Monarque’s last full-length Lys noir made a strong impression on me back in 2013 and led to a further investigation into everything the Quebecois black metal scene had to offer. Each of the groups that call the province home have headed in different directions, with Monarque remaining quiet in the years that followed. 2019 looks to be the right time for a resurgence, as the band has returned with the three-track Jusqu'à la Mort EP as they prepare a new album for the end of the year. Despite the length between releases this material finds the group doing what they do best and offers up sweeping, icy atmosphere alongside aggressive instrumentation.
What stood out about Monarque in the past was their ability to take that familiar second-wave base and push it into sweeping, epic territory that had a bit more dynamic feel. This is beautifully demonstrated throughout Jusqu'à la Mort, particularly on the almost eleven minute closer “Le Grand Deuil” where the instrumentals seamlessly move between somber atmosphere and a completely enveloping wall of sound. The EP starts off on the harsher end of the spectrum, with the title track launching into abrasive and jagged riffing that kicks you right in the teeth before letting the melody come in over top of it. By transitioning regularly between violent, aggressive riffs and cold yet inviting atmosphere Monarque achieves a sound that will one moment have you wanting to explore the frigid wilderness before sounding like a call to battle the next. The aforementioned “Le Grand Deuil” is a perfect example, as the walls of sound from the guitar and violin fully envelop you in a sound that’s equally bone chilling and beautiful at the same time, letting you see darkness and light from one moment to the next. It may not deviate significantly from the group’s past exploits but hones in on the power and entrancing atmosphere with razor-like precision, making this short burst of music with the same staying power as a full-length album.
Compared to other Quebec black metal bands like Forteresse and Délétère, Monarque’s vocals skew towards the higher end of the spectrum and come through as ear piercing screams and shrieks that hang over the recording with a ghastly presence. Even as the songs reach their densest levels the screaming still manages to break through and send chills down your spine, never wavering for a second. While this has been a consistent element of the group’s music through the years, the performance is still at its most potent level throughout Jusqu'à la Mort and the space between verses allows each one to come through with maximum intensity.
It may have taken a fairly long time for Monarque to return, but the wait has been worth it. The group has taken their stunning atmosphere and razor-sharp riffs and honed them to their strongest level yet. Taken on its own Jusqu'à la Mort is a top-notch release, but with an album still on the way it seems like a hint of even greater things still to come before the year is over. Jusqu'à la Mort is out now from Sepulchral Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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