(The Montréal black metal band Ossuaire released two related albums this year through Sepulchral Productions, one in April and one in October, and Andy Synn reviews both of them here.)
Imitation, so they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.
Whereas innovation is one of the prime forms of creativity.
In between these two poles, however, is iteration, and that’s where most artists ply their trade, building upon what has come before, taking bits and pieces of their influences for themselves.
This is particularly true in Black Metal, where the form of the music, the integral demands of shape and structure, play a decisive role in making it what it is. And while that doesn’t preclude bands from totally innovating on the concept, the truth is that there’s only so far you can go, so much you can innovate, before you stop playing Black Metal at all.
Ossuaire clearly know this, and know it well. And, as such, their music is not about breaking the mould or reinventing the wheel, but about striving to capture the purest essence of Black Metal in all its grimly grandiose, mercilessly melodic glory.
Both Premiers Chants (released back in April) and Dernier Chants (which came out just last month) are built upon a firm foundation of “classic” Black Metal ideals and idiosyncrasies, taking the familiar concept of the downfall and decline of Christianity and embellishing it with a blend of blackened melody and blistering energy reminiscent of early Kampfar and Sargeist.
Of the two albums, Premiers Chants is perhaps the simplest and most focussed, using an array of scything guitars and sleek, sinuous tremolo melodies to drill every single song right into the most primal, instinctive part of your brain. The drums deliver an impressively intense, blast-heavy percussive pummelling – but aren’t afraid to ease off the gas to allow the music to breathe a little more, as and when necessary – while the vocals favour a gnarled, necrotic snarl, interspersed here and there with teasing passages of reverent, ritualistic chanting.
It all culminates in the heroic melodies and hypnotic rhythms of “La Grande Apostasie” which, despite being the record’s longest track (exactly twice as long as the opening title-track in fact) manages to be the most engaging and electrifying song on the whole album, and a more than fitting conclusion to the first part of the band’s epic conceptual undertaking.
The second part of this duology, Derniers Chants, is recognisably a product of the same minds and the same means as its predecessor, but takes a slightly different tack, opting for an approach that is more aggressive (as immediately made apparent by ferocious opener “Pestilence Rampante”), yet also leans even more strongly into the folkish melodies (particularly during the moody instrumental interlude of “Élévation” and the climactic title-track) and moody ambience (especially during the doom-laden “L’Oeil-Sang”) than ever.
As a result Derniers Chants is a noticeably more expansive album, with a broader and deeper range of dynamics, than its predecessor. That doesn’t necessarily make it better, or Premiers Chants worse, it simply ensures that the pairing of the two albums offers more than just a repetition of the same old songs.
It also means that the two albums, despite clocking in at 40 and 45 minutes respectively, function best as a unit, and, when taken together, provide an intimate insight into the beating heart of Black Metal in its most elemental, quintessential form.