Friday, 5 February 2010

Sorcier Des Glaces - Snowland (1998) 70/100.

Canadian black metal has seen a huge rise in popularity due to experimental bands pushing the envelop and risking all in an attempt to bring a new face to the scene. Whenever I imagine the Canadian scene, I think mostly back to bands of this nature, such as Gris, or rawer entities like Monarque and his associated bands, but rarely to primitive, second wave influenced black metal, which is precisely what we have here, in the form of Sorcier Des Glaces’ 1998 debut full-length, ‘Snowland’, a traditional name for a traditional sounding record. I haven’t got much information regarding the ins and outs of this records formation, such as influences and how it was recorded, or when the songs were written. I do know that this debut was self-released and seemingly self-produced with cheap equipment and very little money. Although this records abilities to perform melodic black metal, which it is described as being, are hampered by the production values, I still got the feeling that Sébastien Robitaille was destined for great things -- which seems to be the case, having heard, and loved, the sophomore record entitled ‘Moonrise In Total Darkness’.

Does this record push the envelop as much as its fellow countrymen in the modern scene? No. It really is that simple an answer. No, this doesn’t push many boundaries as far as reaching for the impossible with an experimental feel that overrides all other elements that appear on the record. It certainly does a great job at producing some quality melodic moments, mostly through the use of guitars, but the production isn’t the best with which to sample the atmosphere and soak it up. The production gives the record an under produced feel, akin to early second wave bands who had very little money with which to have a glittering productive values which made each element shine as if it were the bright sun. Although I imagine people will have an issue with the production, which will undoubtedly dampen the spirits of some, I can also imagine this record being able to tap into a whole new market because of its raw qualities, despite its very melodic feel. The melodies are distinctly infectious and do tend to linger in the memory, especially on songs like ‘My Journey Into The Black Forest’ which opens with a Middle Eastern sounding riff.

The juxtaposition between the raw production and catchy guitars is interesting to say the least. I find it rather enjoyable, though I accept that the production does hinder some of the finer points -- such as the bass, which is actually an integral part of proceedings, much to my surprise. The bass is a force throughout and alongside the guitars, it gives ‘Snowland’ a terrific vibe which overwhelms despite the problematic issues I have with the dense atmosphere the production places over the airy atmosphere created entirely by the well written instrumental parts. The vocals, also, have a tendency to have priority over the instrumentation, which I think is a negative aspect of the record. Take songs like the amusingly titled song ‘Pure Northern Landscape Desolation’. The song starts with a tremendous albeit slow bass line and a soaring keyboard section -- which plays a massive part in the positive atmosphere that surrounds the songs -- but the vocals seem to take precedence whenever they come into play, which isn’t the wisest move. I’m not too keen on Sébastien’s vocal experimentation either. He varies from Mayhem styled grunts, to whispers which just announce to the world he is using poor recording equipment.

Perhaps this is because the recording equipment captures the vocals better than it manages to enhance the soul of the music. If this is the case, then the production needs to have extra points taken away from it due to the fact that it constantly hinders the sweet sounding melodies that fly off the guitars. I was surprised that the bass is as audible as it is, but the guitars are too distorted and the music is played at a slow pace, giving each element its chance to shine under the spotlight. Although I said I wouldn’t consider Sébastien Robitaille’s Sorcier Des Glace an audacious risk taker, I do find that there is some experimentation happening before our eyes. Perhaps we’re left unaware because the grunted vocals stint the performance of the instrumentation, or because the production cannot handle such levels of originality. One has to remember there are limitations on acts such as this and even though Sébastien Robitaille is quite clearly a talented song writer and black metal musician, he is facing an uphill task by performing alone and given the fact that this is a self-produced showcase. If this were to be re-recorded, I’d be very interested in hearing the final product, but as it is, the record could be with some work. However, it does highlight a few positives like a good use of catchy melody and some terrific song writing, both of which play a key role in the future of the band.

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