The time of blackgaze is now. With the massive commercial and critical success of bands like Deafheaven and Ghost Bath, and many of the eerily similar bands to have emerged since their rise to prominence, it seems that the American black metal market has made a turn towards the atmospheric and shoegazing-inspired derivatives of the genre. Of course, the likes of Deafheaven did not invent the genre, rather they moulded its key principles into a more accessible format, which has seen great success for the group. In fact, the origins of the fusion between black metal and shoegazing is inextricably linked to France, given the importance of Stéphane Paut, known more commonly by his musical pseudonym of Neige and as a member of some of blackgaze’s most important acts (Alcest, Amesouers, Lantlôs, etc.), who is credited by many as being the ringleader for the origin and development of blackgaze. Of course, black metal has been an important genre in underground French music circuits for nearly as long as the genre has existed, with many notable black metal artists coming out of France, and with there even existing a collective of underground French black metal musicians called Les Légions Noires, who initially formed in response to Norway’s Black Metal Inner Circle. Indeed, the sound of France’s classic and still burgeoning black metal scenes can be heard all over Au Champ Des Morts’ debut release, Dans La Joie; or, at least, in everything but the seemingly out of character title for this project. Whilst Au Champ Des Morts certainly sit under the blackgaze label, there seems to be a more heightened sense of awareness of black metal’s origins in their sound than other blackgaze artists emerging in current times. The resulting sound is as dark as it is beautiful, as disturbing as it is moving, and struck me rather forcibly upon just my first listen of this album.
The record’s opener, Nos Décombres, is quick to resonate to the listener the usual heavy and burdensome emotions associated with black metal, largely as a result of lead vocalist Stefan Bayle’s (of Anorexia Nervosa fame) wretched and disturbing shrieks over the slightly sluggish instrumental. Both the performances and production on this track, and indeed the whole album, feel more skeletal and abrasive than that of other blackgaze acts, whilst not sacrificing the overall quality of the sound, nor does this make the record a challenging listen to the extent of a record like Darkthrone’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Both this track and its successor, Après Le Carnage, are both rather impressive, with the dark but enticing atmosphere being paired masterfully with the somewhat standard blackgaze instrumentals, and Bayle’s vocal delivery carries over well into this new format and is one of the most impressive features of these songs. However, whilst I have only a few nitpicky qualms with the two opening cuts, the most impressive moments of Dans La Joie come from deeper within its bowels.
Le Sang, La Mort, La Chute is one of the more distinctly blackgaze tracks on the record, opening with some distant and reverbed guitar chords before plunging into the main body of the track. The beat on this song almost feels like that of a doom metal track, and it must be said that there are quite a few moments on this record that seem to be inspired by doom metal. The vocals from bassist Cécile G are epic and haunting at the beginning of the track and sound completely creepy and psychotic during the climax of the piece. They also contrast well against Bayle’s usual blood-curdling screams, which gives the composition a healthy dose of different sounds and textures. The track progresses rather much as one would expect, with the drums picking up at some parts and the instrumentation settling down towards the middle of the track before bursting back in again, but it is nonetheless played to yield very good results and is overall a multi-faceted and satisfying blackgaze track.
Contempler L’Abîme stands out for numerous reasons. Firstly, the fact that it’s the most subtle and arguably most beautiful song in the tracklisting here is apt given its position as the central song of the seven that appear on Dans La Joie, as it breaks apart the seemingly ceaseless abrasiveness of much of the rest of the record. Also, it appearing directly before the 10-minute long title track makes it feel like it was intended to gear the listener up for the longest and one of the most brutal cuts on the recording. Moreover, its 6/8 time signature is more than enough reason to make it stand out, and the band seem to be interested in doing exactly that, as the piece opens just with a simple drum beat introducing the tempo and time signature in an almost robotic fashion. The lead guitar that enters after this drum intro has a surprisingly bright tone to it, but pays off nicely and, if anything, emphasises just how nasty Bayle’s disturbed vocals are. Again, whilst this track follows a rather expected structure, that’s not to say it doesn’t work well within the formula that Au Champ Des Morts adhere to on a lot of this record.
The 10-minute title track has the most forceful introduction of any song on the record thus far, in that it wastes no time in bursting in with fast drumming and typical tremolo-picked blackgaze guitars. As Bayle’s vocals scramble their way into the forefront of the mix, a melodic lead guitar joins in under his voice and acts as a nice addition, giving a tune for the listener’s ear to really grab onto. The various textures, dynamics, rhythmic patterns and melodies that appear throughout the duration of this song make its 10-minute runtime fly by with no hitches whatsoever. The last song I wish to touch on is the album’s closer, La Fin Du Monde, which almost feels like a ballad in how it’s structured and performed. This piece is driven by an echoey guitar lead that accompanies Cécile G’s tribal and eerie clean vocals. The word tribal is particularly apt in that the chanting that appears on the backend of this track, along with the tom-focused drumming paints an image of some sort of ritual taking place, as those partaking in the practice ceremonially dance around a fire. The mood of this song is played to great effect and is as interesting an end to the album as it is a strong one.
Au Champ Des Morts have come through with a very impressive and undoubtedly promising debut record with Dans La Joie. The atmospheric sound that is ever-present on this record is very well-assembled and is used for some highly satisfying results. The compositions undeniably follow a rather archetypal structure, which some could argue leaves the record lacking in a definitive identity, but the tracks nonetheless sound great and work within the pre-established blackgaze formula very well. Moreover, the vocals are certainly a highlight on this record, and both Bayle and Cécile G’s deliveries give the band’s performances a lot of character, which is very important for a black metal band. This record, whilst by no means revolutionary, does more than enough to fulfil the desires of the average blackgaze fan, whilst still standing out from much of the band’s competition.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10