Standing at the Crossroads of Black Metal
French black metal bands have been serving up albums full to the brim with idiosyncratic experimentalism for many years now, with numerous outfits becoming notorious for incorporating eccentric influences into their works. Forget about subtly tinkering round the edges, bands such as Peste Noire, Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega and Alcest have all taken unashamed and unorthodox steps to re-evaluate, and often transform, the parameters of black metal. With so many of them transcending the boundaries of their chosen genres, it seems like avant-garde has become an almost ubiquitous prefix for a vast array of French bands.
Paris-based Glorior Belli has certainly worked hard since its inception to redefine its aesthetic components. And if the term avant-garde defines a band that sets out some novel lines of demarcation, then Glorior Belli’s reconfiguring of black metal’s internal/infernal structure means they undoubtedly deserve the moniker. From the raging, raw ferocity of their 2005 debut, Ô Laudate Dominvs, to the widely acclaimed 2007 release, Manifesting the Raging Beast, right on through to 2009’s Meet Us at the Southern Sign, the band has been steadily resetting its compass, creeping exponentially towards the grimy magnificence to be found on its new album, The Great Southern Darkness.
Glorior Belli’s mix of rabid southern blues and sludgy darkened rock (all wrapped up in suitably occultist black metal hues) marks it out as a band that knows all about standing at the crossroads (both in metaphorical and artistic terms). Incorporating sludgy down-home elements into their sound is not a new move. Some fans were bewildered by the decidedly non-black-metal elements incorporated into Meet Us at the Southern Sign. But for all the challenges the band’s sonic preferences present to the more conservative black metal fan – and the new album is a lot more humid and swampy than frostbitten and austere – the bluesy direction, fuzzed-out amp tones and mid-tempo dirges are still unquestionably wicked. While the new album is packed full of swaggering hooks, it hasn’t lost any of the bitterness of the band’s earlier work.
‘‘Secret Ride to Rebellion’‘, with its fast tremolo work and ringing repetitive blues riff, is a great example of where the band sits these days. The track combines the enmity of black metal, the groove of southern gothic rock and a droning, buzzing outro. The band also makes great use of heavy ‘70s characteristics: ‘‘Negative Incarnate’’ has a brilliant guitar duelling section that is highly reminiscent of jam bands from that era, and ‘‘The Great Southern Darkness’‘, with its stripped back bluesy ambience, brings in some refreshing clean singing before the rolling riffs and dark lyrical themes collide. It’s possibly the most unconventional track on the album, but it’s also one of the best.
While the band has dug deeper into the quagmire of mystical asceticism on The Great Southern Darkness, check out the sober melancholic romp of “Horns in My Path” for proof of that it hasn’t forgotten its roots. “Per Nox Regna” and “Chaos Manifested” provide plenty more fundamentally inclined blackened kicks – as do all the songs to varying degrees – and although the album is stacked with vintage slices of American roots rock, it still retains, at its core, plenty of scorching riffs and blasting beats.
Glorior Belli’s newest release is uncompromising and unconventional. It provides all that crushing emotionality you want in a black metal release, but it evokes that spirit via an inventive sonic ritual. Over the course of four full-lengths, the band has progressively developed to become a more sophisticated musical entity, while conversely exploring the devolution of black metal’s heritage. With a captivating mix of bluesy, heavy stoner grooves, doom-laden lyricism, retro prog-rock flourishes and some thickly distorting sludge, the band has reaffirmed the diabolical principles of black metal while avoiding its most mind-numbing clichés.
The Great Southern Darkness is multidimensional, refreshingly inventive and evil as hell. Like the best avant-garde metal bands, Glorior Belli has taken its genre to new directions without sacrificing any sense of what made it a black metal band in the first place.
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