LADLO Productions or to give them their full moniker Les Acteurs de l’Ombre are certainly one of the go to labels for those searching out the best of French underground metal. If you are into black and doom metal their roster is a sign of quality. One way they spread the word is through split albums like the recent one with Time Lurker and Cepheide which went down very well at the beginning of the month. Here we have another which ties two bands together perfectly as both have an interest in history and the medieval side of their past. Obviously everyone is aware of the turbulent times in France and battles of old, many interesting periods are surely on your mind from Joan Of Arc to The French Revolution and the bottom bearing antics of Monty Python & The Holy Grail as their forces defend a castle and mock us English. Not wanting to trivialise the more serious nature of things here, castles are quite important as we shall see when we get to the second of these two bands.

First up though it is Griffon who are a completely new discovery as far as I am concerned. They have been around since 2012 and have an EP and album out prior to this release. Looking at the players I note they have past and present affiliations with Moonreich too. I was struck the instant play was pressed here as opener ‘Si Rome vient à périr’ bounds in with no pause for intro proffering an immediate, harmonic, proto-metal sounding riff. Intricate play unfolds into a guttural roar and some commanding mid-paced furrowing blackened thrust and furrow. The barbarians are at the gates but they are not going to necessarily take them with brute force and the music they produce is far from one-dimensional. Vocally there’s plenty going on from the growling to spoken passages and clean harmonies. As the music increases in intensity so do these and it sounds like the script could be in Latin. Whatever it is it definitely produces a medieval flair and has a real feeling of historic authenticity about it. This is emphasised even more by the sudden appearance of some guitar work moving towards the harmonic scales of neo-classicism as well as some replicated bona-fide chamber music at the end of this massive track. It’s different that’s for sure and very clever, owing as much to classical music of old as it does to anything recent. The four tracks here including a particularly good instrumental number bridging the gap between the two bands are all excellent. Full of ideas but never far away from adroit passages of surging blackness they have drawn me back time and time again. The brilliant musicianship and skilful interweaving of ideas is a pleasure to listen to and although ‘Jerusalem’ arrives without gifts of jam its clean vocal harmonies reminiscent in a way to Solefald are really spot on and Griffon have proved a band totally worthy of attention.

The chances are you may have already given some of that to more established act Darkenhöld who have been dwelling in the castles of France, swords held aloft and wearing chain mail since 2008. I have enjoyed the music I have heard from their 4 full length albums and the last Memoria Sylvarum in 2017 went down particularly well being described as tempestuous and romantic in equal measures. Here they are very much paying tribute to the dark ages with no modern trimmings and are taking things stylistically to a very different place from their more blackened modus operandi. Namely what we get here are 4 acoustic tracks but don’t let that put you off in the slightest as they are again very authentic and take you right back into the past traditionalism of their home country. The Norwegians are doing this with aplomb going back to the Skaldic ways of their past with bands like Wardruna and  Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik and indeed our own Winterfylleth taking a folkloric jaunt so why not the French? Darkenhöld really project an image of wandering minstrels travelling Renaissance eras and entertaining people as they pass through village to village. Numbers like ‘Marche des Bêtes Sylvestres’ have guitars strumming in uncomplicated but highly melodic fashion as vocals quietly babble away telling their enthralling yet mysterious tales. It’s pretty peaceful the way it all flows together but it does completely captivate and gets right under the skin with the addition of flute, cello, jaw harp and violin subtly enforcing the bygone feel of the music which definitely projects an image of coming from a very different time. The tracks are shorter here and far more compact than the more epic ones from Griffon and give the listener a feeling that although they are very much different sides of the same coin that thematically both bands are working very much in the same place and time. All that’s left to say really here is that this is a brilliant idea, expertly executed and well worth checking out.

(8/10 Pete Woods)