Paysages polaires, at heart, is unabashedly Romantic — its choice of artistic references (early 20th-century Québécois poetry, a late 19th-century French painting) and untempered spirit are earnest tributes to the land that Québec-based Cantique Lépreux hail from. Stylistically, the band are closer to “traditional” Québécois black metal, wherein one can find a sense of national pride as well as a more straightforward sound. While Paysages polaires draws on familiar conventions from black metal, both thematically and musically, it has a refreshing efficiency; Cantique Lépreux also succeed in conveying a sense of awe toward the frosty landscapes that they portray.
A simple majesty characterizes the album, conjured by incredibly catchy riffs that each sustain significant amounts of time; the rhythm section feels unrelenting, varying from stormy blast-beat gallops to heroic-sounding marches, and even the slower tempo of “Les étoiles endeuillées” evokes the sense of trekking through powerful gusts. Within Paysages polaires, there’s also a decisive removal from urban, modern settings — its choice of “classical”, relatively harmonious chord progressions feels intentionally archaic, has the effect of pulling you back in time. The production here is sharp, and lets each component shine through: the brittle fuzz of the guitars, harrowing shrieks, glistening cymbals. “Le feu secret” even features choral chants, which immediately lend a sense of grandeur. The title track suite, in particular, is full of surprising shifts: one moment, soaring riffs evoking ascent up a mountain, then the next, a glacial cavern being represented by menacingly low chords.
And all this, to say that every element of Paysages polaires paints an epic wintery narrative. I’m tempted to say that Paysages polaires actually focuses on the diurnal aspects of winter, which are no less harsh than darkness: the overwhelming glare of the snow, the dangerous allure of shimmering icy peaks. But as a narrative, Paysages polaires would need characters; and it does feel as though there is a very human element to the album, which is to say that it doesn’t simply evoke empty landscapes. For instance, the lengthy, sweep-featuring guitar solo on “Hélas…” is wonderfully indulgent, and lacks the absolute coldness that is attributed to the environmental phenomena. It’s also a matter of noting the album’s inherent Romanticism: there’s an emphasis on intense emotional responses to the authenticity of nature, whose might is unable to be contaminated by human constructions.
That Cantique Lépreux can make so much out of tried-and-true themes is a testament to their craft. Crucially, this is black metal with a heart: it lets itself be moved by the world around it, and doesn’t simply seek to intimidate or demand your awe. What you feel isn’t provoked — rather, you emphasize with the sentiments already present. This aspect is what makes Paysages polaires such a convincing work: though its tales may be familiar, it tells them with such conviction that you’re willing to let yourself be swept off your feet anyway.
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Paysages polaires was released on November 30th. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link above to purchase it. Stay bleak.