Métal Noir Québécois

Forteresse | Métal noir québécoisquébecsmall | 2006

le vieux de 37

“Souillée est-tu, terre ancestrale…”
Mais en vain tu n’as pas souffert
Hissons fort et haut
L’icône de notre patrie

A review by Dubhthach


The average Canadian is a peculiar specimen. While claiming he is more cultured than his American neighbours to the south, he is rarely ever able to describe his own culture without a direct comparison to America. “Canadians are more liberal than Americans”, “Canadians are less ignorant than Americans” and so on. When told that these comparisons do little to describe what Canadian culture really is, he will tell you that Canadians are bilingual! Ah yes! Canadians can speak French! Well, that’s not entirely true. In the 2011 census, only 23.2% of Canadians spoke French as a mother tongue, and only 17.5% of the population spoke both official languages [1]. In fact, the majority of native French speakers are forced to learn English in order to make a living. This is especially true of so-called bilingual areas like New Brunswick and Sudbury. If you mention French speaking Canadians to the average Anglo-Canadian outside the context given above, you’ll often hear him say that Québec (being the only officially French province makes it symbolic of all French speaking Canadians) has no culture at all! This is a textbook example of projection [2] considering the fact that Québec has had a unique culture all of its own practically since the first colonists established permanent settlements on the continent. The culture of New France evolved largely independently of France, and includes some influence from local indigenous groups. It was agrarian, community based but with a large degree of personal freedom. As there was not enough population density to have a standing army ready for defense, the colonists were hyper-aggressive as a form of defense, using guerilla warfare against those that may invade their lands. The history of Québec is bloody, and this makes it unique from English Canada. Its culture has been forged in the fires of war, and has survived against all odds. Its culture is defined by its history and not by empty comparisons to its neighbours. This proud, violent history has found its musical expression in the cold, majestic compositions of Forteresse‘s Métal noir québécois.

The astute observer will not deny that despite outward appearances, the majority of Anglo-Canadians adhere to the same Weltanschaunng (epitomized by the late Dominique Venner’s tryptich: “Sex, fun and money”) [3] as their American counterparts. Both nations, much like the Anglo-Norman Empire from which they were born, are nations of shopkeepers driven solely by commercial interests. Idealists in Québec (and other French parts of Canada) have long sought to break free from the profit driven nature of Canadian society as evidenced by the Lower-Canada rebellions of 1837-1838 and the October Crisis (despite being tainted by the Marxist aesthetics that were in vogue in those days), just to name a few. The main weapon used by Anglo-Canadian propagandists to fight this insurrectionist behaviour has been the demonizing of the French language. In Québec, it is considered “cool” for young people to forsake their mother tongue and speak English [4]. The very title of Forteresse’s debut album is a fist in the face of this cultural subversion. At a time when many bands in the Québec black metal scene wrote the majority of their lyrics in English [5], Forteresse proudly proclaims that not only are they proud Québécois, but they refuse to use the language of their colonizers to express themselves. The very translation of the term Black Metal evokes a method often employed in Québec where what would be English loan words in France are given a proper French translation [6].

interieur canadien

The music of MNQ sounds like one of Cornelius Krieghoff’s breath-taking paintings of the lower-Canadian frontier. Samples of traditional Québécois fiddle reels [7], the rustic sounds of Tommy Duschene, Joseph Allard and Isidore Soucy evoke images similar to the one portrayed in Krieghoff’s Intérieur Canadien [8], a family gathered around the hearth playing a game of cards, the lights are dim, pipe smoke billows about the room as children run about the house listening to a family member’s fiddle playing. Conversely, the cold black metal that rips through the idyllic fiddle samples evokes Krieghoff’s sublime depictions of the cold, desolate expanses of Québec’s landscape. Winter Landscape, Laval, The Ice Bridge at Longue-Pointe, Following the Moose, Lumber Raft on the Saint-Lawrence. These depictions of the unforgiving winter landscapes (and the hard men that made their living hunting, trapping and lumbering upon it) flash before the mind’s eye as the majestic melodies blow about the listener’s mind. The juxtaposition of the fiddle samples with this bitter, yet majestic black metal can be likened to the contrasting atmospheres of the warm family hearth against the December storm that rages relentlessly outside.

