Recommended for fans of: Gaerea, Mgła, Dark Funeral
I have a confession I need to make. I lied to you all.
Last month I said that this month’s Synn Report wouldn’t be about another Black Metal band, since the previous four editions had all featured some form of Black Metal (though, in my defence, they were all very different takes on the genre).
But when I discovered that Canada’s Incandescence – a band about whom, I was shocked to discover, we’ve written very little over the years – had a new album out (featuring some of the best cover art of the year so far) I knew I had to break my promise.
Formed back in 2011 as a creative outlet for uber-drummer extraordinaire Philippe Boucher – known for his work with Beyond Creation, Chthe’ilist, First Fragment, and more – Incandescence now have four albums of epic, extravagant Black Metal to their name, and it’s high time you got to know their work.
So, without further ado…
2013 – ABSTRACTIONNISME
The band’s debut is their shortest, most succinct record, one which doesn’t necessarily set out to break any moulds or revinvent the wheel, but successfully establishes the duo (Boucher handling all drums, guitars, and bass, with Dystre Fjell joining him on vocals) as “ones to watch”.
Obviously the drumming is a major draw, with Boucher doing his very best to batter the entire kit, cymbals and all, into splinters across each of the album’s eight tracks, but the guitars also do a great job of capturing and maintaining your interest, largely through their piercing melodic character, which is quickly established on energetic instrumental intro “Le dernier reflet de l’astre maudit” and then further expanded upon with the mix of flashy, lightning-fast leads and subtle proggy proclivities which makes up so much of “Abstractionniste”.
Fjell’s cadaverous croak adds some nasty flair to every song, whether spitting out rapid-fire syllables in an attempt to keep pace with the crackling tremolo and near-relentless blastbeats of “Glorieuse Dégénérescence”, or intoning creepy French lyricisms atop the moodier, doomier (and strikingly dynamic) sounds of “La Valse des Ombres” (arguably the high point of the album so far).
The next two tracks offer a more mixed approach, with “Derrière le Masque du Néant” showcasing some heavier, slightly more technical riff work which definitely gives the track a more prominent Death Metal feel (albeit, still sufficiently “blackened” that it doesn’t sound out of place), while “L’abîme du Rêve” bookends its bleak and blast-driven mid-section with a much more proggy and instrumentally intricate intro and outro.
The duo then return to a more “pure” Black Metal approach (albeit one which still flirts with some deathly elements here and there) for the electrifying “Dévorer le Temps” (which finds Boucher deploying his percussive power in what seems, to me at least, in a slightly more tasteful manner, while also giving the bass a bit more room to breathe) after which – lastly, but by no means least – the album draws to a close with its eight minute, three part, finale “La Prophétie de la Lune de Sang”, whose blend of Black Metal, Blackened Death Metal, and nascent progressive inclinations, would serve as a blueprint for the next stage of the band’s evolution.
2016 – LES TÉNÈBRES MURMURENT MON NOM
The duo’s second album was significantly longer than their debut (and, in fact, remains their longest release thus far) and uses this time to build upon some of the fledgling creative and compositional ambitions they demonstrated (but, perhaps, didn’t quite fully realise) on their previous album.
Right from the initial burst of blackened melodic magic that is “Agonie Spirituelle” you can already tell that the production has improved drastically this time around, giving the whole record a bigger, bolder, richer sound, all of which serves the layered guitars, ferocious, full-force drum work, and aggressive, authoritative vocals of “Enivré par des Vents Funestes” very well indeed, allowing every element of the track to find its own space in the mix.
The album then hits an early high point with “Apparitions Automnales”, whose powerful guitars, stunningly technical drumming, and coiled, constantly shifting dynamic makes for one seriously impressively, and extremely unpredictable, ten minute long track.
Smartly, “Haine Ancestrale” then slows things down a little – at least, for its introduction, which combines moody melody and haunting minimalism to great effect – before bursting into electrifying life in a captivating display of agile, rhythmic riffage and fluid, flowing percussion that constantly keeps you guessing as to what’s coming next, after which “Percer les Flancs de L’innocence” then inverts this dynamic somewhat, starting off with a veritable deluge of raging blastbeats, writhing riffs, and winding leads, before shifting into a more morose and melancholy musical form for its bleak and brooding finale.
“Manifeste de Supériorité” leans into the more technical and deathly side of the band’s repertoire, combining some surprisingly hooky – and hefty – guitar work with some of the most ostentatiously OTT drumming on the entire record, but does so without forgetting to lace the music with slender threads of shining melody (and even gives the bass a fleeting moment to shine too), and while “Torrents de Chair et D’acier” then proves to be a somewhat forgettable minute-and-a-half of blast ‘n’ trem belligerence, the same (thankfully) can’t be said for “Délectable Trahison (Le Revirement de la Lame)” which places an emphasis on haunting melodies and hypnotic riffs/rhythms to irresistable effect.
Penultimate track “Les Ténèbres Murmurent Mon Nom” blends soaring grandeur and scorching aggression in equal measure, providing some of the harshest and heaviest, but also most atmospheric, moments of the album so far (and all without a single splash of shimmering synths or cosmic keys), but it’s the record’s climactic twelve-and-a-half minute coda, “Sous les Cendres du Vice (Je Marcherai Éternellement)” which really steals the show, Boucher and Fjell saving the best until last as they serve up a stunning mix of devastating, Dark Funeral-esque heaviness and indulgently proggy extremity, equal parts electrifying guitars, hyperactive drums, grandiose melody, and gloomy atmosphere.
