I am a bit of a Francophile when it comes to metal, especially black metal. Blut Aus Nord’s absolute shapeshifting genius, the permanent in the red of Antaeus, Deathspell Omega’s perplexing chaos — some of the world’s best black metal comes from there. There’s a whole film subgenre of the absolute most brutal French cinema, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that same intensity comes with their metal. Lyon’s Celeste is a lesser known name, and they shouldn’t be — not only have they outlasted most of the bands that fused black metal, crust, and doom (a.k.a. half of Southern Lord’s roster in the earlier part of the decade), they’ve taken that combination far beyond most of their peers. Infidèle(s), their fifth record, scales back a bit from Animale(s) in terms of length, but not in fury. It has the immediacy of hardcore, and yet they still know how to let things build for maximum impact, blowing up crust into fullscreen. There’s also a heavy Converge influence in both the guitar work’s tightness and in how Johan Girardeau pours like Jacob Bannon; it’s a bit surprising that Kurt Ballou hasn’t produced them yet. Maybe it’s because they’re on a label more known for experimental acts than metal (though Denovali does put out great stuff), but Celeste hasn’t quite gotten their due. A shame for an act that’s been as consistently great as they’ve been.
Another killer French band dropped a new record this month: long-running doom unit Monarch, who’ve made a name not just from their supremely heavy drones, but also working with an aesthetic that feminizes metal tropes, without making a mockery of music or metal itself. Never Forever is their eighth record, another signature seance in their catalog. Most of the doom is somber, barely arising above rippling waves most of the time. Emilie “Eurogirl” Bresson drives the mood more than the guitar, either by her sonorous vocals or her claustrophobic screams that suck any free air out. Drums are muted to great effect, blurring the line between traditional doom and the “power ambient” of Sunn O))). It’s not all dimly lit: there is some brightness from a disembodied lead in “Diamant Noir,” “Song To The Void” adds turbulence while not overriding Bresson’s presence, and “Lilith” gets subtly more psychedelic and delirious as it goes on. Monarch can be a difficult proposition, rightly so because their music isn’t bite-sized, but also because some hardened heads may not be able to get over the inverted cross of butterflies on the cover. Forever makes the case for their legitimate niche, a singular presence where, by caking on overwhelming slow guitars, it’s easier to look more monolithic than you actually are.
One of my favorite (semi-)local acts is San Antonio’s Crawl, a one-man blackened industrial tyrant headed by Michael Engle. Imagine if Author & Punisher had been trapped in a dungeon for centuries, becoming stronger, angrier, and less contained, and then let loose to douse the world in a sorrowful fire. *This Sad Cadav’r *came out digitally back in May, and with a physical release from Black Bow (ran by Jon Davis of Conan, who Engle recently filled in on drums for in the States) this month, it’s a great introduction to his particular brand of misery. His noise has that industrial bass crunch, smothered in a dank dampness. It hangs in the air, spiraling into a toxic cloud while Engle bashes away on drums. His drumming is the main sign that this is, against all odds, human, resisting mutation at every step with increasing futility. You certainly couldn’t say it’s mechanical. (And if you’ve seen Engle just body whichever locals get put on a bill with him, you already know he’s a formidable drummer.) Crawl’s drones are also reminiscent of New York funeral doom duo Rigor Sardonicous in how much dread is packed into them. Engle’s strategy on Cadav’r, and elsewhere, is to wear you out, not blast you all at once. And getting worn out is actually intoxicating.