I think to say that this, the fifth full length from métal noir Québécois troupe Forteresse was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016 is to slightly underplay how much their four previous albums have impressed me with both content and progression. Even amongst the wonderful, vibrant and fiercely independent Quebec scene they stand out for me. They have travelled from atmospheric, almost semi-ambient realms with a spiky folk thread leading back to their heritage and a sense of the harsh wilderness in their first two albums, past the more aggressive Par Hauts Bois Et Vaste Plaines to the eerie but more forceful glory of their last studio album Crépescule D’Octobre back in 2011.
I guess Thèmes Pour La Rébellion is where they set fire to the lot.
I’m not sure where the line between themed and concept albums is drawn, but thematic this opus certainly is. With a cover of a city in flames and an opening soundscape ‘Aube De 1837’ this is, I am guessing, a work largely inspired by the uprising against British rule of 1837-38; the Lower Rebellion or Patriots War in what is now Quebec which in turn inspired the Upper Rebellion (now Ontario). I’ll leave that there as I am way out of my depth beyond that.
Musically though this is a wonderful, glorious powder keg of fiery black metal riffing, driving drums, angry vocals and their trademark sharp edged vibrant melody cresting the whole. Interludes aside this is pretty much full tilt from the initial kicking down the doors to the final licking flames and yet there is not a dull moment, never a minute where it starts to blur into one incoherent scream. This is fire and anger and pride boiling over into the streets. There is simply so much sheer passion within this album that even I, British and so far removed from the Quebec history and culture that it genuinely is another world, feel it burn on my skin. That’s what great music does; it transports you, it thrusts you deep into its own world and then the conflagration engulfs you.
Just compare the deeper, turbulent drama of ‘Par La Bouche De Mes Canons’ and some haunting clean vocals with previous track ‘Là Où Nous Allons’ and its bitter edged melody: The pace may be similar but the feel is so different. This is superb songwriting and despite the violence a subtlety that is created within an unadulterated black metal framework. Lead vocals are a continual, visceral snarl, a call to arms, but are rounded out by a good variation of additional sounds at perfect points to fan emotional flames. The drumming is relentless but adapts to the musical ground with fluid agility, the bass and guitars dense with the keening melody lines sawing across. It is such a single minded pursuit that it you are pulled into the heart of insurrection by its simple power, pulled along as the doomed uprising explodes into a night sky.
Adversarial, chaotic and explosive: This is all fire, righteous anger and the volatile sounds of rebellion. It has a heat and a heart that blazes without fear of consequence. History will show whether or not this is their ‘magnum opus’ but as it stands, bloody and unbowed against a curtain of flame, it must be close. Borderline brilliant.