2019 – ASCENSION
Sporting a new vocalist (Louis-Paul Gauvreau) and what seems like a whole new lease on life, there’s no doubt in my mind that Ascension is (or was) the band’s best work yet, one which married Boucher’s undeniable technical talents to a more defined, and refined, sense of songwriting.
Opener “Autodafé” also quickly makes it clear that Ascension is more of a “pure” Black Metal album than either of its predecessors, with a sharper, icier demeanour and a nuanced overall sound – especially when it comes to giving the bass more room in the mix – that doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of the band’s previous intensity.
New vocalist Louis-Paul Gauvreau undeniably has a grittier, more gravelly growl, that’s true, but still possesses more than enough blackened bite to fit in seamlessly with the band’s slight shift in musical direction, and his vicious snarl meshes with the seething tremolo, soaring leads, and strafing drum work of “Torrent of Thoughts” so well that you can tell exactly why Boucher chose to collaborate with him on this album.
“Torrent of Thoughts” also epitomises just how much more melodic this album is – while still retaining every erg of electrifying power – than either of the band’s first two albums, the song’s blend of lilting harmonies, chiming chords, and mellifluous bass-lines providing an immersive, atmospheric experience that’s underpinned by some absolutely phenomenal drum work.
All of these aspects are exaggerated even further – to great effect – during the titanic third track, “Rebirth”, which shows off the duo’s dynamic creativity over the course of its riveting ten-minute run-time as it moves from moody atmosphere to blazing fury to brooding introspection (keep an ear out for some impressively lithe and liquid bass-lines) without ever losing cohesion or a sense of continuity.
In contrast to its more intricate and immersive predecessor, “Tomb Made of Flesh” then bursts out of the gate in a torrent of punishing blastbeats and menacing melodic hooks, delivering what might be the most “true” Black Metal experience of the band’s career, building in intensity towards an even more majestic and mesmerising second half, after which the purely instrumental assault of “Passerelles” errs back towards the more “Blackened Death Metal” leaning sound of the first two albums.
“Above All” then guides things back in a more “pure” Black Metal direction – which, in my opinion, is where the band thrives – intercutting passages of near-relentless blasting with moments of poignant, proggy instrumentation which demonstrates both Boucher’s undeniable technical talents and his keen grasp of mood and dynamic, all in the course of just four-and-a-half minutes.
The album concludes, saving the best for (almost) last, with the magnetic melodies and hypnotic intensity of “The Ashes Are Falling”, whose prodigiously powerful delivery also conceals a wealth of surprisingly subtle instrumental nuances, following which the doomy grandeur of “Décrépitude de l’âme” brings things to a climactic close as it slowly builds towards a fiery crescendo over the course of six sublimely sinister minutes.
2022 – LE COEUR DE L’HOMME
With Le Coeur de l’Homme Boucher and Gauvreau continue even further down the path laid out by Ascension, adding a dash more atmosphere and a touch more gloomy groove to the recipe along the way.
This is immediately apparent during opener “Avilissement”, which not only suggests that Boucher has become even more unhinged behind the kit, delivering both Dominator-esque unstoppable intensity and eye-popping technicality in equal measure, but also simultaneously finds the music being given more space to ease off the gas and turn its gaze inwards as it progresses.
“Tréfonds macabres” only reinforces this perception, as while Boucher’s drums are indeed still a major draw, there’s also even more focus on hooky riffs, catchy melodies, and immersive atmosphere on display, with the latter aspect in particular being given more and more time to play out as the track goes on.
You needn’t worry that Incandescence have gone soft, however, as the tumultuous assault of “La descente” and the desolate, doom-laden march of “Avide de cris” both demonstrate, the pounding percussion and strangling tremolo lines of the former eventually giving way to an ominous and oppressive second half, out of which the latter slowly builds moody, malevolent intensity until it reaches a furious, shrieking finale.
Speaking of intensity… “Écroulement vers l’abîme” is as intense and infectious as anything that more prominent and famous bands like Gaerea, Mgła, or Wiegedood have produced in the last several years, not just instrumentally but vocally as well, with Gauvreau delivering one of his most caustic, compelling, and characterful performances behind the mic yet, showing off an impressively visceral yet varied delivery over the course of the song’s short but sweet, sub-four-minute run-time.
“Le coeur de l’homme” is another track which makes the band’s “true” Black Metal status absolutely undeniable, every searing tremolo line, every barrage of blistering blastbeats, every throat-scarring snarl, embodying a sound which is neither “classic” nor “modern” but simply “timeless”, especially during the song’s phenomenal finale, which builds from soothing calm to storm-tossed fury without ever missing a beat.
Saving the best for last, the album concludes with its two longest and most complex compositions, the first of which (“La spirale de l’échec”) demonstrates its proggy ambitions early, before dropping the hammer and unleashing some of the heaviest, most intense Black Metal on the entire album, beneath which it conceals some surprisingly nuanced depths (the interplay between bass and drums in particular is both subtle yet striking).
Concluding with the grimly grandiose strains of “Désacralisation des moeurs”, whose sinister slow-burn provides one last opportunity for Boucher to show-off his dizzyingly creative drum work even as the song builds and builds towards critical mass, Le Coeur de l’Homme should – if there’s any justice in the world – be the album which finally puts Incandescence on the Black Metal map… not just in Canada, but on a global scale.