I've been sitting on this for a long time. For an inexplicably long time. I've been raving about this album ad nauseum since it was released by Sepulchral Productions in July but haven't written about it, in part because I wanted to see if my initial impressions stood the test of repeated listens.
Quebec black metal duo Gris (French for grey) brings us their 2nd (well, really it's their 3rd, but only the second since the band name was changed from Niflheim) album, titled À l'âme enflammée, l'äme constellée..., and not only has it met my rather lofty expectations, but has raised the bar for black metal in a very profound way. Their first record, Il Était une Forêt... has long been a favorite of mine, and is a record that I listen to quite frequently. I was hoping to hear more of the same on this new record, and I'm quite glad that I don't. Don't get me wrong - they haven't employed some sort of major shift in their sound or their approach to black metal. They're simply doing it better now - much, much better. And to be frank, that is saying quite a lot.
This is, simply put, one of the most beautiful metal records I've ever heard. It does everything that a black metal record should, and then some. It presents gorgeous acoustic passages that are stunning in their neo-classical instrumentation, replete with pianos, violins and cellos, creating an a atmosphere that is melancholy but not particularly sad. And when the black metal comes in, the riffs are so monumentally grand, the vocals so full of fury and fire, the bass and drums so perfect in their unmitigated might, that it's impossible to avoid being sucked into the world that this album creates.
For me, the world created by this world is one in which romanticism reigns supreme. That perception may in part be a product of what I've been reading, but time and time again it makes sense: this record is the perfect musical manifestation of Romanticism (and by that I mean a disavowal of modernity, and a yearning for a time, place, and culture long since destroyed by this era of "progress"). Romantic themes are common in black metal, but nowhere has that kind of vibe been so seamlessly incorporated into the music than on À l'âme enflammée, l'äme constellée... The production is clean, the musicality undeniable, and the emotion pure and genuine. This record demands your undivided attention in every possible way. It is a double album, over 80 minutes in length, but when it is done you almost can't believe it's over because the experience of submitting yourself to it has been one of contemplative joy.
Available in a standard edition, and also as a 6-panel digipack. No vinyl as of yet, but I've heard that it will eventually be released on vinyl. Get it now from one of the best labels in North America, Sepulchral Productions. And please, check out their other new releases from Sombres Forêts, Monarque, and Neige Éternelle. While I'm not reviewing it here, the Sombres Forêts album La Mort du Soleil is on par with this Gris record. Amazing band, amazing album. Do yourself the favor of picking it up.