Released: 2006, Sepulchral Productions
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Drawing inspiration from nature and the elements, Quebec’s one-man black metal project, Sombres Forêts (“Dark Forests”), features slow to mid-paced ambient black metal on its debut full-length, QUINTESSENCE. Five lengthy tracks are bookended by a pair of instrumentals and the usual despair, misanthropy and atmospheric components are here to complete the puzzle. Not as overtly angry as Xasthur but not as ambient as fellow labelmates Niflheim, either, Sombres Forêts (AKA vocalist/instrumentalist Annatar) resides somewhere in the middle of black metal’s polar axis but QUINTESSENCE is powerful in its message nonetheless.
Sung entirely in Annatar’s mother tongue of French, the songs on QUINTESSENCE transcend the limitations of language through the atmosphere generated by his pained howls, spoken words and generally narrow musical landscape. Never berating the listener with guitars that are too busy for their own good or drums that are set on eleven from beginning to end, Annatar uses minimalism to maximum effect. The instrumental title track is comprised of wind effects and a whistling keyboard to initially set the mood. “Le Royaume” is on pace with the best funeral doom practiced by bands like Skepticism and Shape of Despair, with expressive use of painfully slow riffs and sublime keyboards. “L'Abîme,” while quicker in tempo, is still quite subdued by black metal standards and Annatar’s haunting shrieks are chillingly eerie. A buzzing riff segues into a clean guitar passage that sits in the middle of “Vents Des Désespoirs” and the juxtaposition of the two is excellent, bringing the listener down from a noisy high to a tranquil low in a matter of seconds. A disenchanting sense of peace continues through the dirge-like “Au Solstice De L'Hiver” but the razor-like riffs of “Automne” gravitate towards the rawness of traditional black metal showing Sombres Forêts is all-encompassing in its treatment of the genre.
As one of three releases to kick off Frozen Shadows’ new label, Sepulchral Productions, Sombres Forêts instills Quebec’s place as Canada’s heavy metal capital with QUINTESSENCE. At once showing disarming restraint and aggressive wickedness, the album is a testament to black metal’s global influence. The “other” northern wilderness of Quebec offers every bit of the tradition, cultural history and fervent nationalism that Norway does, so for those looking for a taste of doom-y, atmospheric black metal that is closer to home, Sombres Forêts is worth checking out.
KILLER KUTS: “Le Royaume,” “L'Abîme,” “Vents Des Désespoirs,” “Au Solstice De L'Hiver”