Cantique Lépreux’s members have a fine pedigree including the mighty Forteresse, but even with this knowledge, their debut album ‘Cendres Célestes’ surpassed all expectations and is an absolute masterpiece which remains on my regular playlist. With this in mind I was keen to get my hands on their sophomore release so was suitably pleased when I was given it for review.

Continuing where the debut left off ‘Paysages Polaires’ is a bleak yet atmospheric gem and the essence of the album is nicely captured in the icy, mountainous artwork, not to mention in its name which translates to ‘Polar Landscapes’.

Opening track ‘Le Feu Secret’ teases with a very short intro before blasting straight into an effective juxtaposition with a pummelling rhythmic foundation vying for position with sublime yet prominent melody until harsh vocals shatter the uneasy equilibrium. The chilling melodies effectively conjure up images of howling blizzards and the frozen wilderness of the bands homeland in Québec, before the pace slows a little during the opening portion of ‘Les Étoiles Endeuillées’. It doesn’t take long for the glacial behemoth to build momentum and develop a menacing desolate atmosphere culminating in anguished howls towards the end of the track.

There is then a conceptual triumvirate of tracks ‘Paysages polaires (I, II, III)’ based around the North American winter and whose lyrics are taken from the work of Québécois poet René Chopin (1885-1953). The first element has raging passages of furious complex melodies in contrast to part II which feels a little more measured while maintaining a feeling of frostbitten malevolence. The final portion is more aggressive in its grandiose blastings before ‘Hélas’ which deviates a little from the usual atmospheric black metal mould with prominent virtuoso guitar solos. Closing track ‘Le Fléau’ is a gnarly brooding epic with a foreboding, almost claustrophobic atmosphere which is a fitting closer.

Don’t let all this talk of melody and atmosphere fool you, this is desolate, abrasive black metal at its finest, perfectly balancing oppressive, melodic soundscapes with howling black metal fury.

(9/10 Andy Pountney)