Recommended for fans of: Celeste, Dodecahedron, Imperial Triumphant
Let’s get this out of the way – Plebeian Grandstand‘s fourth album, Rien ne suffit was one of the best releases of last year, and the only reason it didn’t make an appearance in my “Critical Top Ten” was because… well, I only had so much space, and I’d already included several Black Metal (or Black Metal related) selections!
However, that raises an oft-contentious follow-up question – are Plebeian Grandstand a Black Metal band?
Quite a few people would say no – some because they believe that the band’s unique brand of enigmatic extremity lacks the “purity” of true Black Metal, others because they feel like calling them “Black Metal” is actually too restrictive, and fails to properly capture who the band are and what they do.
They’re both kind of right, to be honest, because while Black Metal is undeniably a massive part of their identity, their sound is also a wickedly harsh hybrid of Hardcore, Mathcore, Grindcore, and Sludge… along with an increasingly prominent electro-industrial undercurrent which has only added to the growing volatility of the band’s sound as they’ve mutated and evolved.
Luckily for you, you don’t just have to take my word for it, as this particular edition of The Synn Report gives you access to all four of the group’s albums, meaning you can make up your own minds!
2010 – HOW HATE IS HARD TO DEFINE
The group’s first album (released three years after their debut EP, The Vulture’s Riot) probably has the most obvious Mathcore/Grindcore vibe – albeit a heavily blackened and unsettling one – as demonstrated by the whirling-dervish assault of “Ordo ab Chao”, whose stabbing riffs, strafing percussion, and savage, shrieking vocals clash and coalesce into something that’s part Botch, part Deathspell Omega, over the course of just under three madcap minutes.
Track three, “Nice Days Are Weak”, is all sharp angles and jagged edges, laced with threads of moody dissonance and doomy melody, and propelled by a series of manic blastbeats and ferocious, flailing fills, while “Mein Kopf ist meine Heimat” is an altogether slower, darker, and heavier slab of blackened discordance which, slowly but surely, transforms into something even grindier, sludgier, and just generally nastier.
“Easy to Hate, Hard to Define” has a similar, if not even more cantankerous and chaotic, feel to early Celeste, augmenting its scathing riffs and scalding vocals with an aura of anxiety-inducing melodic dissonance ( a contradiction in terms, I know) as well as an absolutely gigantic and gruesomely groove-heavy bass presence which serves as the down-tuned glue holding the entire track together.
At just over two minutes in length, “Pie in the Sky” provides a short, but undeniably welcome, break in the metallic monsoon, allowing the listener to collect their thoughts (and catch their breath) before the heart-stopping, neck-wrenching, skin-shredding strains of Blackened Sludge monstrosity “Don’t Expect Much from the World’s End” once again whip up the aggression and distortion to pandemoniac levels.
Closing with the twisted, technical Grindcore-influenced assault of “Are You Angry?” and the suffocating sludgery of “Or Boring?” – two songs representing the two different sides of the band’s bitterly blackened coin – How Hate is Hard to Define establishes itself as the sort of album that should come with a warning label advising that over-exposure to the sounds contained within may be hazardous to your health.
Although maybe I should have warned you about that before you got this far…
2014 – LOWGAZERS
It’s hard to find exactly the right words to describe the changes and improvements which Plebeian Grandstand made to their sound in the transition from their first album to their second.
It’s a bigger, denser, and even more overwhelming record sure, but it’s also more… “polished” isn’t exactly the right word, nor is “refined”… maybe “cohesive” gets closest to what I’m tying to say, as it really feels as though every aspect of the band is even more tightly woven together into a greater whole which is just as aggressive and abrasive and uncompromising but also even more focussed and forward-thinking.
Whereas on their previous album it often felt as though the various parts of the band’s identity – the Black Metal, the Sludge, the Hardcore/Grindcore – were at war with one another (which some might argue was a big part of its charm), on Lowgazers tracks like OTT opening pairing “Thrvst” and “Endless Craving” showcase a sound that’s somehow even more intense, even more dissonant, and even more electrifying than ever before.
If you need further proof of this, just take a listen to “Flail in the Bliss”, which is an unrelenting, and unorthodox, amalgam of dissonant Black Metal and chaotic Hardcore underpinned by a truly dizzying percusive performance courtesy of Plebeian Grandstand drummer Ivo Kaltchev (whose work behind the kit I have, justifiably, seen compared to that of Ulcerate‘s Jamie St. Merat by several other writers).
Just one listen to the scorching fury and angular anarchy of “Lowlifer” should be sufficient to explain why some outlets prefer to refer to the band’s work as “Blackened Mathcore” (though there’s also a significant helping of harrowing Sludge in there too, to my ears), with the sheer eye-opening intensity of the track making the subsequent ambient interlude of “Relief of Troth” and the simmering, doom-laden dissonance of “Svn in Your Head” a not-unwelcome change of pace.
