SurtrPulvis et Umbra?’  Direct translation care of a Latin O level done about 30 years ago?  We are dust and shadows; well, that’s certainly doom laden.  Surtr, a variation of Surtur, inspiration for Amon Amarth’s last album and an ancient fire giant of Norse myth; well, that’s sure as hell metal.  So does the sound of this French three piece match up to their title’s promise?  Read on gentle reader, read on.

I don’t know why, but I’d never associated France with Doom metal.  It is a preconception with no basis, and utterly indefensible, but I always thought of Doom as a UK/US phenomenon, growing as it does from the initial offerings of Black Sabbath, and developed by the likes of Pentagram and Saint Vitus.  Yes, the cold lands of the north contributed with such offerings as the excellent Candlemass and Count Raven, but never has the land of fine wines and cheeses struck me as fertile soil in which to nurture the seeds of doom.  As such, it was with definite interest I started to play the CD that site editor Mr Woods slipped across a scrumpy stained table to me in the pub.

Track one ‘Rise Again’ starts in epic style, with drawn out and distorted guitar chords and a zombie tread slow lurch of bass and drums in a tale of Nordic history.  ‘Three Winters of War’ follows up with a Celtic war drum opening, swiftly upping the tempo into the realms of High On Fire’s stoner drone.  ‘Rebellion’ kicks in with a heavier beat, with Julien Kuhn positively punishing the skins, leading, but not overbearing, the occasionally NWOBHM tight guitar and bass lines.  When ‘I Am The Cross’ kicks in, vocalist cum guitarist Jeff Maurer initially trades his clean sub Liebling vocals for some deathly grunts and growls, before returning to his normal sound, a trick that brings nice punctuation and a unique identity to the track.

Album standout is the eight minute plus ‘Fred Karno’s Army’, which is bizarre, as in many ways it makes no sense.  Fred Karno is an early 20th Century impresario who is famed for inventing the custard pie gag and helping to introduce the world to Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.  How does this relate to the song?  Damned if I know.  With a combination of distortion and howling, the vocals were nothing but a brief counterpoint to some epic instrumental work.  I’ll be honest, I don’t think the track actually needed any vocals, and it would stand up well without any words, just revelling in its own dark sound, without the distraction of lyrics, no matter how ironic the comparison of the light hearted legacy of early filmmaker may be to the dark music.

All told, this was a damn good entry to French doom.  Will it instantly eclipse the many bands I follow this side of the pond?  No.  Would I seek them out if they were playing the UK?  Damn straight

(7.5/10 Spenny Bullen)