WTEI’m always up for a bit of avant-garde black metal, and this band seems to fit the bill nicely. I’ve not heard Way to End’s previous album “Desecrated Internal Journey” (2009) but reading reviews of it and listening to “Various Shades of Black” suggest that this is a band who likes to challenge and explore the innermost recesses of the mind.

Has it all gone wrong or is this a musical representation of mental disturbance? Actually, I almost killed myself laughing as a rather highbrow classical guitar style transcended a mounting mass of insane images. The lads of Way to End sound drunk and disorderly. Roaring Frenchmen pierce the magnificent chaos and complexity which confront us. Here we have shades of fellow countrymen Wormfood, Carnival in Coal and Pensées Nocturnes, with whom Way to End share a band member. The jazz-infused technical anarchy recalls that most abnormal of bands, Ephel Duath.

After “L’Apprenti” (The Apprentice), there is total desperation, infused with jazziness. Complete chaos is represented but it is artistic chaos. The French capacity for the grotesque is on display here. Black metal roars, sinister moods and haunting ghostliness are all set to a rather depressing rhythm. It’s a nightmare. People are dying. Actually, it’s “Evolution Fictive” (Fictional Evolution). So it continues. Somewhere in this moaning and growling and chaotic malevolence, there’s a magnetic persistence as now “Vain” drives on furiously. There’s a bit of chorus to hum along to but I cannot claim you’re going to be hearing this album piped through the speakers of your nearest shopping mall. After a little acoustic breather, harsh and ponderous black metal tones emerge. There is a chant in amongst the austerity. The drum crashes as if death is imminently upon us. The guitar is strident and buzzes overhead like flies. The strange thing about the guitar is that it rises loftily and almost classically above raging darkness and chaos. We’re in constant danger of being sucked into a swamp. Fleeting moments of respite are the prelude to a return to the darkly disturbing images. This clever fluctuation is represented in the appropriately track title: ”La Figure Dansante de l’Incomprehension” (The Dancing Face of Incomprehension). “A Mon Ombre” (To My Shadow) contains similar conflicting mood swings. It swings into action with a kind of black metal lullaby. The guitar again suggests higher powers but it’s ultimately dark and sinister. The diabolical choir strikes up over the chaotic background.

After all the manic disturbance, it was always going to be difficult to maintain the momentum by twisting our brain with new ideas. I did find that this anarchic fare started to settle into a predictable pattern. “Au Fond d’un Verre de Poussière” (At the Bottom of a Glass of Dust) has all the ingredients: growling, a choir of insanity, imperious and steady instrumental work, threatening drums and the air of death. “Ixtab” breaks away briefly with an industrialised drama. It’s as if Way to End have “lost it”, to use the phrase. But these people never had it in the first place. “La Ronde des Muses Fanée (The Withering Circle of the Muses) returns to familiar territory. The world however is more shadowy and distorted than ever. The high pitched guitar is like a whistle which unbalances our mental faculties. The screams enhance the blackness. The fuzzy end suggests that the last stage before ultimate expiry. This is another grotesque exercise in mental disturbance. As we move into the final nightmare, the singing is out of tune but it seems appropriate to that which follows. A jazz-style guitar line and the tranquil drum beat guide us along. In another context the complex guitar work might be considered progressive but here it just adds a layer of creepiness. A regular pattern is there, but it is punctuated by moments of melancholy, fleeting orchestral majesty and sinister vocals. And that’s it really – in line with the track’s title and that of the album, for eight and a half minutes we tread darkly through “Various Shades Of Black”.

Musically, this is a complex treat. “Various Shades of Black” doesn’t just border on the insane. It is insanity itself. It is creative. It has the capacity to drive you nuts. It epitomises chaos. Enjoy.

(8/10 Andrew Doherty)