Of course, this is just the calm before the final storm, which begins with the torturous, writhing riffs and tumultuous, panic-inciting drums of “Aimless Roaming” – whose lunatic assault on the senses actually disguises a bleak undercurrent of brooding melodic menace woven into the febrile fabric of the track – and closes, in suitably turbulent fashion, with the howling fury and withering discordance of “Mvrk Diving”.
2016 – FALSE HIGHS, TRUE LOWS
Having now fully nailed down the unforgiving and unpredictable nature of their core sound, Plebeian Grandstand decided to think even further outside of the box, employing a significant increase in sinister synths and esoteric electronic embellishments (something which eerie intro track “Mal du siècle” makes obvious immediately) in order to make it even more difficult to anyone to neatly categorise or define who/what they are.
That being said, False Highs, True Lows feels like even more of a Black Metal album than either of its predecessors – the relentless blasting, murderously snarling “Low Empire” especially – without, necessarily sacrificing any of the twisted skein of Sludge, Grind, and Hardcore influences which have always been such an important part of the band’s DNA.
The caustic cascade of blastbeats and needle-sharp notes of dissonance which inundates your ears during “Tributes and Oblivions”, for example, carries echoes of Krallice or Imperial Triumphant, while also showcasing an even more raw and rampantly emotional vocal performance from chief screamer Adrien Broué, after which the grisly, growling bass-lines and prowling, menacingly melodic guitar work of “Volition” finds the band experimenting even further with simmering tension and shivering atmosphere… right up to the point where it all explodes into a veritable orgy of visceral screams and volatile blastbeats.
The discordant cacophony of the album is then further broken up by the throbbing, pseudo-industrial pulse of “Mineral Tears”, before the rabid fury and relentless intensity of “Oculi Lac” – arguably the purest, or at least most easily recognisable, “Black Metal” track on the entire album – once more boosts the album’s energy and aggression levels to a truly dangerous degree.
The penultimate morass of sludgy, slow-burning atmosphere that is “Tame the Shapes” then provides one last moment of reflection (and one last chance to escape) before the utterly caustic auditory acid-bath of “Eros Culture” – four minutes and forty-two seconds of spine-scraping guitars, throat-ruining vocals, and bone-rattling drums, all soaked in a truly malevolent ambient aura – brings things to a chaotic and catastrophic close.
2021 – RIEN NE SUFFIT
With the release of their fourth album the band took what was arguably the biggest and boldest step forward of their career, pushing the abrasive electronic noise aspect of their sound even more towards the forefront (aided and abetted by the addition of long-time collaborator Amaury Sauvé as a permanent member of the group).
Opener “Masse critique” is the first example of this, all squalling, digital noise and spasming, seizure-causing drums, and it’s not until the album’s second track, “À droite du démiurge, à gauche du néant”, where anything more reminiscent of the band’s previous works actually appears.
Even here though, amidst all the swarming dissonance and howling anguish, there’s an undertow of artificially-inseminated, necromechanical nastiness reminiscent of Godflesh at their grimmest, and the combination of these elements produces something which can only be described as Blackened Industrial Sludge-Noise – something which most definitely isn’t for the faint of heart.
The grisly gabba-grind of “Tropisme” doesn’t so much offer a break in the madness as it does set you off spinning in a totally different, but equally disturbing, direction, after which the scything guitars, stunning drum work, and borderline sadistic intensity of “Part maudite” successfully fuses the digital and the physical, the organic and the mechanical, into an auditory abomination of monstrous proportions.
The abusive intensity and vertiginous velocity of “Angle mort” sits somewhere between the twisted technicality of early Drottnar and the gnarly, grind-infused nihilism of Anaal Nathrakh – all combined with that corrosively off-kilter edge which characterises the best of the French Black Metal scene – while the sinister slow-burn of “Espoir, nuit, naufrage” manages to be just as unsettling and uncomfortable (there’s something just not quite right about all the eerie, echoing applause) without ever raising above an ominous, prowling pace.
“Nous en sommes là” is the sort of haunting electro-industrial horror story which The Axis of Perdition used to specialise in, all whispered words and strobing soundscapes, after which the epilepsy-inducing extremity of “Rien n’y fait” sounds like what I can only imagine Imperial Triumphant would have become if they were less influenced by Ornette Coleman and more by Justin Broadrick.
Climaxing with the brutal blend of charred Black Metal, chattering electronica, and churning Sludge that is “Jouis, camarade” and the disturbing, doom-laden dissonance of “Aube”, Rien ne suffit once more proves itself to be (almost) beyond classification.
It’s the sort of album you really have to hear for yourself, in all its terrifying totality, to fully appreciate. But, once you do, you may never look at the band, or at music in general, quite the same way again.