There are many things which draw me to black metal but splendor and grandeur are probably the top two things. Metal’s allure in general, for me at least, is about letting the over the top emotions that surge within us come to the surface, to confront them and learn to be comfortable with them. Nothing does that better than black metal, using broad strokes and brave colors (even if these colors are dark) to paint striking pictures of human emotions and the world around us. Belore‘s debut release, Journey Through the Mountains and Valleys, is a fantastic example of this. The French project takes black metal and marries it with sounds from a genre that’s always been adjacent to it: dungeon synth. The end result is a melodic, moving, atmospheric black metal album that doesn’t quite sound like anything in the market today, striking a unique balance between synths and medieval influenced sounds and black metal.
You can hear these influences right out the gate, on opener “The Valley of the Giants”. Opening the album, forlorn and majestic synthesized choirs and instruments assail our ears, announcing in no small way the kind of operatic and sweeping emotions that this album will communicate to us. Quickly, these tones shift into black metal territory, epic guitars accompanied by absolutely scathing harsh vocals, as befits the tradition of French black metal. These vocals work incredibly well with the rest of the instrumentation, drawing a sharp contrast to the more open and melodic tone of the guitars which follow suit with the ongoing, synthetic fanfare. They do this by turning to the classic black metal tool of tremolo picking coupled with brighter tones, riffs amplifying the majesty which the synths lay out. These tools, both harsh and melodic, do the main work of drawing the picture which Belore seeks to invoke, setting up the atmosphere in which the project operates. Throw in a few clean and deep vocals here and there throughout the album, great acoustic guitars, and killer work on the drums, and you’ve got yourself all you need for a large, impactful opening track, laying the ground for what’s to come.
While the folk and synthetic elements are revisited in many places, like the wonderful flutes on the opening of “The Howlings Fields” or the downright nostalgic drum/synth combos on “The King’s Funeral”, no track on the album more exemplifies why this album is so great than “The Return of the Fallen Heroes”. Opening with strummed guitars, guitars which will continue in the background of the track throughout, “The Return of the Fallen Heroes” quickly brings to bear the rest of the themes which worked so well previously on the album. But here, there are several key additions. First, a choir runs through the entire track, singing deep notes which do marvels in amplifying even further the guitars and the main vocals. Secondly, these deeper vocals also feature prominently in leading roles on the track, taking over the choruses almost entirely. The end result is yet another layer of contrast added to the already rich mix, setting off everything in a sharp and flattering light. Lastly, the strings used on this album converse beautifully with the acoustic guitars, ushering their own “standalone” passages throughout the track.
The result is Journey Through the Mountains and Valleys personified, the essence of the album brought to bear in what is the album’s last “proper” track. “The Return of the Fallen Heroes” however, “only” showcases what is great about the album; everything that works on it works throughout the entire thing. Belore, with their debut release, have crafted an album that goes to the core of why black metal works so well, by re-integrating the synthetic, acoustic, and majestic sounds which had spun off of it decades ago. The end result is an album which hints all the right notes but does it with its own flair, turning up the grandiose already inherent in the genre to fabricate its own sound and approach.
Journey Through the Mountains and Valleys is available now via Northern Silence Productions.