Monte Verità

March 12, 2020


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Cénotaphe has only been around for about five years, but the duo behind it has been a part of French black metal for over fifteen years and have brought that experience with them for each release.  They’ve kept a steady stream of material coming out over the past few years through EP’s and splits, which has built up a considerable amount of anticipation for a full length.  This year they’ve granted listeners that full length in the form of Monte Verità and it’s proven to be worth the wait, as the band effortlessly balances aggressive black metal with soaring melodies that provide beauty and introspection alongside the usual darkness you’d expect from the genre.

Although they may not be significantly deviating from some of the frameworks French black metal laid out two decades ago, Cénotaphe delivers it in a way that feels polished and precise in both its transcendent atmosphere and epic nature.  There’s plenty of blasting and jagged edges to the guitar work, but it’s intertwined with melodic leads that feel like they’re capable of transporting you to the highest mountain peaks.  This is appropriate given the album’s lyrical material has been inspired by a Swiss mountain that attracted those in search of solitude from the chaotic nature of the 19th century, and there’s something to the material that gives off a more cerebral and thought provoking nature compared to a lot of other black metal.  It also helps that the recording sounds immense, as while there’s still a raw edge similar to some of the band’s earlier material the overall sound is slightly cleaner and allows the atmosphere to fully envelop you during some of the most intense climaxes.  Keyboards are utilized as during some of the softer transitions and there’s some definite folk influences at times, and these additional nuances do help to differentiate Monte Verità from the pack.  Admittedly by the time the album reaches its conclusion listeners are likely to notice some similarities in how the instrumentals reach these peak levels and there are some passages that blur together, but the sheer beauty and power of songs like “De mon promontoire astral” are sure to leave a lasting impression.

The vocals are where some more of the folk influence comes into play, as in addition to the harsher shrieks and screams there are quite a few passages where the group incorporates singing.  Khaosgott’s main pitch is an extremely abrasive one that reaches ear piercing ranges at its peak and feels like it’s capable of cutting through your speakers, which contrasts nicely with the somber melodies.  When Cénotaphe transitions away from these in favor of cleaner pitches they don’t lose any intensity in the process and on the title track it sounds as though the singing is reverberating from the tops of mountains with how powerful it is.  It’s a small touch, but the variation to the vocal performance enhances the material considerably and gives it even more staying power.

Some aspects of the songwriting do result in similarities between the individual tracks, but the sheer amount of power and breathtaking nature of the peaks give Cénotaphe’s full length debut some real longevity.  There’s a level of polish to the album that showcases this is a veteran duo, and they’re one of the more exciting additions to French black metal in recent times.  Black metal can serve many purposes, but this is one of those albums where you can plug in and get swept away by all of its textures.  Monte Verità is available from Ossuaire Records and Nuclear War Now! Productions.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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