With black metal traditionally being such an image-conscious genre, the place of imagery in its lyricism is undoubtedly significant, although never anywhere near as pronounced as the corpse paint, spiked armbands and inverted crosses of the archetypal black metal aesthetic, and perhaps unjustly so. Given just how integral a role myriad aspects of culture — whether this be religion, spirituality, literature or philosophy — play in inspiring the stylistic sensibilities of countless black metal acts, the genre could surely be said to share many artistic traits with folk music, particularly with regards to the extent to which bands will attempt to capture and convey the traditions of their motherland. In this sense, just as the native classical allusions and thematic concepts of the folk music of different cultures make discerning between Celtic, English, American and Nordic folk music relatively simple, the same could be said of black metal of various ethnic origins. Of the plethora of underground black metal scenes to have spawned across the globe, each cultural province naturally develops shared musical motifs and lyrical symbols that markedly distinguish them from one another. Although seldom discussed as extensively as their Swedish or Norwegian counterparts, these same cultural connotations can be applied to the black metal outfits of Catalonia, with few, if any, of these groups encapsulating and building upon the artistic foundations of this region as substantially as Foscor. Drawing influences from their homeland’s connections to fin de siècle traditions relating to cynical philosophies concerning the inevitable movement of civilised society towards decadence, Foscor have long since matched their brand of dark, depressive black metal with lyrical concepts of a similarly morbid nature. After all, the band’s name translates from Catalan to English as “darkness”, with this theme being the tie that binds all of their music and lyricism together. This has even been the case over the course of Foscor’s more recent output, which has seen the group gradually distance themselves from the raw and pure black metal of their early material, instead opting for a more progressive sound that often leans just as heavily towards doom metal as it does towards black metal, whilst nevertheless being shrouded in the same cold, unyielding, nocturnal ambiance. This transitory period for the outfit has seen them be routinely compared to Swedish metal band Katatonia, with Foscor, like Katatonia on their third album, deciding to start utilising clean vocals, progressive song structures and slower tempos of a traditional doom metal hue. With Foscor planting the seeds for this tone shift on their 2008 album, Groans to the Guilty, it was the group’s previous release, 2014’s Those Horrors Whither, that saw this transition be fully actualised. As such, Foscor’s newest record, Les Irreals Visions, is their second full-length foray into these murky, progressive waters, and it would seem that the band has grown into their newfound sound even more on this project. With an augmented breadth to their compositional attitude on Les Irreals Visions, Foscor continue to paint lugubrious soundscapes with their same achromatic palette, whilst nevertheless capturing a strangely vibrant sound arising from their rich, vivid and suspenseful sense of melody.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest successes of Les Irreals Visions is the extent to which Foscor potently justify their recent stylistic reinvention through their cogent contrasting of tones, which will often see elements of their original brand of second-wave black metal seep into the slower tempos and serpentine song structures of their renovated sound. After all, as previously stated, with the group’s tonal palette being as gloomy and monochrome as the album artwork, a large portion of the sonic appeal of Les Irreals Visions arises from the way in which Foscor play with shading and contrast. Considering this attitude, placing Instants as the first song in the tracklisting seems like a given, with the band’s progressive compositional prowess, doom-infused dirge and black metal propulsion coming together on this cut more overtly than at any other point on the record, as if it was intended to mark both Foscor’s departure from an unadulterated black metal sound and their attainment of a strong blend of numerous styles. The crisp, crunchy echo of the simple melody that opens the track is paired with some subtly searing swells of guitar, crafting an atmosphere that borders on symphonic to an extent, which is forcibly disrupted upon the introduction of some tense tom-tom work that fills out the space in the mix rather powerfully. As vocalist Fiar’s clean singing rises over the piece, it becomes clear just how much Foscor have evolved to accommodate for their recent aesthetic change of pace. A great deal of this acclimatisation comes down to Fiar himself, with the sinuous grace of his Catalan crooning coming across as exceptionally melodically pronounced, whilst the splashes of reverb provide enough echo for his singing to add to the song’s ghostly tone, but without so much that his strong sense of melody is overshadowed by an over-reliance on atmosphere. Of course, the overall ambiance of the group’s revamped sound nevertheless plays an intrinsic part in their appeal, but such touches of atmosphere are typically employed conservatively through passages that strike a blackgaze-esque inflection. This is precisely the case further into Instants, for example, as the obscure broken chords of the guitars and the downtempo doom drumming give way to some tremolo-picked chords, before erupting into the blast beats and soaring vocals that one could expect to hear from a band like Alcest. Although a relatively by-the-book blackgaze bridge, Foscor unequivocally do the sound justice, particularly with the second guitar providing a subtle sense of counterpoint and with the transition into a black metal rendition of the song’s original section being immensely gratifying.
