There is a wealth of almost hidden treasure to be found within the French Canadian Quebec region as far as black metal is concerned and listening to many bands from their lately it has reminded of the excitement felt as the music originally emerged and spread out from Scandinavia. There is a big air of mystery about it mainly due to the detachment and insular nature of the bands. Due to their geography and underground appeal you are not going to find any of the groups touring Europe or even hitting any of the festivals here. Of course most of the lyrics and titles from the bands are in their native tongue so this adds to the air of mystery and the raw focus and primal energy found in the actual music is generally hungry and feral and presented in a way that again turns back the clock untainted by any experimental airs and graces.
Gris came as a bit of a surprise on this their second full length album though by doing something quite unexpected from most of what I have previously heard. For a start it is a double album with an 80 minute running time. Secondly its composers Neptune and Icare are not solely about the raw energy and primitivism and as the opening shards of L’aube glisten and shine you are instantly transfixed by the sheer beauty of the music. The band have a couple of surprises as Neptune adds violin and Icare cello to their landscape and these really do define the journey that the listener is transported into. It has at first a naturistic feel that I would expect from the likes of Dornenreich flowing through it, low in the mix I can hear a female choral then loud indignant roars and a whinnying horse. There is a lot of atmosphere here and the classical strains of the music come in to play before ‘Les Forges’ is fired up with more metallic sounds of guitar and vocals growling away. This is epic stuff and music that takes you through many moods and emotions as it expresses itself in many layers. Les Forges for instance hones in at a whopping 15 minutes and bristles along at a thoughtful and ponderous pace, unhurried on its way and with flurries of violin unfolding amidst the mesmerising guitar melody and occasional parts of charged roaring vocals. It really is music to lose yourself in and it is played with consummate skill and obvious passion. To call this band ‘Grey’ is a bit of a misnomer as listening to them things are blooming, full of colour. Anger and a more furious strumming tumult sees ‘Igneus’ at almost boiling point but again there are reflective maudlin parts that add sense of yearning, majesty and pride flowing through it. There are brief fragments that have hints of free form jazz going on here and also on short bridge track Samsara, which adds to the intrigue and the sense that the musicians are skilfully playing around a little.
There is no question about it both albums should be listened to together, perhaps as they are of the same world the only reason this exists as a double is due to the simple fact there is too much music to physically fit on one disc. Moksha is an odd start to the second part as the instrumental number is left to the traditional instruments rather than any metal ones and what sounds to me a bit like a stringed Japanese instrument of some sort. With rough translations of the tracks I have followed this as a day in a small traditional forested enclave back in days gone by as the people work away on a large forge which is the central theme leading up towards the end where we get an Epitaph In Soot’ and Nadir where perhaps a tragic accident sees the villagers at lowest point. I’m no doubt wide of the mark but this is very much a piece of music that does allow the imagination to run riot with it. Having said that, it is not an everyday album in any sense but one to play occasionally and only when you have time to get completely immersed in it and deserve the resulting reward.
(8/10 Pete Woods)