In my review of Triste Sir’s demo tape I already stated that it can, at times, pay off to acquire new music at random; to invest some faith in new groups instead of obsessively completing the respective discographies of the bands you already know. This may sometimes end in disappointment, but on other occasions you may stumble upon one of these hidden gems. The latest addition to this tragic though prestigious society of unjustly and incomprehensibly obscure albums hails from France yet again, even if the band name indicates otherwise: Sühnopfer does not originate from the elegant, soft and – according to some – flowery French language, but from the strict and humourless High German. The 2010 album Nos Sombres Chapelles does possess a certain, undeniable Frenchness, however. According to good Southern French tradition, Sühnopfer’s debute album has a relatively good production, and the medieval atmosphere prevails due to the melodic, varied and, above all, well-played music.
It is, therefore, all the more surprising that Sühnopfer consists of only one member. Florian “Ardraos” Denis handles all of the instruments and vocals in this project, making the quality and consistency of Nos Sombres Chapelles even more impressive. The instrumentation of this album has no weak spots, and for one man bands, this is pretty exceptional. Consider, for example, the uncreative drums of Alcest, let alone Burzum, the latter of which fails to impress instrumentally altogether, and thrives more on the overall atmosphere of the music. Ardraos, however, doesn’t seem to suffer from the high working pressure, for every ingredient of his recipe for destruction holds its ground, whether it’s the strong string work or the Varg Vikernes-like vocals.
The fact that the drums manage to steal the show does not mean that there’s something wrong with the rest of the instrumentation. The guitar lines for example, manage to just evoke that melancholic, sombre (hence the title!) atmosphere without resorting to the pathetic musical masturbation sessions about darkness and emptiness that more often than not seem to be the key focus of the unmentionworthy ‘depressive suicidal black metal’ subgenre. In this respect, the opening track manages to nail the atmosphere right away by evoking a kind of aggressive somberness that is all the more emphasised by the haunted and plagued singing of jack-of-all-trades Ardraos. The song “Espérance!” showcases the brilliance of the band the most, as it not only features great percussion, but also bombards the listener with one masterful riff after another. And while it would’ve been easy to fall into repitition, Ardraos chooses to vary upon the already introduced themes instead, allowing the track to maintain the element of surprise from start to finish. It’s a song that any fan of the genre cannot help but enjoy.
Therefore, it must be emphasised that, like with Peste Noire’s brilliant fourth album, you’re in the disadvantage if you do not at least have a basic knowledge of French, seeing as the lyrics of Nos Sombres Chapelles have all been written in this language. Ardraos has also done his homework when it comes to lyrics and concept, allowing him to avoid the usual clichés about the dark ages that you are pretty regularly confronted with in the black metal genre. Take the title track, for example, which hails the churches and chapels scattered across France both as monuments of France’s dark past and as ruins of the decayed christian faith. Or the subsequent “Vous, ou la Mort!”, which focuses on the conventions of courtly love. The aforementioned “Espérance!”, too, is exemplary once more, as it manages to strike a chord by reviving the somewhat worn-down themes of war and death with the right choice of words: “A travers des áges, les esprits nous rappellent / <<Nous avons estés comme vous / Un jour vous serez comme nous / Pensez-y bien!>> / Et le cortège funèbre s’avance…”
Too short or not, Nos Sombres Chapelles is a great release that proves once again that French black metal ranks among the best in Europe (and with that, the world). The emphasis on percussion makes this album (and Sühnopfer as a whole) all the more surprising, making it more or less obligatory for any fan of the genre to at least give the band’s latest effort a spin or two. Because Ardraos not only proves that he is a true virtuose in multiple areas; he also has at his disposal a bunch of strong compositions and lyrics, making Nos Sombres Chapelles possibly the most impressive ode to the French dark ages since Peste Noire shocked the world five years ago with La Sanie des siècles – Panégyrique de la dégérénescence. As such, Ardraos proves himself to be a true master when it comes to percussion, guitars, vocals and the butchering of christian packs of milk. And he leaves me goddamned jealous.
Nos sombres chapelles can be bought at Those Opposed Records
Ardraos – drums, guitars, bass and vocals
1. Nos Sombres Chapelles (6:07)
2. “Vous, ou la Mort!” (5:47)
3. Partir à l’ost (4:24)
4. “Espérance!” (5:49)
5. Errements d’un pestiféré (7:09)
6. Reliques (Part 1) (6:50)
7. Reliques (part 2) (2:33)
Total running time: 38:44
Source of ze pictures: http://www.myspace.com/suhnopfer/photos
– Spaced out text to make the review more readable
– Added shop link to make not downloading this album easier