It wouldn’t take much verbal real estate to convey the importance of the black metal genre as it extends beyond its own confines. The scene has influenced the perception, aesthetic qualities, production, and atmospheric intensity of just about everything under the metal umbrella. We’ve even gone full-circle; with evolutionary roots tracing back to hardcore punk, black metal’s cold, distant, and chaotic sound has infiltrated modern hardcore music for some particularly interesting results. Deathspell Omega has been a major source of this inspiration referenced in across the blackened hardcore movement, particularly after the band adopted shorter song lengths and a sound reminiscent of mathcore on their latest release Drought in 2012.
Intentionally or not, in the shadow of Drought, fellow French noisemakers Plebeian Grandstand (who have been active since 2005), have developed their style to match. In the interest of fairness, Plebeian Grandstand have always melded mathcore with blackened tones, but an unmistakable shift occurred in the group’s discography once Drought came into the picture. From 2010’s How Hate Is Hard To Define and 2014’s Lowgazers, we heard fewer standalone riffs and hardcore swagger with an increased emphasis on dissonance and unruly chaos. Lowgazers hinted at this evolution while retaining an individualized spirit, but in the quiet post-Drought years, Plebeian Grandstand has made their move to adopt the sound and run with it entirely.
As its title may suggest, False Highs, True Lows is a monolithic slab of misanthropic terror that revels in constant abrasion. Atonal guitars churn through propulsive blastbeats with little interest in exploring empty space, built up into esoteric grandiosity thanks to a maddening vocal performance that helps foster the oppressive and cacophonous atmosphere also occupied by acts such as Portal, Ulcerate, and (of course) Deathspell Omega. It’s a fascinating and truly terrifying sound when used appropriately, but Plebeian Grandstand leans into this singular sound a little too heavily and sacrifice dynamic in the process. It takes multiple listens to catch something outstanding or to understand the structure of these songs. False Highs is inarguably heavy and the band are clearly experts at executing this style, but as a follow-up to Lowgazers‘ cavernous depth and versatility, it feels dry and exhausting in comparison. If these songs existed in a vacuum, they’d all be considered great; but in longplay form, fatigue sets in.
Some semblance of dynamic is scraped together when “Volition” hints at sludge tempos and “Mineral Tears” breaks for musique concrete, but otherwise the speedometer stays afloat. An attempt is made to emulate dynamic in tempo when the drums drop out, and this tactic is used successfully for the drone-heavy “Tame The Shapes,” but it’s not enough to offset the fatigue. Perhaps that’s the point — to deny respite. Surely False Highs does the job it was intended to do, but one can’t help but to feel that Plebeian Grandstand have been imprisoned by their own self-imposed playbook when they have every opportunity to be artful experimenters instead of simply emulating established sounds.
False Highs, True Lows aches for nuance after the promising impressions that they had established on Lowgazers. Without a groove in sight, much of the hardcore influence is lost, and a more focused attempt at differentiating the blackened plucking with mathcore riffs could have provided something to shift the tides in rewarding repeat listens. Perhaps experimenting further with noise, musique concrete, doom, and drone in the context of “real” tracks can prove to be inspiring for future releases.
This isn’t to say that Plebeian Grandstand are by any means terrible, as they’re all fantastic at what they do and remain as a band to watch closely in the realm of blackened hardcore and the French metal scene. Drummer Ivo Kaltchev delivers a pristine and impressive performance of some truly demanding material. Guitarist Simon Chaubard is a textural master and bassist Olivier Lolmede keeps things grounded and thick. The true MVP is vocalist Adrien Broue, who is fully committed to the cause and provides a disturbing and downright theatrical approach at fronting a truly striking record. Despite the criticism levied at False Highs, True Lows as an extended sequel to Deathspell Omega’s Drought, it’s hard to fault a band who is most able to fill that void of absence and carry on in the spirit of a celebrated record for doing so. I just wish they wrote a Plebeian Grandstand record instead.
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