At times, the purchase of a long-anticipated album makes me overly euphoric, resulting in a short-lived overestimation of the work before I change my mind and view it as just 'good'. However, there's not a single doubt in my mind that the album I found in my mailbox yesterday will suffer from a similar relegation into the 'fairly good' purgatory, for Amesoeurs' self-titled debut album is even better than I had hoped for it to be. The first and last full-length album of the French cult band turns out to be the haunting musical observation of modern civilization it was destined to be according to the musicians involved in the project.
Hailing from Avignon, a city in France famous for its anti-popes during the middle ages, Amesoeurs could be seen as the anti-pope of post-rock and black metal. While having many things in common with both genres, Amesoeurs offers an entirely unique sound that is bound to surprise fans of either genre. Even though the band's only other release was a 3-song EP called Ruines Humaines back in 2006, the anticipation of Amesoeurs' first full-length was significant among metal- and post-rock fans alike. Combining two genres that at first seem to share but a few similarities, Amesoeurs offered a depressing and dim view upon the dark side of the modern age: suffocating, polluted air; dirty junkies and hobos; intimidating buildings and a general lack of individuality in every aspect of society - the usual horrors of 'the big city'. That is not to say Amesoeurs is political band, however. Even though it obviously expressed its revolt for the modern age rather than admiring it, the band portrayed its disgusts through dark poetry, rather than offering possible solutions through some preachy pseudo-political lyrics.
The album continues where the EP left off, conceptually. Although the compositions carry significantly less black metal elements with them on this album, the lyrical core is very much the same, and even executed better, one might say.
Starting out with a haunting instrumental track, the band immediately reveals what it's about: mixing post-rock with black metal elements. The presence of the latter-named element is not very strange, seeing as three of the four members of Amesoeurs are, or have been active in the black metal scene in one way or another. Even though the opening track is an instrumental piece which maintains pretty much the same melody throughout the whole song, the diversity in style is immediately evident, while sounding completely natural nonetheless.
After the impressive introduction, Amesoeurs continues to manifest its diversity through the next couple of tracks. Song such as Heurt and Recueillement have obvious black metal influences, while not drifting away from the post-rock significantly enough to label the mix as inappropiate. Recueillement in particular is a very interesting track, seeing as a poem by the 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire serves as lyric for this song, and while the band leader, Neige, has often used Charles Baudelaire poems for other musical projects (which are often built around an entirely different lyrical and musical concept), Baudelaire's poetry seems just as fitting and natural as it does in Neige's previous efforts to musically portray his work.
Perhaps the most interesting example of the diversity of this album is not the variation in rhythm or melody, but the vocals. While about 70% of the vocals for this album are being done by Audrey Sylvain, Neige occasionally lays down his haunting vocals, which find their roots in the time when he was more pre-occupied with making black metal music, but nonetheless have their own distinct sound, and are way more melodic than say, the vocals of more conventional black metal acts such as Dimmu Borgir and Emperor. Even if Audrey's soothing (but sometimes enraged) voice is nothing like Neige's enchanting screams, the variation, like with the rest of album, appears as natural and isn't disturbing to those who are somewhat used to the unconventional vocal arts of black metal.
From left to right: Audrey Sylvain, Winterhalter, Neige and Fursy Teyssier.
Separated by a piano interlude (called 'Amesoeurs Is Dead' in cypher code, referring to the band's then pending departure), the second half of the album is perhaps even darker than the first. Where the first couple of songs are sad and melancholic, the last few songs are more depressing, furious, and even aggressive. This is not necessarily demonstrated through the song Trouble (Éveils-Infâmes) (which is definitely the most black metallish track of the album) as much as on La Reine Trayeuse in which Audrey Sylvain screams so outragedly that she seems to break her vocal cords. It kind of reminds me of Kurt Cobain, who wasn't a particularly cheery figure himself.
The title track is in a way the most post-rocky song of the album, and the influences from Ian Curtis and Joy Division can clearly be heard, without damaging the originality aspect, by the way. This song, which is certainly one of the album's highlights, is followed by the haunting Au Crépuscule de Nos Rêves. The album's closer, sung by Neige, reminds an awful lot of the first two tracks of the Ruines Humaines EP. Even though the track officially lasts 11 minutes and 16 seconds, the final, dramatic tones fade out after about 5 and a half minutes.
Bar the Laibach-/Rammstein-like industrial noise at the very end of the track, these were probably the last tones we'll ever hear from Amesoeurs, as they had announced to disband after the release of this album due to tensions among some of the members, and conflicting ideas regarding the future of the band. While this is certainly bad news to anyone who enjoys this album, the knowledge of their departure hangs like a black cloud over the entire album, and perhaps unintentionally increases the effect the musicians went for when composing and recording this album.
All in all, Amesoeurs is an album that will not be forgotten by those who know how to appreciate it. While the mix of black metal- and post-rock elements might seem a bit intimidating and strange to those who are not familiar with either one of the genres, the album is certainly an absolute success, as it fulfills every ambition expressed by its creators. It might take numerous listens, the right mood, and perhaps even training to uncover all of Amesoeurs' secrets, but those who are able to lose themselves in its lonely soundscapes will realize that the Avignon quartet has made one of the darkest, yet most beautiful albums of all time. It is on one hand a shame that Amesoeurs has, probably forever, ceased to exist as a band, as I personally feel they could've become a really big band, Yet Amesoeurs does what few other bands have ever succeeded in: leaving us a musical legacy with, in my opinion, not even a single song among it that's not absolutely beautiful. Amesoeurs is dead. Long live Amesoeurs!