(This is Wil Cifer‘s review of Sel de Pierre, the new album by the French band Vous Autres, which will be released on September 25th by Season of Mist Underground Activists.)
The French seem to have a history of creating black metal not afraid to stray from the blast-beaten path. On their sophomore album this duo continues the tradition. Their debut album was one of 2019’s best black metal releases. This one might not be as blatantly heavy, but it makes up for this in the expansive array of sonic colors they paint these songs with.
While this album is much more atmospheric than their first, I would not label them “post” anything. Sonically, are there elements in the same zip code as post-rock? Yes, but they are gracefully ugly with chilling dissonance. The album’s third track even has an instrumental interlude that would not be out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record. Where most atmospheric black metal takes on a droning meditative quality, here it’s used in the same unnerving way that horror movies manipulate you with their scores.
They offer a pounding punishment to your ears with “San Seves” though you will never forget you are listening to music, not just scathing noise. Perhaps this is to my ears not as dark as the first album which fell more along the lines of depressive black metal, but when it comes to darkness I tend to require more than the average metalhead since I grew up a poor goth child.
What the music might lack in misery it makes up for in the unsettling dissonance hiding in the layers of guitar. Unlike most metal bands these guys do not worship riffs. When they use the mighty chug it is even more effective due to this.
Sung female vocals drift into “In Humus”. The song builds when the screamed vocals come in and guide you through this nightmare woven from the wailing and gnashing of distortion. After my third listen to the album, it became clear that this was my favorite song.
The vocals are often merely the ghost of a human texture. They use them in a manner not unlike Deafheaven, where the screams are another color rather than a focal point of the traditional verse / chorus formula of songwriting. They are not the album’s most dynamic quality, with the only variance being that in some places they just sound more tortured than others.
This album takes several listens for it all to sink in. It closes with an ambient instrumental that is pleasing to the ears, but not something I would have on my iPod. The album is a well-balanced and forward step from their debut; it takes everything you might have liked about their first album and lets it simmer. It grew on me a little more with each listen. It might not be a perfect album, as the atmosphere might lull you into a place where it falls into the background, but it is in the upper tier of all the heavy music that has been released so far this year and with very few peers when it comes to black metal so far.
This comes out September 25th on Season of Mist.