This alone should clearly demonstrate that Forteresse is not the kind of band to brainlessly ape tired old clichés of the genre. There are no drunken odes to (misinterpreted) pagan Gods, there are no angst ridden depictions of goat sodomizing black masses. This music is firmly rooted within the culture, history and landscape of Québec. That said, to assume that the themes herein have any real relation to modern political currents within the Québec political sphere would be a mistake. In a time when so-called Québec nationalist parties are focused on pedantic issues like the usage of the Italian word “pasta” on restaurant menus in Québec instead of the French term “pâtes alimentaires”, Forteresse looks to Québec’s storied past for inspiration. Rather than support or criticize the zoo that is modern Québecois (and Canadian) politics, their center of values reflects a cult of the ancestor and a mystification of la patrie in a Barrèssian sense.

“I have redirected my piety from the heavens to the earth, the earth that contains my dead”, proclaimed Maurice Barrès [9]. A sentiment explicitly echoed, whether intentionally or not, in the lyrics and aesthetics of MNQ. Forteresse as a black metal band likely has little love for Judeo-Christianity, though this is made more implicit than explicit. There is no childish rebellion against the church here. Instead, faith is no longer put in an eminent concept of a God removed from the world of man, but in the imminent concept of the fatherland. Like Barrès, the dead who have forged the culture of New France, and by extention, Québec, represent a far greater ideal than a temperamental Israelite war-god. You needn’t look far to find this cult of the ancestor poetically expressed in this album. In fact, the opening line of “La moisson de la liberté” (The harvest of liberty/freedom) is a call to remember the sacrifices previous generations:

“Oyez!
Fils de la liberté
Souvenez-vous enfin
Du sacrifice de nos pères” [10]

The answer to the social ills of the modern world, and more specifically, of modern Québec do not lie in the impotent dogmas of contemporary political discourse but in the traditional life of old Québec, the Québec of the seigneuries, the Milice Canadienne, and the Patriotes of 1837-1838. The provincial motto of Québec, “Je me souviens”, [11] is brought to mind in this stanza. Remember those who came before you. Remember those who have watered the fields with their own blood. In the face of the ever looming threat of Anglicization and Americanization, the seed sewn by those who fell at the Plains of Abraham, or whose blood stained the ruined buildings at Saint-Denis and Saint-Charles must be harvested, or else their deaths were in vain.

battle of the plains of abraham

The lyrics may not be satirical genius like those of many continental French black metal bands (Peste Noire, I’m looking at you…), but they are genius in another way. They are to the point, efficient and evocative. Québec has a fantastic poetic tradition [12], and the lyrics of Métal noir québécois are no exception. There are poetic calls to action, perhaps similar to those made in the speeches of Wolfred Nelson and Louis-Joseph Papineau [13]. They mythologize Québec’s past in the same way that Ezra Pound and Pádraig Pearse mythologize their conceptions of history. The former perhaps of a less national character [14], the latter, a perfect analogy. Pearse was a leading member of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland. Much like Québec, Ireland has been faced with the very real danger of the erasure of its native culture and traditions in the face of Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. Forteresse echo Pearse in that their poetry serves to create a heroic ideal for their compatriots. In Michael O’Meara’s Cù Chulainn in the GPO: The Mythic Imagination of Patrick Pearse, the author states ever so astutely that the Irish Republican Brotherhood were not only seeking to free themselves from English political domination, but also to free themselves from English modernity, which represented a total repression of the heroic ideal so desperately needed for the Irish in order for the Irish to exercise their collective will and attain independence [15].

defenders take refuge in the church of saint-eustacheThough Québec might not have the millennium or two of history, the plethora of myths to pull from medieval manuscripts, or even the exact same relationship viz-à-viz the British as Ireland, [16] Québec does have four hundred years of unique history, and has in its cultural memory the heroic legendarium of medieval France latently present despite not necessarily needing it in order to define itself. Rather than evoking Cù Chulainn, Fionn mac Cumhaill, Sir Roland, Charles Martel or Lancelot, they call forth images from the history of La Belle Province. Caravels sail upon the Saint-Lawrence clouded in a thick fog in “La flamme et le lys”. In “De sang et de volonté”, the sword-wielding knight is replaced with the musket-wielding Patriote: the warrior-peasant who fights to defend his way of life.” War as an assertion of the will to power is praised in the title track and in “Honneur et tradition”. All this mythologizing serves to awaken the heroic ideal needed to resist the shallow consumption based anti-culture of Anglo-Canadian Americanization. The heroic blood shed on Québec’s battlefields is the example to follow. Indeed, it was Barrès who said:

