Friday 16 July 2021

Sorcières - Empoisonné (2021)

Country: France
Style: Black/Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Jun 2021
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It took me a few songs to get into this album, which is the debut full length from the French black/folk metallers Sorcières after a 2019 EP, but I got there eventually and it continues to grow on me. I've had it on repeat for a few days now to try to figure out what my problems with it were.

One is that they launch into action with Anciennes lueurs as if they're a full on black metal band but it isn't true. They're billed as black/folk metal and the folk metal aspect gets more important as it runs on, starting close to the end of this opener. Oddly, it became a folk metal album for me but eventually came back to being more of a black metal album. That makes it more and more interesting over time.

A side point here is that Anciennes lueurs slows down considerably over its running time until there's almost as much doom as black and it feels jarring. Once we get used to it, it sounds great but it took a while and the doom constantly shapes everything, becoming the most important factor to me in the Sorcières sound.

Certainly it's there on the second song too, L'auberge des corps perdus, and it's even more awkward a presence there because this is a folk metal song that plays with black rather than a black metal song that plays with folk. Folk metal, whatever country it's from and whatever cultural heritage it trawls in, is at heart a lively genre, rooted in dances and drinking songs. Adding a doomy sense of darkness to it deepens the sound but it also has the side effect of depressing that lively feel.

During my first few listens, I thought those two songs played out too mechanically, all the cool things that are going on in them outweighed by a lack of energy that suggested that the band were playing rather than performing, but gradually I realised that isn't fair at all. It's that odd layer of doom that's tamping down the energy and the life shows back up whenever the doom is turned down, like on the title track which feels far more alive. The drums get there first and the rest of the band join in, right down to a violin that's much more lively than it was one the previous track.

Les yeux verts keeps that up, getting downright sassy at points, even if they never truly cut loose and fly free. What could have been a gypsy punk sort of feel, playful and wild, becomes more classical, the composition fascinating but carefully orchestrated. And it's all because of that doom layer that never quite goes away, which is why this sometimes seems better to listen to as impressive music than to get up and dance with stein a-sloshin' as a spiritual force that moves my bones. Les yeux verts is still one of my favourite songs here, but I'm listening to it rather than moving to it.

Technically, Sorcières have everything they need and they feel bigger than the five piece they seem to be. I could have sworn there were two guitars here but there's apparently just one, that of Thibaut Marlard. The bass and drums show up courtesy of David Hubert and Antoine Ricci. Marie Derancourt provides the violin, as often plucked, I believe, as bowed, which is unusual and fascinating. And Pierre Alain Devaux adds a harsh voice to the mix, which isn't as bleak as you might expect for a band with at least one foot in black metal. It's often rather warm, more of a death growl to my thinking but with a black edge.

I've reviewed black/folk metal at Apocalypse Later before, but this feels different. It's nothing at all like Saor, because this doesn't go for atmosphere; like Burden of Ymir, because it blends the genres a lot more than highlighting each separately; or like Vengeful Spectre, who are far more extreme with both their black and folk elements. Again, it's that extra doom layer which ends up shaping it; even if it's a smaller part of the Sorcières sound, it turns out to be the pivotal one, whether the song is more black, such as Ordalie, or more folk, like Dans ces eaux.

So, after three days of listening to this album, I've got used to its intriguing mix and I like it a lot, but I took a while to come around to it. What's perhaps most important is that I wanted to understand this. Usually, if I don't get an album after a couple of listens, I know that it's not for me. This one always felt like it was my sort of album and it is, but I had to work with it. Now I need to figure out how unique the plucking approach Derancourt has to her violin really is. It really works here but I can't think of other examples where violinists do that in metal, at least to this degree.

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