Looking up this French atmospheric black metal act online there are striking shots of them playing live wearing strange pagan like gold masks that are certainly interesting aesthetically. Far removed from the one-man solitary figure found in much of the music in the genre there are no less than 6 players in the group and they also seem to give equal attention to an affiliated sound engineer and visualiser too. The problem with sharing so many people’s ideas can sometimes be a curse rather than a blessing and for sure there is a lot going on in their second album and follow up to 2016 independently released debut V.I.T.R.I.O.L. On first few listens it was certainly no easy task getting into this but music that takes time to work on all levels just shows the complexity and artistry put into it and is certainly not something that should be casually dismissed but worked with. Atmospheric and Post are words used to describe the craft on display here but thankfully for those who like to be bludgeoned by their blackness and are not so much looking for the wafty side of things this is pretty full on and brutal in execution. Sure, there are moments to drift on such as mid-point short instrumental Hespéros but on the whole this is fast, furious and high-velocity stuff. Obviously, a lot of effort has been put in on all facets of this release from the strange yet striking artwork to themes behind the songs whose titles unveil translated titles such as ‘The City Of Tears’ and ‘The Miserable Sirens.’

A dreamlike presence opens the ‘dreamlike penance’ before the chilly frozen main-body hammers in with vigorous drum blasts and a full bloodied roar. Production packs a wallop and this has an excellent sound as it romps off with surging guitars and furious clamour including some jubilant clean backing vocals amidst the blackened rasps. Perhaps it’s the masks and maybe the massive surge behind this but I can’t help thinking of The Great Old Ones although with far less doom and reckon the two bands must have shared a stage at some point; if not, why not? Titles suggest something that feels both historic and futuristic and the themes are difficult to interpret for the non-French speaker but at times one gets the vibe and Chants de bataille exhibited by the likes of Belenos as well as those dwelling in the Quebecois black metal scene. Melodies entwine strongly with the rigour and verve of numbers like ‘La cité des larmes’ and if there is one word needed here to sum things up it would definitely be “formidable”. At times the pace slows and melody and atmosphere takes precedence and there is a perfect mitch of extremity and emotion kept constantly on the boil over the albums perfect ¾ of an hour running time. Poise and grace is used to coat the opening of epic number ‘Les sirènes misérables’ and thick rumbling bass has a brooding presence. It takes time to build magnificently whilst the vocals shriek with agonised pain leading up to a mighty wallop and feudal heathen cleave towards the latter stages.

Not really an album to be dissected track by track we do however continue through ‘Exquisite Ecstasy’ and ‘Sovereign Majesty’ titles that give you an idea of what to expect after that post mid-section instrumental allows a bit of breathing space and things are kept thunderous and explosive on an album that kind of resembles a page turner of a book, keeping you on your toes throughout.

As a footnote this has been another fine act here from the ever reliable Les Acteurs de l’Ombre label who have had a fantastic year starting off with the brilliant ‘Grand Guignol Orchestra’ of Pensees Nocturnes and kept the home-grown talent flowing throughout 2019. Each and every release has been solid and had its own sense of identity and something about it worthy of clamouring about. They certainly have another feather in their cap with Pénitence Onirique and if we gave out a legion d’honneur would win it hands down for their output this year. Poised to release a new Monolithe album in 2020 they are a label well worth keeping an ear on for all that is going on in the French extreme and underground scene.

(8/10 Pete Woods)