“The bodies of young men of twenty and twenty-five are piled together under the stones of this captured country. Their lives would have no meaning had one refused to look for it in the idea of the homeland. But now, today, they will live again. […] The Prussian trumpets and tambourines which resound without respite over the tombs of Chambière from a neighbouring field do not deter us from tenderly spelling out the names inscribed on the tombs, the names of our brothers.” [17]

Here Barrès is talking about the French who died defending Lorraine from the Prussians, but it is entirely applicable, and thematically relevent to the themes put forth in this album. Though the shadow of the Canadian flag still tarnishes the proud blue and white fleurdelisé [18], and the O Canada drowns out those who continue to shout Je me souviens, the powerful symbol of the warrior-peasant at Saint-Denis lives on and continues to serve as a model for the current generation of Québec:

“Ici sont morts des patriotes
Et cette terre vit enfin
Battant au rythme des libérés
Cette mélodie d’antan
Appartenant à notre race
Des traditions et du sang
De la volonté et de l’art”

The praise given to the past is not simply a sentimental look back upon a lost golden age, it is used to justify the continuing fight for national and cultural autonomy. References to the rotten nature of modern politics are made explicit as is the will to resist this cultural poison: “We will never bend before rotten politicians!” The past serves to inspire the future. Autonomy is necessary in order to prevent the total destruction of traditional life and culture. The Barrèssian cult of the ancestor and apotheosizing of the nation serve to embolden the need for national and cultural independence.

It was Spengler who said that culture is opposed to civilization, the former inwardly focused and capable of true growth [19], the latter, outwardly focused, rigid and simply expansionistic [20]. The culture of Québec, the last bastion of the French language in North America and of a unique culture forged by European settlers as they were presented with a new, unfamiliar world, is at odds with the expansionist, anti-cultural civilization that is English Canada. Like Ireland, who in the spirit of Cú Chulainn succeeded in attaining cultural and national autonomy against the expansionistic British Empire, or Ukraine, who today under the watchful eye of those long dead heroes of the UPA is fighting against Russian expansion yet again, the spirit of the patriotes look on as a new generation of Québécois are now faced with the task of preserving their way of life. Small nations are arguably the last bastion of true Western culture, untainted by Anglo-American hegemony. Spengler would have pessimistically stated that civilization is the fate of every culture, but history has shown with the IRA, the UPA and many others that given the right conditions and the right ideological impetus, culture can triumph over a spiritually impotent, profit driven civilization.

Métal noir québécois is a contribution to the cultural mythology of Québec and serves to separate the band from others who mindlessly recycle black metal clichés. It is a statement of intent, an intent to preserve the cultural memory of Québec’s fallen heroes, to apotheosize the ideal of a Francophone nation in North America. As a Franco-Ontarian myself, who would have completely lost my mother tongue had I not taken steps to preserve and foster it, the prospect of an independent, French Québec represents a safeguard against the complete Anglicization of my Acadian, Franco-Ontarian and Québécois brothers. When I think of Canada, I do not think of the battle of Vimy ridge, I do not think of the War of 1812, and I pay no heed to the pseudo-patriotic ramblings of rootless cosmopolitans like Ezra Levant. I think of the real Canada, the first Canadiens. I think of Le vieux de ’37, crowned with a blue toque, tobacco pipe hanging from his mouth, and his father’s old rifle from the Milice Canadienne at the ready. I think of those who fought and died to preserve their culture and their language against Anglo-Saxon tyranny. The real Canadiens are not dead, nor have they become “Canadians”. They are the proud modern patriotes of Québec, the last Forteresse of a proud people who once roamed this continent from the Lower Saint-Lawrence to New Orleans, from l’Acadie (Now New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) to Louisiana, and who still struggle to hold on to their language and culture.

