Saturday, 16 October 2010

Neige et Noirceur - Crépuscule Hivernal sans Fin sur les Terres de la Guerre (2009) 75/100.

Neige et Noirceur, which translates to Snow and Blackness, were an easy choice for my “A Year In Winter” collection of reviews. Anyone who knows anything about this one-man French-Canadian project, formed by the mysterious and occult-inspired Zifond, understands why they have a place firmly guaranteed in this collection. As this short biography indicates, this act possesses all the right characteristics to become a wintry masterpiece of ambient black metal, “Québécois Black Metal, strongly inspired of Quebec’s wide winter landscape. The music wants to be a dark musical interpretation of long evening winters. The gloomy and distressing mood mask a cold stormy black metal.” Whilst this band, and this debut full-length entitled ‘Crépuscule Hivernal sans Fin sur les Terres de la Guerre’, do harbour an interest in black metal music, there are some other things going on beneath the surface of this enigmatic and very intriguing band. As the bands description suggests, Neige et Noirceur also deal in drone and doom metal influences.

Not only this, but there also seems to be a definite dark ambient inspiration behind the music, akin to bands like Paysage D’Hiver and Germany’s Trist, with this album particularly reminding me of the epic ‘Hin-Fort’, a grand ambient black metal meets dark ambient tale of astral empires and wintry weather. This album, much like ‘Hin-Fort’, is a mixture of ambiance and genuine black metal material. The album masks itself in a dark cloud, shifting between genres and sub-genres with a quick flick of a switch. Zifond is a very inspiring song writing and musician. Although he hasn’t managed to garner the reputation of bands like the aforementioned, as well as acts like Darkspace, he has mustered up one hell of a reputation amongst the avid followers of the truly black metal underground, deep beneath the layers of bands who’re considered far more accessible. Despite the relative inaccessibility of the material in general, certain passages within the main self-titled twenty-six minute epic can be considered comparable to bands like Deathspell Omega, or Clandestine Blaze. At least to me, anyway.

The comparisons don’t stop there though as they keep on coming during the ever-changing self-titled song. The mixture of raw and symphonic structures reminds me slightly of Poland’s Evilfeast fifteen or so minutes into the self-titled epic. As aforementioned, the self-titled epic is the main feature of this album as this is the only song to contain metallic forces. Both songs either side of it as instrumentals with varying purposes. The first, ‘Aux Portes de la Crypte’ builds with a really frightening atmosphere. The song is filled with a variety of samples taken from unknown sources. There’s a definite spiritual sense in this opening introduction with the Lord’s prayer being chanted out by a group of unknown individuals. The setting for this song is quite odd and very unique. I don’t really understand its purpose, but it certainly knows how to generate a really affecting mood with mind altering benefits. This album, as expected, is best listened to in the dark and by yourself. That way the music and use of samples can truly wash over you like rain from blackened storm clouds. As the song draws to a close, some instrumentation becomes apart of the scene setting with the use of a distant drum beat, presumably some keyboard samples and nightmarish vocals. The onset of whatever hellish play is about to begin.

A drum signals the ending of the first song and the opening of the song, alongside samples of howling wolves. The black metal material then begins to flow as it does on albums like the aforementioned ‘Hin-Fort’. In fact, the material present on the self-titled song strongly resembles the song ‘Hin’ for a number of minutes at the beginning. The eerie distant voices, the fast and repetitive drums and the monotonous distorted guitars all mesh together well. This song, as with ‘Hin’, has subtle movements occurring beneath the destructive foreground. Although the surface would suggest that this song has very little to it, there is a lot happening beneath with subtle melodies and changes that diversify the state of the song, and the album in general. As with ‘Hin’, these changes become more noticeable the more you listen to the album, as well as the more patience you grant to the song and its overall development and evolution. It’s a slow process. The song shifts between black metal and dark ambient as samples come back into play after a few minutes and a soft moving ambiance takes over the incredible distortion and fast style of play.

During these sections, the vocals take a back-seat and rightly so. These subtle, ambient passages allow the listener to catch a breath an examine what just happened in greater detail. The song soon shifts again after the electronic sound moves on out to be replaced by the black metal elements once again. This time however, things have altered slightly, though this isn’t noticeable for the first few minutes. After ten minutes or so, the vocals kick back in with the feel of bands like Clandestine Blaze. Zifond reminds me of Mikko Aspa with his deep and dark grunts. Finally, the black metal aspects fade away into the blizzard of the samples, becoming masked by the dark ambiance that takes over for the third and final song, one which concludes the album well enough. This is the type of album that keeps you on the edge of your seat whilst forcing you to crave for more as it finishes. Despite having a twenty-six minute epic in between two moderately long instrumentals, the album feels like it ends all too quickly.

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