Sunday, June 16, 2024

Houle - Ciel cendre et misère noire (2024)

As a New Englander born and bred, adopted from a seaside hospital and rarely ever having lived more than a few miles away from the Atlantic, I've always felt the allure of maritime-themed metal music. A rare commodity, to be sure, but it has been done in a handful of instances, from the Golden Age 80s piracy of the great Running Wild and the decades-late goofy folk metal bands in their wake, to the more serious blend of storm and gloom that a band like France's Houle manifests. I had already commended their adherence to the theme on their eponymous 2022 EP, and with Ciel cendre et misère noire they embrace it all even more closely, an album that is dreary and partially immersed in the traditions of BM, but also has a few unique characteristics that might broaden its appeal beyond that niche.

To be honest, a lot of it is what you'd expect, fast paced and slathered in tremolo picked melodic guitars that evoke both the melancholy of a dingy seascape and the inevitable turbulence that one might face in that environment. There's a certain 'heavy metal' vibe to some of their riffing patterns in tracks like "La danse du rocher", and they also have a lot of cleaner passages with acoustic guitars and tighter, simple chugging patterns used to perforate the vocal lines, often then reverting to the more desperate, blasting rhythms. Adsagsona has a very carnal rasp about her when she's performing in the lines, but I actually found her less structured, ranted/shouting French vocals to be more confrontational and interesting, where the more standard rasp can feel a little overbearing. However, they certainly sound bloody as hell, there is no reining anything, and it's pretty sweet that she can go across such a range, even having some softer, narrative lines over a few of the more folkish moments, which are present but never in a quantity to challenge the metal dominance through the writing.

Production is a bit brighter than it might appear from looking at the album packaging, but I think that makes sense with the emphasis on the melodic guitars. The drumming is snappy and intense, the bass cruises along with its own character, and there's also a lot of folk and neo-classical vibe to some of the guitar melodies or bass lines throughout. The album is paced out and structured well, with some nice breaks where the guitars will surge like the beam of some ship cutting through a storm. I think the downside for me here is that I didn't find a lot of the material nearly as catchy as I would have wanted...the vocal personality, especially the more insane she gets, often drowns out the value of the riffs, and while they're all well played, there's nothing terribly novel or sticky about them. This is no throwaway album, mind you; it continues upon the potential of the EP, without expanding it all that far, and I also think Houle has a niche with plenty of room to develop, but I found myself more inspired by the theme than the musical content itself.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

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