You know, this year, now that I think about it, really has been an excellent year for black metal. My black metal Album of the Year list has been turbulent, tumultuous and unstable for quite some time now, and I’ve definitely gone through my stages with it, as have we all. Choosing your album of the year for any genre is actually a really big fucking deal, and that’s because for people like us–committed music junkies who routinely break 5 new album listens a day on our quests–selecting a single work of art from what is hopefully a vast pool of musical innovation is a commitment that we often take great pains to consider.
The final poll on Black Metal Amino will be an interesting one, since I know for a fact that we’re each throwing ourselves behind extremely and equally competent candidates.
My list has changed quite a few times, I’ll be honest. For much of the year, my top pick was Naðra’s Allir vegir til glötunar, which remains deeply entrenched in my mind when I consider this year’s favourite releases. It was a January release. A perfect start to the year, and not to mention, a perfectly harmonious companion to what I had chosen for 2015’s black metal AOTY: Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu. It seemed to me that Iceland had taken a powerful command of the global black metal scene; a venture into a dissonant new world balanced precariously on the fingertips of Icelandic musical phenomenon DG, who is the mastermind behind both Naðra and Misþyrming, and tinged with the unmistakable influence of timeless French innovators Deathspell Omega.
And then, along came Skáphe²: an obnoxious, dissonant curveball to my vision of total Icelandic world domination. Skáphe² is a hairsplitting release, tinged with a kind of deliberate roughness, like a scuffed up pair of old work boots that are just as reliable as the day you bought them even after all this time. That’s just part of their attraction. January had set the bar astoundingly high–but the year was far from over. Various other releases bounced around in my mind as top candidates between then and now. From North to Clandestine Sacrament to Thèmes pour la rébellion and back to Allir vegir til glötunar, my mind was pretty busy absorbing and contemplating. But now, I have confidently chosen (as much as I possibly could, anyways, being that the year is not yet over), and my choice is actually none of the releases I’ve mentioned–it’s Cantique Lépreux’s debut release, Cendres Célestes.
My Nominee: Cantique Lépreux- Cendres Célestes
I guess it should come as no surprise that I’ve chosen an album from the Québec scene. After all, I’m sure I’ve demonstrated on more than one occasion how much I’m addicted to that desolate Québécois sound. Volumes are spoken about this release even by mere virtue of my considering this album for black metal AOTY, because Québec alone has produced some key albums since January–after all, Québec black metal royalty Forteresse, Deathbringer, Incandescence (black metal project of Beyond Creation’s Philippe Boucher), Gevurah, Neige et Noirceur and of course Sorcier des glaces (among many others) have all put out new full-lengths this year. So what makes Cantique Lépreux stand out?
When I first listened to the album, I was not sure at all of what I was about to hear. It was a recent release from Québec that I had not yet heard, so I went into it with no background information whatsoever, and it sounded… Oddly familiar. Not in a bad way, at all. Just in such a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It has all the characteristic bleakness that I love about QCBM. This is the kind of album I put on when it’s violently snowing, and the wind is smudging the world into a blur, and all the sounds of life outside are absorbed by the vastness and emptiness of the snow.
Cendres Célestes (Celestial Ashes in English) creates a grim space in time. It’s a space where you can crawl deep into the layers of the album and wrap yourself in the dense folds of music, and just enter a state of complete mental drift. Throw this on in the dark on a cold night and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. A meandering album, it is sonically a dark reflection of the harsh Canadian winter, reinforced by the cold production that matches the musical content really well. Although, this is perhaps not the album for you if you’re looking for something chock-full of QCBM clichés, and I do mean that in the best way possible. While it’s reasonable to assume you’re about to listen to something reminiscent of Paysage d’Hiver based on the cover art, you’d end up finishing the album somewhat surprised if you came into it expecting that. Perhaps one of my favourite things about this album is that it is not overly elaborate or cinematic. It’s straight up, no-nonsense QCBM, which, considering the fact that Cantique Lépreux are comprised of members of Forteresse, Chasse-Galerie and Au-delà des ruines, one might not expect given the bands’ standing in the scene.
Knowing what I do now about the band, I’m really not surprised at the sound and quality of this album, because it was written by musicians who are guaranteed to deliver. I’m hopeful that, should Cantique decide to make more music, their next releases will be a bit more interwoven than this one–often, pauses in between songs, and transitions between songs, kind of jolted me out of my train of thought. But the direction that Matrak, Cadavre and Blanc Feu have taken on this release is a really refreshing one that shows a huge amount of promise. I’ve re-visited this album perhaps a dozen times now, sometimes several listens back to back, and it still has not lost any qualities I enjoyed in it the first time around. I believe this album is a perfect example of strong potential that could grow into something legendary in the Québec scene. I nominate this for my bm AOTY not because it’s necessarily the flashiest, or the most innovative, or even the most musically skilled album (though there are some impressive points clearly present), but rather because it just really hits home for me. Granted, the perspective I have of black metal is a bit different than most people’s. The ability to actually speak French is a huge factor in the kind of black metal I typically enjoy because it enables me to understand things from the Québécois perspective, which is such a key thing, especially when you’re looking into a scene like QCBM where the more nationalistic Québécois ideologies are very prevalent musically.
So, there you have it. Desolate and yet calming at the same time, Cendres Célestes is my pick for Black Metal Album of the Year 2016–a stark, windswept and empty yet calming glimpse into the atmosphere of my homeland, slightly brief as it may be. I hope this post will inspire people to look into this album.