Indeed, it’s Foscor’s capacity to not solely contrast these divergent ideas effectively that makes the best moments across Les Irreals Visions so well-rounded, but also the inventive ways in which they bring together these varying styles. In the case of a cut like Espectres Al Cau, the initial outbreak of surprisingly bright and luscious guitar tones is soon supplanted by a deathly grunt that leads into a section of gritty, clashing chords that retain the vitality of the prior passage, whilst applying it to a naturally heavier aesthetic. What’s more, with the repeated interjections of well-incorporated, stripped-down sections, which are largely driven by the pairing of Fiar’s growling bass and some booming, supportive drum work, the heaviest heights of Espectres Al Cau are made all the more impactful with the song structure being wound around these points of subdued suspense. The succeeding song, De Marges I Matinades, is similarly dramatic, but rather than this resulting from drastic shifts in tone, it instead emerges most significantly from the dynamic created between the passages of straight-up black metal, complete with shrieked vocals, and the convoluted verse sections of intricate drumming and subtly woven guitar embellishments, all of which takes place in an obscure time signature. Earlier on in the tracklisting, a cut like Altars is slightly more nuanced in its blending of styles, with the string-bending opening guitar riff being somewhat evocative of desert rock, which is bolstered upon the introduction of the accented, sluggish, stoner rock groove, whilst all of this nevertheless operates within Foscor’s progressive and post-black framework, making for a particularly well-textured piece. Unfortunately, there are a few instances across the course of the tracklisting wherein either the band’s progressive sensibilities don’t quite strike a cogent balance between fluidity and complexity, such as on Encenalls De Mort, or there is a noticeable prioritisation of emotive atmospheres over structural strength, as is arguably the case on the closing title-track. Outside of the odd disruption to the album’s fluidity, however, Les Irreals Visions displays Foscor as having almost fully matured within their newfangled stylings, whilst still successfully touching on the bleak, nocturnal nature of their earlier black metal homages to the rich artistic history of Catalonia.
With the artistic growth that Les Irreals Vision marks for Foscor comes an overall heightened sense of purpose to the metal outfit’s new sound, largely courtesy of just how much more at home they are within this stylistic model on their latest album. With the rich lilt of Fiar’s melodically-dense Catalan singing consistently soaring atop the pairing of the counterpoint latticework of the two guitars beautifully, whilst both the bass and drums play an integral role in altering the tone, tension or urgency of a song, Foscor come together so tightly on Les Irreals Visions that they no longer feel like a black metal band toying with elements from progressive metal, more than they come across as a progressive metal band full stop. Indeed, given how cohesive the group sounds on this latest record of theirs, there undoubtedly exists a veneer of experience that transcends the length of time Foscor have been trying their hand at this style. To have had a band lay the groundwork for a significant reinvention of their stylings and stick the landing so swiftly is impressive in and of itself, but the best moments across Les Irreals Visions also translate a level of compromise between the two eras of Foscor’s sound, with the resultant synthesis making for a cultivated and vital exploration of darkness.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10