(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the French band Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, which is set for release by Season of Mist on February 28th.)
One thing which struck me, in a way that it didn’t first time around, when listening back to the first two albums from underrated Black Metal coterie Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, was just how much their sound, their style, and their whole approach, reminds me of Abigail Williams.
Seriously, just take a listen to the slow-burning menace and spiteful savagery of songs like “They Came… To Take Us” and “The Incandescent March” (from 2015’s Exile) and try to tell me you don’t see/hear the resemblance to Ken Sorceron and co. circa In The Absence of Light/Becoming.
Of course the fearsome French five-piece are far more than just a European derivative of their American cousins, and others have also pointed out some of the band’s sonic similarities to artists like Altar of Plagues, Amenra, and their countrymen in Celeste too, but now that I’ve made this connection in my mind it’s impossible for me to un-hear it.
It also makes me wonder whether the reason for the band’s relatively low profile, at least when compared to some of the French scene, might be because – much like Abigail Williams – they don’t neatly fit into some people’s perceptions of what a Black Metal band should sound like or how they’re supposed to present themselves.
But, just one listen to Ascension makes me think that not only are Regarde Les Hommes Tomber fully aware of all this, they also don’t give a damn about fitting neatly into anyone’s preconceptions.
Now, while quite a bit of the commentary and/or criticism surrounding the band’s previous work orbited around labelling them (or not) as “Blackened Sludge Metal/Sludgy Black Metal”, Ascension is – in what is either a clever irony or a superbly meta case of life imitating art (imitating life) – actually a significantly grittier, sludgier album than either of its predecessors.
This is evident not only in the noticeably gruffer, growlier vocal style adopted by singer T.C. this time around – a change which I predict will alienate a significant portion of their current audience, even as it attracts the attention of an entirely new set of ears – but also in the increasing thickness and density of many of their riffs and rhythms.
That’s not to say that they’ve lost, or even reduced, the Black Metal side of their identity by any means. It’s just that, in relative terms, the ratio of sludgier sounds has definitely increased quite a bit (although I’d still balk at ever referring to them as “Blackened Sludge”).
Amusingly (and I promise not to belabour the comparison), this subtle shift in style still reminds me quite a bit of Abigail Williams, although in this case the raw aggression and ragged energy fuelling tracks like “A New Order” and “The Crowning” feel more like a match for 2015’s The Accuser (an album which, lest we forget, found quite a lot of Lord Mantis seeping into the group’s sound).
For all these similarities though (and, trust me, they’re definitely there… heck, there’s a big, ballsy riff in “The Renegade Son” where I half expected Charlie Fell to pop up on vocals) Regarde Les Hommes Tomber continue to put their own signature spin on things, and their deft balance of blackened belligerence and inchoate, introverted atmospherics (without, let me stress, falling into the trap of playing clichéd “Atmospheric” Black Metal) only seems to improve and impress even more as the record progresses.
“Stellar Cross”, for example, might just be the best song on the entire record (or, at least, it would be, if closer “Au Bord Du Gouffre” didn’t raise the bar even higher by doubling down on pretty much every aspect of the band’s sound in one fell swoop), as the way it blends together seething fury and brooding, ominous overtones is just that little bit more seamless, that little bit more dynamic, and that little bit more distinctive, than any of the tracks which preceded it.
It’s these two tracks (“Stellar Cross” and “Au Bord Du Gouffre”) in particular which, for better or for worse, make me think that Regarde Les Hommes Tomber are capable of even better, and bigger, things than they’ve achieved here.
On the one hand this means that Ascension is perhaps not quite the exquisite triumph that is finally going to put the band on the musical map in the way that they deserve. It is, after all, a little too easy to compare it to other, already successful, acts who’ve trodden similar ground before them.
And yet, it also strongly suggests that, as good as this album is (and it most certainly is… in fact it gets better every time I listen to it) it’s not even the true peak of what this band are capable of.
And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.