Hermetic French and shadowy, Ysengrin have been around since 2005 and delivered a plethora of demos, splits, compilations and several albums since formation by Guido Saint Roch. Indeed, several of these have been featured on this website with a fair bit of dark praise garnered in their direction. Initiato is a full-length album but not in the normal tradition of featuring just brand new material. It harks right back to the group’s formation taking in tracks from past works such as debut demo T.R.I.A.D.E (2008) and re-interpreting them. There are also some new compositions and a couple of ambient parts interlinking things here as well. I have to admit that it has been a bit of a struggle unravelling all this and exactly where the group stand in the grand scheme of things having only given their past stuff the most fleeting of listens.
One thing that is instantly evident and unsurprisingly so is the bass work on the album, well all 3 current members are attributed to said instrument so the fact it is a dominant force here should naturally be taken for granted. However, it is acoustic guitar work we get first giving things a medieval vibe before a few seconds later the bass sound brashly hits on Potencée d’Or. Heavy and ponderous it chugs away contrasted by the low guttural growls of the vocals. Now calling this black metal would be a bit of a misnomer as things are steeped as the journey continues in doom. The bass work is going to remind to a certain extent of Italians Mortuary Drape but it also harks back to the tradition of bands and artists such as Death SS, Tony Tears, Paul Chain et al. Also, something else I found was the sound of cult goth rockers Christian Death in the mix and it would be far from heresy to mention this. After a brief meandering short bass solo of a track I look for further definition but it is not easy to find and having not heard the original tracks I can’t really compare to how they have evolved. Numbers such as ‘Pass’Age’ really focus on the doomy aspects of things before a slight gallop pervades but it is seeped in a primitive drab form no doubt harking back to the demo quality of the originals. In short though, this and the album as a whole is quite drab and plods along to an extent that even the vocals begin to grate. This song in particular just goes nowhere and peters out just as you think it might lead somewhere and as the next one Mémorables starts and rumbles in it is a job looking for something memorable about all this. Gloomy synth backs the rumbling bass sporadically but even at longer length its hard finding the right path to take and find your way out the thickets the band seem determined to have you traipsing through. The occasional morbid and macabre organ sounds and the dungeon synth aspects which seem to be recorded with the assistance of Frater Stéphane (N.K.R.T., Rosa Crux) do stick out and add a ghastly and crypt-like atmosphere to things.
There are a couple of interesting things such as the fact the group have apparently cribbed with permission some verses from Abigor on the track Téménos and the fact that this is all recorded in an analogue fashion furthering the impact of being caught in a time warp whilst listening to it. Despite being a good soundtrack to moonlit sorcery and a puzzle book for practitioners of occult symbolism I found Initiato a very hard album to be initiated into the cult of Ysengrin and although it has grown on me it’s an album that unless you focus on it and really pay attention is likely to just fly over your head.
(6/10 Pete Woods)