If ennui were a muse, then surely Lantlôs were suckled to its cunt throughout the production of their third album, Agape, which is little more than a dissertation on how to lack even a shred of inspiration or riffing ability. This German-French collaboration was hardly one to write home about on their last two full-lengths, but there they have surpassed themselves to reach the summit of banal shoegazing post black metal which is wrought of such worthless characteristics that it stuns me anyone could enjoy it. Don't get me wrong: I listen to some Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Hum, My Bloody Valentine and so forth, and even a few of the sludgier post-metal acts that have also inspired this one (I hear a tinge of Neurosis and Isis, at the very least). I have no problem with bands exploring this avenue of sound. But Agape is as dry as a desert. Not emotionally draining, nor emotionally incandescent, nor really much of emotional anything. It's like watching a snail crawl across your boot, and feeling no impetus to either help it along or hasten its passage to the mollusk afterlife...
I wish I could blame Neige for this one, but really there doesn't seem to be anything he could do to fix it. For most of the proceedings, he drones along with the same vapid black rasp you hear in hundreds of other sludge and post-black outfits. There are points at which he goes into a cleaner vocal, and when this happens it's at a lower pitch, not the dreamier style he attempts on some of the Alcest material. Sure, none of the vocals here are even the slightest bit memorable, but had they at least been graced with a solid musical undercurrent, they would suffice. No, the fault here lies entirely with the writing of the music, which attempts to contrast itself between fits of tremendously derivative, uninspired riffing and tranquil, soothing passages where clean guitars pluck along with a lightness that equivocates to how much impact they have upon the listener. About the best I could say for the guitars on this album is that they clearly demonstrate a shift between cold, desolate minimalism and warmer, full-bodied streams of dissonance, but it's not praise when the note progressions are so void of musical value.
For instance, let's examine the first track, and the most swollen: "Intrauterin" opens with two minutes of swelling, ambient feedback before collapsing into this droning, dull riff which anchors itself on a bottom end chord and then some wailing, bending inanity. Then at about 4 and a half minutes in it changes completely to this transitive, clean passage with twinkling little acoustic stars and softly droning background tones in a higher pitch. I bring this up because it's possibly the one point on the promo that I did not want to delete. Neige applies some lower vocals to this in a fairly barren fixation, and then the highly predictable segue into slow tremolo shoegaze riff arrives on queue, with Neige picking up the intensity to his standard, grisly rasp. I feel like I just spent about 50 seconds wading in mediocre weightlessness and 9 more in the most boring aural environs imaginable, only vaguely adequate even as background noise.
Unfortunately, this is not just a one-off fluke. Agape does not improve the deeper you get into its infertile valleys. "Bliss" is a far heavier track in general with a steady substrate of simple chords smothered in harsh vocals and an empty melodic sheen, but despite its own breakdown toward tranquility it is 100% forgettable. "Bloody Lips and Paper Skin" has some appreciable backing ambiance, yet the first two minutes sound like a Sonic Youth sound check, if Thurston Moore plugged in and strummed the most unassuming series of notes and chords available, and the bass heavy, Hum-like core of the song is sadly no more climactic. "You Feel Like Memories" is the obligatory instrumental, and this one is all spacious, minimal clean guitars with a steady pump of bass and tinny percussion that drive it along to its aimless end. The finale, "Eribo - I Collect the Stars" is all big shining, crashing nothingness that fades out with a distorted bass drone, but I'll admit that the mid point with the melodic, bluesy arching 'lead' is probably one of the highlights, even if nothing is really happening...
And that is Agape in a nutshell. Nothing happens. Nothing of interest, anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out this was all improvisational, because most musicians I know can write more involved music than this in their sleep, regardless of their genre of expertise. I guess the point of such a thing as this album is to revel in its own misery, flirt with its own broad swath of emptiness, but in this case, nothing is rewarded to the listener, not even in a negative sense. Even at it's most climactic peaks of harried, atonal energy, the album seems as horizontal as a board. .Neon and their s/t debut at least showed a few signs of potential, but this feels as if all hope were truly lost, and that the musicians were just going to plug in and play whatever comes to mind without any concern for lasting quality. Hell, next to this album, other related acts like Alcest and Heretoir sound like virtual cornucopias of passion. Not the worst album I've heard, but certainly one of the biggest bummers of this year. Come on, snap out of it! You lot can do better than this.
Verdict: Fail [3/10]