Band: Creature | Album:Eloge de l’Ombre | Genre: Progressive metal, Avant-garde metal | Year: 2021
From: Bretagne, France | Label: I, Voidhanger Records
For fans of: Arcturus, Cynic, Öxxö Xööx
France has long embraced a distinct weirdness and experimentalism in their rock music. Magma are probably the most germane example for this site, though there was a whole microcosm of uniquely French prog acts in the ‘70s, such as Ange, Memoriance, and Mona Lisa. This spirit can be seen today in numerous extreme metal acts, like the bizarre symphonics of Öxxö Xööx or blackgaze pioneers Alcest.
Creature, the one-man project of Raphaël Fournier, has put out a striking, bold release that continues in this tradition of adventurous Francophone rock and metal. (It’s also another strong release from Italy-based experimental metal label I, Voidhanger; I strongly recommend checking out their catalogue.) The music is dense and replete with synthesized vocals and engaging rhythms. Fournier is also quite verbose, demonstrating downright Springsteenian levels of wordiness. So, if you speak French, there’s likely a lot for you to analyze here.
Eloge de l’Ombre (Eng. Praise of the Shadows) opens with the electronic percussion of “Venin”, though it soon spills forth into a storming torrent of doom-laden black metal. Organ lends a unique, spooky character to this short track. Following this are the askew acoustic chords of “Conscience Mécanique”. This is another cut that quickly erupts into boiling metallic fury. Near the song’s midpoint, it calms down momentarily and moves in a more melodic direction. Acoustic guitars add flavor as the momentum gradually builds back up. The contrast of acoustic and electric tones are revisited in the outro, to great effect.
“Météorite” opens on a calmer note, with drifting clean guitar. Even once the chugging distorted guitars make an appearance, a sole clean guitar line continues to pluck out the lead melody. This track also marks the first instance of synthesized vocals on this album. It’s subtle but adds an intriguing, robotic flavor. The synth-led instrumental midsection reminds me of a metallic version of “Welcome to the Machine”, and how it gives way to a simple vocals-and-percussion section is brilliant and unexpected. On both this song and the preceding one, much of the instrumental interplay is evocative of Dream Theater, though filtered through a more focused, black metal lens.
The weirdest moment yet is what kicks off “Noire”. Clean vocals and plinking keys make a folky melody. Metal comes to dominate quickly thereafter, but the multilayered vocals keep it sounding distinct.
“L’Empire Des Singes” has a chunky opening riff and features some impressive theatricality with meter. The galloping rhythm has an off-kilter, Meshuggah-like feel. This track features harpsichord and organ at moments, giving it a haunted, gothic atmosphere.
“Maussade” is one of the more straightforward cuts on Eloge, but I still enjoy it. “Alternative” is another quiet opener, with gentle guitar arpeggios and a warm, squiggly synth line. Though an instrumental, wordless vocals play an important role here. It’s an otherworldly cut, with a guest appearance by a trumpeter being a welcome inclusion.
“Les Fragments” has a hip-hop inspired cadence to its rapidfire vocals. Plodding piano anchors this cut, and the vocals are again run through a synthesizer. The melody reverts back to a more rock-rooted one, but this track remains an impressively unique one, even on such an unorthodox album.
Blistering guitars start off “Est-Ce Que Tu Danses?” with a bang. A synth line floats above the onslaught, acting as a fantastic, airy counterbalance to the dense sludge of the main riff. There are more impressive metrical shenanigans as the song restlessly bounces from riff to riff. The solo is highly melodic and reminiscent of David Gilmour at points.
The opening of “Pas Le Même” sounds like something I’d hear on an early Ozric Tentacles album, with gentle, folky acoustic guitars and weird, groaning soundscapes in the background. This is another notably strange song, featuring tones and ambiance you’d be hard-pressed to find on another black metal record.
The album’s title track is up next, and it has the quietest intro yet. Gloomy piano and wavering synthesizer lead it in slowly. A hip-hop cadence is again prominently featured here, with the aesthetic being more fully embraced. Sampled percussion and buzzing synths make for a stark, striking instrumental backing. On any other album, this song would feel incongruous, but it suits the atmosphere and spirit here amazingly well. In contrast to its title track, Elonge de l’Ombre ends with “Rétrograde”. This track has a powerful, driving energy to it. Synthesizers and guitars complement one another to add to the urgent feel.
Elonge de l’Ombre is a powerful statement from Creature. The music is rooted in experimental black metal, but Raphaël Fournier demonstrated that he is not afraid to venture far afield to make exciting music. Synthesizers are integrated in a way which makes them integral to the music without being overbearing, and the occasional hip-hop influence was a welcome surprise.