By now France must be the one country to feature the very widest range of black metal aesthetics. From the immense, innovative talents like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Way to End, to the traditional raw savagery of Antaeus or Mutiilation, the bizarre and unforgettable nationalist oddity Peste Noire, to the straight black arsenal of a Merrimack. Just about everything in between these poles is also covered, and along comes Sael, a band boasting current and former members of many other notable acts, German and French, such as Odem Arcarum, Secrets of the Moon, Reverence, Asmodée, and they've even got the keyboardist from the fruity power metal band Heavenly!
With such a capable and diverse roster, you really expect some sort of anomalous sound to manifest throughout The Sixth Extinction. Having never exposed myself to the band's Ocean EP in 2007, I had no real notion of what I'd be hearing. Thus, it was quite surprising to hear a pretty standard, modern black metal spin on the writing here, with the addition of Matthieu Gervreau Plana's synth-work, which often spans the pipe organ tone and gives this a strange, almost ball-park black metal feel. The band also uses some soaring, soothing clean vocals, shining and discordant riffs, and great bass playing, which is no surprise, as this is Lord Arioch from Odem Arcarum, who have a similar, if more ambient appeal to Sael.
The opening track, "Being Judas", is an aggressive black/thrash stomper with a symphonic bridge, which sets a standard of aggression that does not actually represent this band's finer aspects. The production is crisp, clear and the pace relentless, but there's not a lot of interest until the following track "Priest of Nothingness", which features a flourish of organ, some amazing bass playing and a nice mix of black evil and thoughtful progression. "The Venom" weaves its way through your system through a series of fast breaks and pensive, melodic bridge sequences, but it's not one of the better tracks here. No, the best of the rest here would involve the schizoid thundering of "Mantra of the Fourth Age" with some nice black/thrash riffs, and the well written, dreamy finale "The Sixth Extinction". "I Searched for the End of the Spiral" is rather typical, faster paced atmospheric black metal, and "Inner Wrath" has its highs and lows.
Sael exhibit some very diverse strengths despite the rather typical black core they operate upon, and as a result, they excel whenever they deviate from the expected. Using this record as a control group, it might be more pertinent if the band were to explore the outside elements on future releases, perhaps without abandoning the grim center entirely. That said, The Sixth Extinction is pleasing enough for a full-length debut, with interesting writing on about half of its tracks, and nothing that will bore or offend the listener.
Verdict: Win [7/10]