Despite being connected to countless metal acts, from being a live bassist for Alcest and Empyrium to designing album artwork for bands such as Morbid Angel and Agalloch, the musical brainchild of multimedia artist Fursy Teyssier, Les Discrets, has little metal about it. Teyssier clearly conceived the aesthetic for the project with a black metal image in his head, and the band’s earliest releases, such as their 2010 debut full-length, Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées, pulled heavily from the blackgaze stylings of Alcest and other acts associated with Neige, but their latest album, Prédateurs, is practically devoid of any metal influence on a musical level. Given that the music of Les Discrets has always been intended by Teyssier to reflect many of the concepts recurrent throughout his visual art, there is certainly a great deal of common stylistic ground between particular subsets of metal and Les Discrets’ brand of experimental rock, but Prédateurs lies much closer to shoegazing and post-rock on the musical spectrum. This being said, the incorporation of a host of other influences, from electronic music to indie rock to trip hop, leaves this project as an indefinable collision of styles and sounds. As such, it seems more appropriate to attempt to define Prédateurs by its aesthetic, which is consistently dark and ominous, with Teyssier pulling the moodiest aspects of the record’s stylistic inspirations to craft its overall mood. Indeed, the artist’s description of the album as being the soundtrack to a film noir is most definitely accurate, with the arc of Prédateurs being thematically-driven, touching on grand metaphysical concepts that all seem to revolve around nature, whether they be life or time, and relate to destruction at the hands of humans. However, whether or not Prédateurs conveys an overarching narrative is debatable, rather it seems to offer brief snippets of a larger plot that all pertain to the release’s recurring themes. Whilst a more rigid narrative tying everything together could have benefited this album, Prédateurs nevertheless emerges as an enthralling exploration of rock music’s darkest crevices that shines a dim light on the fundamental nature of anthropogenic ruin.
The opening title track, despite having the veneer of a simple introductory piece, is amongst the most tense and ominous moments on the whole of Prédateurs, and unveils an intriguing side to the record’s statements on nature and humans. Through textures of chiming synth embellishments — in part beautiful, but no less haunting — we hear an excerpt from philanthropist Philip Wollen’s speech during the St. James Ethics and The Wheeler Centre debate on vegetarianism, featuring the oft-cited quote of, “[i]n their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig is a bear is a boy”, as Wollen details how the death of his father converted him to veganism. Given the album’s title, with the predators surely referring to humans, and the bleak depiction of a sheep on its cover, it seems that many of the record’s key themes of life and nature have been tied to the relationship between human and nonhuman animals, with the dark emphasis being on the treatment of animals, as Wollen says, “in the slaughterhouse” and “on the cattle ships”. This perhaps even shines a light on the band’s name itself, with Teyssier considering Les Discrets to mean “those who keep silent”, which potentially mimics the voiceless suffering of nonhuman animals. As for the way in which Les Discrets interact with this vocal sample, the ambient instrumental they provide plays to the same sonic territory as Wollen’s deep, gravelly inflection, and it manages to make the Australian activist’s voice even more chilling, in keeping with the dark atmosphere of Prédateurs as a whole. Similar lyrical topics are explored by the band themselves further into the record, most notably on Vanishing Beauties, wherein Teyssier bids farewell to all manner of life on Earth, asserting that “man is the only useless species”, as well as on The Scent Of Spring (Moonraker), a grim portrayal of the world’s landscapes following continued environmental degradation. Such imagery of “black poison” and “meadows turned to tar” appropriately mirrors the overall dark and gritty nature of Prédateurs, as do the cold, downtrodden soundscapes across the album.
Indeed, the album’s dark tone isn’t simply one created by its lyrics, rather it is recurrent in the musical themes too, as epitomised by the first full-length track on the record, Virée Nocturne. As someone familiar with Les Discrets’ previous, more black metal-infused work, Virée Nocturne came as a huge surprise, and established the project’s abandonment of its blackgaze origins. The cycling, lethargic drum beat and smooth, swirling bass line are purely trip hop inspired, with even the shimmering guitar chords that lurk in the distance sounding as if they have been pulled straight from a Portishead song, whilst the prominence of buzzing synths throughout much of the track takes Les Discrets’ sound in a more electronic rock-inclined direction. The band retain their shoegazing edge as much as ever, however, with Teyssier’s overlapping vocals being drenched in reverb, which, when paired with the elongated note-value of his singing, creates a dark ambiance that is married beautifully with the languid trip hop beat. The song isn’t wholly focussed on its brooding atmosphere, however, rather Teyssier flexes his compositional muscles as much as ever, with the piece composedly flowing between various, intertwining passages, whilst the duelling clean guitar lines are built up against a cascade of ominous ambience that is nevertheless hypnotically beautiful, aptly reflecting the singer’s musings of admiring the night sky through veils of mist.
The stylistic deviation of Prédateurs from previous Les Discrets records continues further into the tracklisting, with the band being rooted in their brand of dark shoegaze as they take many a detour into other genres. The emphasis on the pairing of the drum and bass is somewhat reminiscent of post-punk, with songs like Les Amis De Minuit combining a softly grumbling bass with some booming drum work. Despite this, under the pained but stunning vocal duet between Teyssier and lyricist Audrey Hadorn, the glistening tremolo of the guitar and faint stutters of synth, this rhythmic pairing doesn’t necessarily divert the style of the song away from its clear post-rock sound, rather it drives it forward with a sense of urgency that collides dramatically with the anguished beauty of the rest of the arrangement. Certain cuts, however, do diverge slightly from Les Discrets’ underlying shoegazing sound, with the propulsive electronica of Le Reproche being a prime example. As opposed to most of the songs from Prédateurs, Le Reproche wastes no time in getting started, opening with a drone of synth fuzz that gives way to a searing guitar line. Even Teyssier and Hadorn’s vocal lines are much less echoey and far more centred around contributing to the suspense of the song, rather than crafting a blissful ambiance around the tense instrumentation. All this being said, however, there is most definitely room for heightened experimentation from Les Discrets on Prédateurs, as, although the record exhibits a meeting of many styles that are melded with one another rather nicely, certain tracks towards the back-end of the tracklisting begin to cover familiar ground. Songs like Les Jours D’Or and Rue Octavio Mey, for instance, whilst pleasant in their own right, adhere to a very similar formula of dainty, whirling guitar lines that accompany Teyssier’s light singing, whilst the rest of the instrumentation will gradually build up underneath this. Of course, even these tracks are executed with an admirable degree of focus that still manages to encapsulate the intriguing sound that Les Discrets carve out for themselves on Prédateurs, and the record is better for it, with its consistently dark and hushed atmosphere playing to the strengths of the lyrical imagery too.
Following its release, I had noticed many fans of the band voicing their disappointment with their departure from their previous, post-black stylings on albums like Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées, but, in truth, Les Discrets were never a blackgaze band more than they were an experimental project. In this sense, Prédateurs is an admirable advancement for the group in terms of their appropriation of broader influences from across the stylistic spectrum into their downcast sound and grieving lyricism, all of which ultimately further Teyssier’s artistic vision for the project. Whilst Les Discrets’ musical experimentation on their new record delves deeper than merely surface level, it nevertheless seems to be the case that the well runs dry of fresh ideas at times, with the band arguably treading water slightly towards the end of the album. Even in such instances, however, the group’s mesmerising performances and gorgeous instrumental arrangements keep their heads above water. Ultimately, even during its more familiar moments, Prédateurs is a hypnotic union of all manner of sounds and styles that come together to form a beautifully dark rock record.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10