With much of the French black metal scene being centred on dissonance and orthodoxy this album came as a breath of fresh air as it is a style that really appeals to me. Aorlhac are more concerned about “looking back into the past” and going back to darker times in history. This is my first encounter with them and the 3rd album from the band from Auvergne. Embracing the language and spirit of the Occitan region their form of blackness is very similar in structure and spirit to a lot of the music that we hear from the Quebecois region of Canada. Proudly traditional, bristling in historic pride and deeply rooted in the past. From what I can understand from translating song titles etc the album title is ‘The Spirit Of The Winds’ and follows on from albums ‘The Crossroads Of The Winds and ‘The City Of The Winds’ it is the last part of a trilogy. The band too seem to consist primarily of a trio of like-minded souls NKS responsible for composition, bass and guitars, Spellbound vocals and lyrics, Lonn guitars and for this session Andraos drums.
A guitar cuts in and we are quickly whiplashed off on a mad dash formed off the wings of a blood-curdling angry scream. The drums pummel away and the pace is fast and furious, it hardly settles down at all throughout the near hour length of the entire album. There’s fantastic melody and a burgeoning bravado that is impossible not to be invigorated by here as it steams in battle and cleaves away. Vocals are volatile and full of fury, totally up for a fight and incredibly powerful. Even before I had got to the end of the first track, played for the first time, I knew this was an album that I had to have and nobody else was getting their hands on it. It’s been on constant play ever since and has really made me forget about practically everything else that has flooded in and been clamouring for attention. I’m not going to get wrapped up in individual tracks particularly for this review, the mood, precision and power is constant on each and every one of them. There are certain things to note though and these include some incredibly strong and very metal guitar parts that surprisingly inject a bit of the old Maiden magic into the maddening battle clamour. This is far from simple run of the mill black metal although comparisons to the likes of Forteresse and others within the QCBM movement as well as French acts like Darkenhold and Belenos are very much there as far as the burgeoning hunger and spirit of the past are concerned. Another thing to look out for is a snatch of excellent folkish string, I guess it could even possibly be from a traditional instrument native to the region, bridging a couple of tracks here and sending a shiver right down the spine
One track title ‘1802-1869 | Les méfaits de Mornac’ cannot be ignored and I am compelled to go off in search and find out just who Mornac was and what his misdeeds actually were. It’s a fascinating story of rebellion and bandit activity from a character whose name has become legendary in the region and well worth reading up on. The bounce of the song surges away sounding like the drunken subject of it dashing off and trying to avoid capture and incarceration. Vocals spit and bark away like they are being spat at the would be pursuers and listening to it the imagination runs riot picturing the scene. One other thing I noticed is not only do most of the songs here start and continue in style but they also seem to end on it to with an absolute fist-banging slam at the end making you really draw breath and think “whoa” that was impressive. Although this is not in the slightest anything other than French in sound there is a bit about one track ‘Mandrin, l’enfant perdu’ (another story too no doubt) with its groove laden pace, death grunt and cackle that did draw fleeting comparisons to Taake. Purely incidental I’m sure but fans would lap this up, there is another burst of pure Maiden metal on this one too! The penultimate number throws a snatch of melody at me that sounds familiar, is it a traditional snippet of something? It’s a completely powerful and bombastic number before the final instrumental piece takes the album out and finally silence descends leaving me feeling nothing short of shell-shocked.
I can’t fault this album in the slightest and if you are looking for a feast that’s triumphant, heroic and utterly formidable you definitely need to seek this out.
(9/10 Pete Woods)