PENSÉES NOCTURNES — Grotesque (review)

PENSÉES NOCTURNES — Grotesque album cover Album · 2010 · Depressive Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
After Vaerohn caught the attention of the avant-post-black metal world under the guise of the project PENSÉES NOCTURNES with the debut album “Vacuum,” he returned for a second round of artistically designed depressive black metal that hybridized with classical, jazz, blues and even novelty circus music. GROTESQUE released the following year in 2010 continued the momentum laid out on the debut but took even greater liberties in creating an even more twisted, highly surreal and torturous sonic journey than presented on “Vacuum.”

Once again Vearohn plays all the instruments ranging from the typical buzzsaw guitar feed, bottom dwelling bass and percussive drive but also dishes out romantic classical piano runs, symphonic touches and even the occasional accordion thus expanding the world of black metal into the more traditional musical realms of Vaerohn’s native France, but as gimmicky as this may seem Vaerohn executes these juxtapositions of disparate sounds quite gracefully as the wrong ingredients strewn together with a bad recipe can result in disaster. Overall there is less black metal on this one and more avant-guide epic classical sounds but they often overlap into a very surreal strangeness not present on “Vacuum.”

While it’s hard to believe that heavy metal which branched off of blues rock in the 70s could become the 21st century’s answer to classical music, the truth of the matter is that the genre has steadily evolved in both compositional complexity as well as avant-garde experimentation and nowhere have these two aspects come into fruition more than in the French metal scene. PENSÉES NOCTURNES on paper may sound much like what other metal bands like Carach Angren or Limbonic Art have achieved with highly symphonic and classically charged black metal darkened by ugly guitar and occult themes but Vaerohn takes these sounds to a whole other level and displays an uncanny sense of expertise absent in many other acts. My guess is that he was classically trained in the most experimental aspects of the classical music world.

GROTESQUE lives up to its title. While it continues the Shining influenced depressive black metal style with slow plodding rhythms, psychotic outbursts and the insane asylum escapee vocal angst, it changes the tone to an even more depressive and detached setting that finds the classical piano runs less Chopin-esque and more abstract as well as a more meandering sense of compositional development which ultimately makes this a scarier and deeper penetrating experience for those who can stomach its unorthodox approach. The overall feel is utterly creepy with spidery arpeggiated guitars, tremolo picking and vocals buried in the mix to simulate a dungeony effect augmented with all kinds of sonic surprises.

With circus march entering the scene on tracks like “Vulgum Pecus” and “Eros” it often seems like a Hector Berlioz “Symphonie Pathetique” dance of demons that have congregated in the modern world and have shapeshifted into the metal paradigm but Vaerohn also manages to incorporate psychotic bluesy bits as on the opening of “Monosis” that sound like what Captain Beefheart would’ve conjured up had he delved into the darkest recesses of modern metal. One of the major reasons PENSÉES NOCTURNES is so successful in its relentless pursuit of the experimental world surely stems from the fact that the production and mixing processes are impeccable as somehow the black metal is allowed to organically evolve from seemingly unrelated musical territory.

Adding to the surreality factor is the fact that the compositions are more jittery. The time signatures are fairly erratic like a quantum dance tortuously trying to find equilibrium but never finding resolution. The darkwave ambience is also more abstract as it flutters in unrelated counterpoints around the metal outbursts and classical symphonic elements and then when least expected unknown variables rear their ugly heads such as the accordion segment on “Monosis” which at 9 1/2 minutes is the album’s longest track. Alongside this unexpected instrumental insert is also an unusual guitar accompaniment and then the whole thing alternates with the depressive black metal bombast. Very, very weird stuff indeed.

In the end, GROTESQUE sort of comes off as a very bad nightmare set to music. It flitters along logically and then like the disjoining aspects of dreams sort of engages in illogical leaps into alternative dimensions and sometimes returns and at other times just sort of moves on and becomes something else altogether. This is truly avant-garde metal at its finest that seems like it was a truly some sort of musical vision that arose from the subconscious and tricked out into some sort of sonic reality in the 2010 timeline of the metal music world. This will ultimately be too loosely structured for many but there are more than enough melodic hooks that float around albeit in unpredictable manners like a colony of bats exiting their darkened cave to hunt of their prey in the night. Personally i love this kind of stuff. Despite the extra symphonic, classical and novelty elements, GROTESQUE delivers the darkened black metal goods but takes the surreality level up several notches.
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