Grand œuvre takes almost no time enveloping the listener in swaths of mysterious atmospherics, the haunting, melancholic guitars that introduce "Œuvre au noir" standing on their own, dowsed in effects and creating an immediate allure that is satisfied once the drums and rhythm guitar drudgery arrive. But really the joy in this album is in how it constantly offers up thrills that the listener isn't expecting, like the creepy organs, winding little riff-lings or full-bore bursts into a blasted black metal format which is illuminated by faint, eerie higher pitched guitars that constantly lend it this sparkling, vaulted ceiling.
I hadn't heard any of Triste Terre's previous EP offerings, but the six tracks of this debut full-length have made me an immediate believer in the potential of the duo to stand among their better-known peers in an ever-broadening pool of black metal talent. Aesthetically I'd place them closer to bands like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, they have that same focus on dissonance and sparseness that populates some of the former's more industrial offerings, and some resemblance to the slower material of the latter, though they never hit those same strides of frenzy (not for lack of trying). Grand œuvre might not be the most challenging record in this scene, but it's very much sprawling, oblique and ambitious without ever becoming too confusing for the ear to follow, 9-12 minute long tracks each offering compelling passages throughout their girth.
Though they do offer up some more tortured, raving vocals on occasion, I would say that if this album had a weaker element it would probably be the primary rasp used over most of the material; it's not bad but it's a little less engrossing sonically than the instrumentation, which is absolutely legion here, from the morbid, shuffling little bass lines to the spacious, grim guitar lines that operate on several levels of saturation. The beats are pretty well implemented to complement the contrast between busier sections and the tinnier, minimalistic areas in which the guitars or organs are left to their cult, cinematic graces, and the whole package is very ably produced for what they're trying to achieve.
This is no warm, vibrant journey, but one of shadows and bleakness, chills and obscurity, and thanks to the excellent packaging, it's just as spooky to page through as it is to listen to. Les Acteurs de l'Ombre has steadily transformed itself into a premium label with a talented roster, and this is just another wilted feather in their cap, a patient and penitent escape into majestic negativity.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]