l´histoire


“La moisson de la liberté

Elle illumine chacun de nous
Qui espère au retour
Et respire l’air ancien

Juste à nos enseignements
À notre culture
Ainsi qu’à nos arts
à nous fiers fils de colons”


Métal noir québécois

Forteresse

MNQ cover

1. La moisson de la liberté  (8:28)
2. Une nuit pour la patrie (10:28)
3. La flamme et le lys (7:41)
4. De sang et de volonté (7:16)
5. Métal noir québécois (8:44)
6. Honneur et tradition (7:42)

Total time: 50:19

Notes:
[1] Source: Statistics Canada
[2] I do take issue with the ubiquity of Freudian terms in completely unrelated contexts, but, if the shoe fits, wear it. Projection is when one attributes his fears and anxieties on others to avoid dealing with it himself.
[3] Dominique Venner, Un samouraï d’Occident, (Paris: Pierre-Guillaume de Roux, 2013), 14.
[4] As it is in other Francophone minority parts of Canada, Ontario and New Brunswick being shining examples of the very real danger posed by Anglicization.
[5] There are of course, exceptions to this rule.
[6] As a minority language this helps to fend of Anglicization. A salient example of this would be: “Le weekend” or “Le spam” used by many European French dialects, in Québec: “La fin de semaine” and “Le pourriel”.
[7] Many will note the similarity between these jigs and Irish fiddle jigs. This is because much of Québécois folk music is a mix of Irish fiddle tunes and French “Chansons à répondre”. This is likely due to the close cultural contact between these two cultural groups. For example, one of the leaders of the Patriote rebellion of 1837-1838 was a French educated Irishman by the name of Edmund B. O’Callaghan. Québécois relations viz-à-viz the British very much mirror those of the Irish, and so the kinship between Québécois and the Irish population of what is now called Québec should come as no surprise.
[8] It cannot be stessed enough: The first people to refer to themselves as Canadiens were the French colonists.
[9] Maurice Barrès, “Scènes et doctrines du nationalisme,” in The French Right from de Maistre to Maurras, Trans. Eric Harber ed. J.S Mclelland and George Steiner (London: Jonathan Cape ltd, 1970), 159.
[10] “Hear ye!/Sons of Liberty/Remember at last/The sacrifice of our fathers”
[11] “I remember”
[12] Which is evoked in the follow up to MNQ, Les hivers de notre époque.
[13] Two of the Patriote leaders of 1837-1838.
[14] That is NOT to downplay the immense genius of the Cantos. Pound’s mythology is cultural, and to some extent racial.
[15] Michael O’Meara, “Cù Chulainn in the GPO:The Mythic Imagination of Patrick Pearse”, Counter-Currents, April 24, 2010.
[16] Despite still being a commonwealth nation, Canada is independent from England save for a meaningless oath of allegiance to the monarchy. Canada has taken the place of the British in Québec.
[17] Maurice Barrès, Scènes et doctrines, 189-190.
[18] Flag of Québec.
[19] In the cultivation of the arts, mythology, history etc.
[20] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (An Abridged Edition), (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 73-74.

Further reading:
A Grand Tyranny – Our interview with OT of Akitsa.
Molti nemici, molto onore
– Our review of Akitsa‘s 2010 album Au crépuscule de l’espérance.
Abandoning All Hope – Our review of Frozen Shadows‘ 1999 album Dans les bras des immortels.
“Don’t Enter!” – Québec Week – Small reviews of Gris and Grimoire.

1 Comment on Métal Noir Québécois

  1. Interesting review. I like that it puts quite a bit of cultural context around the Québec black metal scene, and the origins from which it developed its own distinctive regional identity, something that wasn’t quite as readily apparent in say the Akitsa review… also making that entire subculture a bit confusing for audiences outside Canada or the “Francosphere”.

    That said, the MNQ business does seem to have reached an audience here in Denmark as it seems like people in the know here have discovered Gris, Monarque etc. Not to mention that some of the punkier black metal groups to come around here like Hexis, Sexdrome and Whorls are very clearly Akitsa-influenced.

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