Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Sombres Forêts - Quintessence. 82/100.

As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be many differences between the two Sombres Forêts full-lengths and still, somehow, the allure of ‘Royaume De Glace’ is far stronger than that of ‘Quintessence’. It comes down to a simple matter of presence as one has more than the other and the minor differences between the two somehow manage to become important to the opinion of the listener as Annatar strives to create a similar feeling throughout both, but somehow they operate as individuals. It was a foolish mistake on my part to review ‘Royaume De Glace’ first, but I became so swept up in the material that I couldn’t hold back on my review. Though I had ‘Quintessence’ for some time before I heard ‘Royaume De Glace’, I never listened to it as intently as the latter and despite the fact that the two are closely related, Annatar somehow manages to portray his themes in a much more controlled manner. This could be due to the fact that ‘Royaume De Glace’ showcases a cleaner production style which affords the acoustics and keyboards much more room to manoeuvre, giving these once subtle elements of the soundscapes more presence, an idea that is striking on the sophomore given the mature approach which is often felt in the vocals too.

Taking the title track from ‘Royaume De Glace’ as an example, the bass is more impacting. Though it lightly sprinkles the underbelly with more flavour and texture, it still manages to play a pivotal role in the grand scheme of things as Annatar has become more productive with experience when it comes to simple matters like how to deal with song structures. The tips of the songs, like the aforementioned self-titled track, are also lightly doused in subtly symphonies courtesy of the keyboards and like poison darts, these pierce the heart even with a gentle sting, allowing the two most mesmerising factors, which are low lying, to become more affective in their approach. The bass is full of character, something which was perhaps lacking on ‘Quintessence’ though this wasn’t for lack of trying. As previously stated, the material is constructed in a similar fashion from one record to the next, but the production is where the methods seemed altered when they’re in fact the same. ‘Quintessence’ is a fattening dark chocolate whilst ‘Royaume De Glace’ is a lighter snack which doesn’t contain many saturated fats.

One is easier to digest than the other and although, after initial inspections, ‘Quintessence’ may seem easier to enjoy given its typically dark portrayal, ‘Royaume De Glace’ is more experimental with how it chooses to come across and in doing so, becomes more accessible due to a simple change in production. ‘Quintessence’ isn’t without its shining moments of intense glory, oh no, but it lacks the same amount of style as ‘Royaume De Glace’ in strange ways. In many ways, these records could be considered shocking, especially in comparison because they’re just so similar in sound and yet so far apart in appeal. The oddity that is ‘Quintessence’ isn’t a match for the challenging ‘Royaume De Glace’, which complies the best elements of the debut and uses them far more frequently than initially expected. Annatar, both as a vocalist and musician, has grow a lot since the early days of this band. As a one man act, he was always good at being able to manipulate the soundscapes to his advantage, but on ‘Royaume De Glace’, he took his abilities to another level and with the arrival of a collaborative band with Icare of Gris, things are about to get even better as he stretches his legs into the water, instead of dipping his toe as he did with this record in terms of creativity.

Many people see this Canadian band as a depressive black metal band, but I think the influences derail from this sub-genre and also take on board influences from the ambient and atmospheric sub-genres of black metal. The approach here is far more varied than just being able to lump it into one category. The distortion of the guitars, and the highly repetitious nature of them, suggests a depressive inspiration, like Burzum, as shown on songs like ‘Vents Des Désespoirs’, but the keyboards change the direction of the music, which was previously flowing towards a depressive end. Though it doesn’t entirely lack the best elements of the sophomore record, ‘Quintessence’ doesn’t choose to employ the elements that made the sophomore such a hit as much as the latter record does. The acoustics, for instance, are sparse here and Annatar leans heavily towards a distorted preference. Though the material, in its distorted form, is very well crafted, the experimental nature of the cleaner instrumentation on the more suitable clean base of ‘Royaume De Glace’ is more pleasing than what occurs here. Even Annatar’s vocals improve as he becomes more equipped to deal with the emotional strains of black metal. Though, oddly, this record is closely related to the sophomore, it still isn’t as gracious or inspiring. Still, it is very good for what it is. ‘Le Royaume’ is the highlight.

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