Atmospheric black metal is a genre known for a fairly specific style: shrieking vocals, clean leads soaking in reverb, and guitar riffs that create crushing walls of noise. Giants in the genre, like Wolves In The Throne Room or Weakling, pioneered this blend of ambience and aggression in the early 2000s, and 15 years later, the genre still sounds pretty much the same. Sure, there are plenty of groups that have taken the sound and twisted it around, like Saor and Panopticon, who both add folk instruments to their music, or Epitimia, who throw in jazz and electronic elements to spice up their sound.
Verlies twist this whole idea on its head. On their new album, Les Domaine Des Hommes, the band keeps melody to the forefront of the music, allowing it to lead the way instead of being lost amidst hazy cliffs of distortion and blast beats. The songwriting on this record is succinct and to-the-point in the best of ways: the leads are noticeable and give the music a sort of precision that is almost entirely alien to the genre. Through these techniques, Verlies earns themselves a special spot in the growing pile of atmospheric black metal/post-black albums from this year: being the only one to totally abstain from the genre’s typical meat and potatoes, and to instead focus heavily on creating atmosphere and emotion through leads. It’s a brilliant twist on the genre and creates some truly special moments, but, the flipside of this is that often, time feels wasted on sections that do little to develop the overall sound of the album.
Starting with the aptly-named “Intro”, the album twists and turns, sometimes crawling, sometimes running, through five tracks averaging about nine minutes in length (and a two-minute outro). Throughout the entire record, the music carries melancholic vibes through both the leads and the vocals, communicating the band’s ire and sadness with various mood shifts and tempo changes. This record’s sound is extremely dynamic; the songs present themselves as rivers, not lakes, and are at times placid and other times raging, but no matter what, always moving forward. That’s one thing that definitely sticks out about this album: the songs never feel as though they’ve stagnated. The sense of progression is always there, and that’s not something one often gets with atmospheric black metal. Be the current sound of the album a ferocious black metal riff with screamed vocals, or an echoing arpeggiation with the vocalist’s deep, clean voice, the album always feels as if it’s on the move to the next crescendo or valley of ambience.
The production is another quality of the album that begs discussion: the guitar is rich and full instead of the brittle and overloud tones of most albums in the genre, and every note carries with it a warmth that belies the album’s tone. The bass is full and present, and the drums are punchy and powerful. This record forces the listener to consider the music within, instead of the usual spacing-out that so many atmospheric black metal/post-black bands seek as an optimal listening experience.
Unfortunately, this 360-degree twisting of the atmospheric black metal ideology does carry some inherent problems with it. The sound of the genre simply wasn’t built to handle this in some ways. The repetition and atmospheric components don’t work nearly as well here as they do on more traditional albums in the genre, and oftentimes, because there’s just less exploration to be had with the sound. Far too often does the listener find themselves wishing a section would end, only to find out it continues for another minute or two. The form of writing where dynamics are usually hidden or just plainly not there, it does a disservice to an album this lead-oriented. The leads feel quite often like they’re tugging the rest of the album in tow, and it creates a problem in the album’s dynamic where it ends up feeling very sluggish at times.
In the end, it bears saying that Les Domaine Des Hommes is worth a listen for any fan of post-black, atmospheric black metal, or blackgaze. The way it experiments with subverting the archetype of the genres is impressive, especially in that for the most part, it pulls it off quite well. This album is equally heady and raw at different times, and the sheer disparity between this and other records within the genre means this holds a place entirely its own. Whether one walks away disappointed or satisfied, this music is a unique look into the other side of modern black metal and worth anyone’s time.
Verlies – Le Domaine De Hommes gets…