the best parts out of.

Unlike bands such as Ne Obliviscaris, for example, Vehementer Nos are more concerned with underlying variations of the usual themes, as opposed to overly exposed concepts like the leading violin sections on the Australian bands wondrous demo. Engwar and A.M., the bands conspirators, are less concerned with showboating, or pretentious, as Ne Obliviscaris might come across as, instead, they’re working towards a balance so that the experimentation of areas like the violins, do not override the system and deter the potential fan who also likes his fair share of traditional music. Black metal is becoming a different prospect in the modern era and bands like Vehementer Nos are the driving force behind this movement away from traditions and towards an inescapable conclusion. Songs like ‘Les Dévastés’ are the main reasons we tune in to this type of music. Resembling, albeit partially, the experimental magnetism of bands like Germany’s illustrious Farsot, Vehementer Nos appear to be an act which relies on traditional values; such as leading guitars, a fair amount of double bass and watered down Gris type vocals.

However, there is much more to this band than meets the eye. The vocals even show a fair amount of variation as they move from screams, to whispers and cleaner vocals that lay the soundscapes with a delightful texture that screams out that Engwar and A.M. are superb musicians, particularly A.M. with his solid work on drums. The band themselves claim to take influence from classic music and that is felt within the song structures as the violins, courtesy of Carolina Zviebel, steps up their influence on the overall picture. The beauty lies hidden within these classically inspired sections, even drawing out an acoustic side that draws me back to bands like Gris, once again. There is also the inclusion of sparsely used cello and flute sections, which adds more beauty to the divine mixture. Whilst this debut doesn’t have the same level of appeal that bands like Altar of Plagues have within a similar-ish field (though the two sound very different), this is a wonderfully hidden debut with many levels and intense depths inspired by traditional black metal musings and classical music.

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