The Great Old Ones - Al Azif (Ladlo Productions)

French black metallers love the craft of Lovecraft
Release Date: 
26 Apr 2012 - 11:30pm

It’s obvious from both the band and album title that these French fellows are big fans of H.P Lovecraft. Formed as a solo project in 2009 by Benjamin Guerry, he recruited Leo Isnard (drums), Xavier Godart (guitar) and Sebastien Lalanne (bass) to actualise his vision of black metal as a platform for his passion for Lovecraft inspired lyrics. I don’t claim to understand much of Guerry's vocal stylings but they fit well with the overall ambience of this album and while I found this debut album to be a confusing little beast; I have to say confusion is a good thing.

The opener Al Azif has an intro of deeply atmospheric keyboards; it’s sinister but this is, according to the press release, Ambient/Post Black Metal so what else would we expect? The intro leads into some traditional sounding black metal guitars and vocals, and I’m immediately struck by the muted production (recorded & mixed by Cyrille Gachet and mastered by Alan Douches) – not that this detracts from what is a wholly pleasurable track with a pace that slows down before launching back into the black metal goodness. A magnificent composition. Visions of R’lyeh is next; that lost city and dwelling place of the great squid-beast Cthulu. It’s all very dramatic and strangely claustrophobic – despite the wall of sound coming at you, so far it doesn’t appear to be an overly heavy album such as you get from bands such as Behemoth – but that’s not to say I’m not liking it. Far from it; I may be confused but it’s all good thus far.

Jonas starts with the sounds of the sea; chugging guitars sliding into almost mellow sections before slipping back to ‘le chug’. The riffs conjure the idea of the ocean, and giving myself over to the art of this work, I find it almost un-nerving. There’s something about this album that is achingly familiar. It’s like trying to remember a name or a face that lingers just beyond recollection. I feel Cthulu’s tentacles probing my memory but to no avail. I just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. I’ve played this album both loud and soft, through speakers and headphones yet the muted sound remains. It’s hauntingly beautiful. Compelling. Utterly compelling.  Rue d’Auseil is next with strings and glittering notes plucked and picked and even when everything kicks in, this song is remarkably restrained. Oh you arty black metal! It’s like trying to keep your eyes open during a blizzard and at 9 minutes 21 seconds (with not a track under six and a half minutes), each song is like a movement in classical music.

The Truth brings me to revelation; is it PJ Harvey that I’m reminded of? This one just builds and builds like some black metal Wagner composition, until my tongue breaks forth into weird and monstrous speech. I am now possessed by all manner of goblinry and I lay in a confused heap on the nursing home floor but it’s quite nice on the cool tiles so it’s all good. Final track My Love for the Stars (Cthulu Fhtagn) clocks in at 10m 19s, the longest track on here. It’s composed of layers and layers of beautiful harmonies that escalate slowly to a plateau not of mentalist guitar work but gentleness. I was surprised. Then came the extreme section and it wasn’t a let-down. This album isn’t your run of the mill black metal and you do need to approach it with open eyes, ears and mind. But in name of Shub-Niggurath! I like it and will definitely be coming back to it, if only in a vain attempt to understand it a bit more.