Thursday, February 2, 2012

Smohalla - Résilience

Arx Productions

It’s not very often that I find myself completely lost for words when it comes to reviewing an album. More often than not, the said reviews tend to write themselves. But every now and then you do come across something that is so far removed from anything else that’s being released that it really does make you sit up and pay attention.
One such act that’s taken me completely by surprise it French outfit Smohalla, who after a sole E.P. (2007’s ‘Nova Persei’), a split effort (2009’s ‘Noyade Céleste’ split with fellow French act Immermorial) and a handful of compilation appearances (Mostly tribute albums), have unveiled their debut full-length effort ‘Résilience’.
Any efforts to truly categorise Smohalla in genre terms is a pointless exercise. Some have bandied around the avant-garde/post-black metal tag when attempting to label the band’s music, and while the description is apt in some ways, I can’t help but feel that the whole black metal label isn’t entirely accurate in describing the kind of music the band produce as a whole. What I can agree on however is that the band certainly have avant-garde tendencies, and their music really is heavy in parts.
Smohalla (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/drummer Slo and bassist Camille Giraudeau) open up ‘Résilience’ with ‘Quasar’, which provides the album with a subdued starting point of piano, spaced out keyboards, drums and echoed snippets of vocals, before building toward a climatic high point of choral vocals.
The follow up track ‘Au Sol Les Toges Vides’ is one of the few tracks to have some elements of black metal in its riffs and vocals, but all of which is masked behind a curtain of choir vocals, sound effects, a heavy bass presence and keyboards that add a distinctly progressive edge to the whole thing. At certain points, I can hear a bit of Asgaroth (2002’s ‘Red Shift’ in particular) in terms of song writing and delivery, but given the constant shifts within the song, the similarities are fleeting at best.
The downbeat and hypnotic ‘Le Repos Du Lézard’ and ‘Oracle Rouge’ are two of the album’s strangest and experimental numbers with a greater progressive edge coming through the song writing (An assortment of vocals and musical patches clash endlessly), and yet strangely enough still flow (There’s a real mantra-like vibe emerging from the vocals and melodic guitar notes throughout).
The industrialised and aggressive ‘L’homme Et La Brume’ is every bit as chaotic and harsh as you would expect from a black metal band, but still boasts plenty of experimental sounds thrown in throughout the song to give the band an overall distinctly avant-garde type sound, while ‘Aux Mille Dieux’ is noteworthy for its huge epic sound and its discreet orchestrated framework, and is by far the most accessible number on the album with its clean vocals and genuine sense of familiar song structure.
Finishing up the album is ‘Nos Sages Divisent’, which features haunting choir vocalist, sweeping guitar work, huge thundering drums in the background and a swirling keyboard sound that underpins the song with a constant wash of notes. Dramatic, jagged, hypnotic and haunting, ‘Nos Sages Divisent’ sounds like a mash-up of some of Devin Townsend’s darker and more chaotic instrumentals with some of Blut Aus Nord’s more recent works.
Smohalla isn’t an easy act to describe or pigeonhole in the genre sense, but if your taste of avant-garde leans more towards the works of Ulver, Arcturus, Solefald, Asgaroth and Blut Aus Nord, then you really need to hear this album.
For more information on Smohalla, check out -

© Justin Donnelly