Style: Heavy Metal
Release Date: 3 Mar 2023
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I've reviewed a lot of comeback albums here at Apocalypse Later, from bands who were important a long time ago, i.e. way back in my day. I discovered rock and metal through the Friday Rock Show in mid-1984 and I dived in deep. For a few years, I felt I knew about everything, until other passions arose and real life as an adult got in a way. Sortilège are very much of my era. They formed before I knew about rock music, back in 1981, but their debut album didn't come along until 1984, when I'd just stumbled onto the genre. They released a follow-up album in 1986, like the first in both English and French editions, and that was all she wrote.
And now they're back. Well, they're kinda sorta back, because their history of reformations seems to be rather complex. They got back together a bunch of times without ever finding their way back into a studio. One of those was in 2018, which lasted a couple of years before the band fragmented into two separate incarnations. This is the one based around vocalist Christian "Zouille" Augustin, who co-founded the band and has been with them all along.
The other, based around Didier "Dem" Demajean, who also co-founded the band and who played rhythm guitar throughout, is also called Sortilège but with an awkward subtitle—Sortilège (Dem, L'Anguille, Snake)—to reflect that it features two other founder members, Stéphane "L'Anguille" Dumont and Bob Snake, their lead guitarist and drummer respectively. What a tangled web they weave. I hope whatever differences they have can be resolved and that this first new studio album in thirty-seven years can mark the beginning of a new era for the band.
The good news is that the opening track, Poseidon, is a stormer. It's a straight forward heavy metal song with a fast pace and plenty of power that just scoots along like nothing could stop it. Zouille's voice sounds as good as ever and Bruno Ramos delivers an excellent guitar solo. I'd call few songs here as inexorable as Poseidon, only Le sacre du sorcier really challenging it, not so fast but just as firm in its drive forward. I do like these straightforward songs. Because they're not doing anything fancy, they have to absolutely nail the basics—the riffs, the hooks, the solo—and Sortilège do that with aplomb.
Attila is a more applicable template, in that it slows things down acutely without ever making it to doom levels, but keeps every ounce of heaviness. Most of what follows starts out in this vein, even if a song might choose to add another element to the mix: the middle-eastern flavour on Derrière les portes de Babylon, the folky chorus of Le sacre du sorcier, the atmosphere of Vampire. Some of the riffs are exquisitely simple, like the core one on La parade des centaures. it really doesn't have much to it but it does exactly what's needed.
Even when Sortilège decide to soften up, on Encore un jour, they don't leave the heaviness behind and they allow the song to build considerably. It never speeds up, but it keeps its power and a less dense sound gives Ramos's guitar all the more opportunity to shine. And, when they decide to go for a majestic sound, as on the closing title track, it sounds like they should never do anything else. It's a real stalker of a song, slow and powerful, but lively and huge. I'd call Apocalypso a highlight, even if it's very different from my other two, Poseidon and Derrière les portes de Babylon.
Talking of the latter, it's still a highlight even though the opening riff seems rather familiar. For a song exploring the exotic east, with an agreeable amount of folk instrumentation and backing, it feels a little cheap to borrow from a pioneer in that vein as acutely recognisable as Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. That said, it moves on and finds its own grooves, which are worthy. If I were to choose just one song from this album for radio play, I might plump for that long one over the three and a half minute Poseidon that ought to be the logical pick.
This album is old school enough that I'm surely more inclined to like it and I do. If you're younger than me to the tune of a generation, you might find this a little old fashioned. Then again, it may shine as another example of the burgeoning new wave of classic heavy metal and thrill you with a blissful lack of nostalgia flavouring your opinion. It's good stuff, whether it was made in 2013 or in 1988, either of which would be believable, if we discount the modern production values. Welcome back, folks!
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