Released: 2009, Candlelight Records
As a non-enthusiast of black metal in general, the first thing that springs to mind when I hear the phrase ‘French black metal’ is the infamous and shadowy assembly of underground bands going under the collective soubriquet Les Legions Noire, comprising of famous ‘bands’ like Mutiilation, Vlad Tepes and Belketre. The LLN came and went pretty damn quick, and now French black metal may refer to bands as diverse as Temple of Baal, Arkhon Infaustus, Karras, Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, and now, Glorior Belli, who are each and in their own way as far away from the one-man howlings of the Black Legion bands as can be – so much so that ‘French black metal’ is pretty much useless as a descriptor.
Glorior Belli bring an interesting spin to their own conception of black metal. On MEET US AT THE SOUTHERN SIGN, there are more than a few hints of bourbon-soaked, down-South Delta blues hiding among the midpaced tremolo picked gnarly black metal riffs. You think I’m kidding? I’ve never so much as seen a black metal band reference the blues – and there’s a song called ‘In Every Grief-Stricken Blues’ on this album – much less throw in some musical signposts that point way down South, and yet here are Glorior Belli doing exactly that. Indeed, the title of the album could be taken to refer to the time-honoured Robert Johnson/Ralph ‘Karate Kid’ Macchio sale of the eternal soul to the Devil in return for earthly gifts, a uniquely American twist to the European legendry of Faust and Mephistopheles.
So what on earth is a French band doing referencing Southern blues on a black metal record? I don’t know, but vocalist/songwriter Infestvvs sounds like one heck of an interesting guy. On the one hand, they pay homage to the pacey twisted meanderings of orthodox black metal bands like mid-era Satyricon and Darkthrone and Enslaved, and they do it tolerably well too, with more than enough dissonance and jangly distorted open chords to spare. On the other hand, MEET US AT THE SOUTHERN SIGN is as much Black Sabbath and Celtic Frost, as it is Down and other Southern sludge-doom bands. It’s a weird combination, and it took me a while to get my head around it.
I love it when bands try to do something different, and MEET US AT THE SOUTHERN SIGN may take repeated listens for me to get a grasp of it fully. The problem for me personally at least is that this album is too draggy, too long by at least 10 minutes. Also, I’m not a major fan of black metal in general, nor am I terribly fond of sludge-doom either – unfortunately, this explains its score. But this album is for the open-minded fan who is willing to take a shot on something that’s not a carbon copy of 350 other bands. Give it a try, it may not be your cup of tea but they deserve a passing listen at the very least.
‘Blues-black metal’ has a nice ring to it though...