Enough has been said about the merits of the French metal scene, which is especially notorious for artists situated outside the spectrum of what is considered traditional metal. Marked by abounding compositional creativity and an excellent nose for deviant sounds, these bands remain largely in obscurity (as of yet there is no comprehensive list of influential French post-black metal acts!), apart from a few big names, like Alcest and Gojira. Unnoticeably, this scene is still growing and its brooding presence is becoming ever more perceptible. Within the first month of this year, we already find a worthy addition to the French metal landscape, rising from the invisible ashes of symphonic black metal band Anorexia Nervosa. Au Champ des Morts are a three-piece hailing from Limoges, and Dans La Joie (In Joy) is their debut full-length; seven songs that make up over 50 minutes of high quality post-black material.
RELEASE DATE: 27 January 2016 LABEL: Debemur Morti Productions
The looming skull in a gloomy landscape on the cover art poses a stark contrast with the album title underneath, Dans La Joie (In Joy). It is a rather tragic image that seems to speak of the end of the human race. Gone extinct together with all other lifeforms on this planet. Au Champ des Morts aren’t going full Greenpeace on Dans La Joie, but starting out with a song called Not Décombres (Our Debris), going through Contempler l’Abîme (Contemplating the Abyss) and ending with La Find du Monde (The End of the World), it seems that the band is going for a certain ecologically introspective atmosphere.
Dans La Joie aligns itself with the classic literary genre of lamentations. In moments that hearken back to the Biblical lamentations of Jeremiah, singer Stéphane Bayle (ex-Anorexia Nervosa) completely surrenders himself to his feelings of grief. Nothing here is contrived, and even though lamentation is not something alien to black metal, it is rare for an artist to lay down the attitude of vigour that is often associated with this kind of music. A high point in this act of submission is probably the second half of L’Étoile du Matin (The Morning Star) where Bayle resorts to a curious way of proclaiming his lyrics, switching over to screaming, after which a blistering guitar solo leads the song to its emotional apex.
The French language seems to be much more appropriate to express certain emotions than English, which is demonstrated in its full glory during Le Sang, La Chute, Le Mort (The Blood, The Drop, The Dead). Imagine that reprimanding outburst near the five minute-mark done in English—it doesn’t work! The same goes for the clean singing on this record, and especially the sophisticated vocals of bass player Cécile Gonzales on closing track La Fin du Monde (The End of the World). On Dans La Joie, Au Champ des Morts present a diverse array of emotions in a variety of voices.
After all this talk of expressing emotions, one might think that listening to Dans La Joie is a very moving experience, but there are many times where the band sound distant and gloomy, often pulling you right out of that heart-rending mindset. In interviews, creative mastermind Stefan Bayle (ex-Anorexia Nervosa) is quick to point out the influence of cold wave music, which is most apparent in the introducing bars to Not Décombres (Our Debris) and L’Étoile du Matin. Outside these two moments however, the influence isn’t all that noticeable, which is not a surprise as going from cold wave to atmospheric black metal isn’t that much of a stretch after all. But it is nice to see the connection acknowledged, and what remains is the unconscious juxtaposition of unrestrained emotive singing and a tense, rhythmic coldness that oftentimes erupts into blistering violence.
Dans La Joie is not the most accessible record, which is not due to an exorbitantly bad sound or average songwriting. Let us say that the devil is in the little details. It takes a while for the listener to take in the full scope of what Au Champ des Morts are trying to achieve, and it would be advisable for any fan of the genre to sit down with this record a few times. For those who can bring up the patience, there lies in wait a contemplative richness that makes this record stand out. A genuine slab of post-black metal and a tremendous accomplishment!