Perhaps it is just the linguistic tin ear awarded to native English speakers influencing me, but French seems to me to be a language much more effective at conjuring a mysterious, enigmatic atmosphere than our mother tongue. It seems to naturally evoke a vision of a world-weary storyteller sat in a darkened corner of a smoke-filled basement bar. Maybe that says more about the films I watch than anything else.
French quintet Erlen Meyer first made their presence felt in the innovative European post-metal community all the way back in 2013, releasing a debut album on the auspicious Shelsmusic label showcasing their sludgy and cinematic take on the genre which makes full use of the atmospheric scene-setting I mentioned above. But then things went… rather quiet. For quite some time. However, the band re-emerged from hibernation to appear at the Damnation Festival at the tail end of 2016, proving there was still life in the project. Now, some six years after that debut release, they are following it up with Sang Et Or. That’s ‘Blood and Gold’, just to save you a Google.
Erlen Meyer may have gone to ground for far longer than one might usually expect a still-active project to, but they have returned with a noticeably more mature and distinctive sound. Little kernels of interest peppered through the debut album have blossomed into something more well-rounded and diverse. It is also more succinct, with the average song length closer to six minutes on Sang et Or compared to around eight minutes on the debut. With the album a shade under 45 minutes in duration in total, it is at the shorter end of the spectrum for a post-metal album, but it seems to have a narrative arc that reaches a natural conclusion, and takes the listener on a journey to areas previously unexplored by the band on the way.
That narrative arc is entirely deliberate, and the band make clear that there is an overarching concept tying the album together, even if they are rather more coy about precisely what that concept is. They have made references to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock in terms of the mood they are trying to foster, but if there is any link to the creative output either of those individuals, it is a cryptic one. Or at least, not one readily discoverable by researching the song titles. Even though the precise subject matter may remain something of a mystery, Sang et Or is nevertheless infused with an obvious intent.
The slightly unconventional structure of the album track-listing may also be further explained by this unknown narrative. Sang et Or feels as though it is divided into two movements, but they are not of equal size. A brief interlude, “Le Chant De l’Hydre”, separates the first five songs from the final pair. Whilst the first five focus on the real meat of the band’s sound, the last two reveal some more experimental traits, which bodes well for the future.
Lead single “Coton Cardé” opens the album with a thoroughly punishing, grinding riff. It’s possible to hear a churn similar to Will Haven in the guitars, and drummer K’roll has a style strongly reminiscent of Isis‘ Aaron Harris. In full flight, Erlen Meyer combine the cinematic elements of fellow countrymen Hypno5e with the more stripped-back brutality of Devil Sold His Soul. Elsewhere, particularly on “Rouge Cardinal”, some more blackened elements appear in the mix, bringing to mind ex-labelmates Latitudes. This particular track also features what appears to be a theramin solo, which is not something you get to say often.
The literal and figurative centrepiece of Sang et Or is “Re At Fi La”, a brooding masterclass in ebb and flow dynamics that progressively throws more and more weight behind its signature riff, each time pulling back to regroup before coming back ever harder. It’s a track that will have you working hard to suppress the nod reflex when listening on public transport. The track (and indeed the album as a whole) is given yet more dynamic heft via the variety of styles of vocal delivery on offer, from high pitched squeals through to deep, full-grown bellows. Either this means vocalist Olivier has a seriously impressive range, or other members of the band pitch in occasionally. Either way, the degree of variation in the vocals helps to keep the listener fully engaged throughout.
In the more experimental tail end of the album, “Enfer Forge” heads deeper into black metal territory, and emerges with a few blastbeats under its arm. Then Erlen Meyer leave us with a puzzle. Final track “Trompe l’Oeil” builds from a fuzzy bassline into a full-bore, bombastic orchestral soundtrack of the type we used to hear from Xerath. After some suitably gloomy spoken word, the track builds to a crescendo, but then abruptly ends. Good night. What this does is make the end of Sang et Or feel like the end of a chapter. It is the aural equivalent of a ‘To be continued …’ coda, so it’s entirely plausible that Erlen Meyer’s third album will pick up the action right where Sang et Or leaves off. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait until 2025 to find out.
Sang et Or is a bleak, wintery triumph – although one never hopes for a six year gap between albums, this is exactly what makes that kind of wait worthwhile. It is dynamic and muscular, mature and considered. it packs enough variety to keep the listener fully engaged, and enough innovation to carve out their own little post-metal niche. And like any good chapter of any good story, should leave you hungry to find out what happens next.
Sang et Or is released on 25th January through Argonauta Records.