The famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, once said, ”knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” The worst enemy of all, the one we must crush down without mercy, is the enemy within us. However, confronting one’s dark side head-on is pretty challenging. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why music that stems from the dark corners of the human psyche sounds so damn appealing, with the beauty of it shining through in the way the dark is entangled with the light – the beauty of contrast. Some of the most prominent bands in this respect come from the black metal family tree, especially bands that fall under the atmospheric or post-black metal moniker. The French duo, VOUS AUTRES, is one of those metal outfits that have mastered the art of transcending our innate shadows by summoning forth tormented, dark melodies against a haunting, widescreen sonic canvas.
Formed in 2017, band members ₣ and β introduced their experimental and modern take on black metal with the debut EP, ”Trente Pièces d’Argent,” and the sophomore album, ”Champ du Sang,” soon followed in 2019. The French black-metallers now return with a new album entitled ”Sel de Pierre,” due out on 25 September 2020 via Season of Mist. It comes packed with a variety of dark enchantments and is dressed in an expansive array of dissonant sonic colors. The album’s title, ”Sel de Pierre,” is French for saltpeter – the mineral form of potassium nitrate, which was an essential compound in the making of gunpowder back in the day. Just like its chemical counterpart, the new album is highly explosive, but still, these two Frenchmen manage to practice their black-metal diction in a refined and utterly sophisticated manner. They don’t sound maybe as raw as vintage Norwegian black metal legends, but on the other hand, VOUS AUTRES also fails to qualify as the next hipster-shoegaze-whatever-black metal flavor of the week. What tips the scales in the duo’s favor is the way they contrast the crushing darkness with the most beautiful light. The album makes you feel like standing on the edge of a collapsing world, staring at the stars and looking for some answers. One constellation stands out: hope.
The album begins by unleashing a 9-minute sonic tidal wave titled ”Onde,” which is the French word for a wave. Tortured vocals and crushing guitars give off the fragrance of despair as if the title suggested that some cataclysmic wave of destruction was about to wash over me. I skipped all my French classes in high school, so I don’t understand a single word of the lyrics. The song might as well portray the anguish of being flooded with guilt and regret for thinking of all one’s cruelties performed in the name of love, for all I know. At least, that would be a very French thing to do, right? Would it make much difference? The feeling of the song becomes pretty clear. Everything’s dark and cold. The world is a cold, dark place where even home feels like a tomb – or like the empty place where dreams go to die.
The title of the second track, ”Vesuve,” is the French spelling for Mount Vesuvius, that famed volcano located on the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Italy. Its fame derives mostly from the eruption that destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii in AD 79. The languid guitar arpeggios in the song’s intro sound like the calm before the storm: the mountain is standing vigil over us. Then, before the first two minutes are up, the song explodes into an eruption of raw emotion that burns with the intensity of hot lava emerging from an angry volcano. The song features a guest performance by vocalist Maxime Febvet of the French black-metal and post-hardcore band, DÉLUGE.
Two songs into the album and along comes something completely different; ”Ecueil” is French for reef or – figuratively – pitfall and it’s the title of a 5-minute journey into ambient electronica á la BOARDS OF CANADA. Yes, why not? Here’s where the beauty of contrast really comes into play. The dance of light and shadow charges the music with an extra layer of meaning. The crushing, dissonant chaos of the previous two tracks makes the stillness of ”Ecueil” that much more beautiful. Such shapeshifting has been a respectable tradition among the good black metal fraternity for years, much to my delight. Even though some of the black metal cavaliers may be veiled in corpse paint and grim attire, most often they speak quite eloquently about matters of the soul, weaving a kind of spiritual fabric into the music.
If my paperback travel-dictionary didn’t fail me, ”Sans Sèves” means something like ”without juice” in English. It marks the end of the ambient detour, a nod back to the harsh and desolate spheres of trve kvlt black metal aesthetics. The song steamrolls forward like a monolith of vivid nightmares. It’s an ocean of distortion where the psychotic drowns, but the mystic swims with delight. The guitars blast forth a gigantic wall of despair and melancholy where you can sense an undercurrent cracked by a small glimmer of light.
”In Humus” continues to explore the darkness within us by conjuring up wide panoramas of sound. Halfway through the song, the harsh black metal vocals are backed up by the brief guest appearance of a mysterious female vocalist, RSTD. I’m not really sure whether the ethereal beauty of the song is better described as being heavily influenced by post-rock or the atonal trickery of certain horror movie scores. Well, at least the outro of the song is pure post-rock – and it creates a smooth transition to the closing track, ”Nitre.” The title is French for potassium nitrate, that gunpowder stuff, which creates a haunting intertextual contrast to the ambient beauty of the song. It’s basically a four-minute sequence of pure hauntology: ambient synths, didgeridoo, and birds singing in the background. ”Nitre” is one of the most beautiful tracks released in 2020, a song that could forever keep a candle flickering in my heart.
At times, our innate darkness – that is, those repressed desires, the shadow self – may seem to be getting the best of us. As of late, it might have occurred more profoundly than ever. Maybe there’s no cure once the condition has advanced this far, though we can make ourselves a little less agitated with a generous dose of this fine piece of post-black metal from Nantes, France. VOUS AUTRES returns with the new album, ”Sel de Pierre,” which is as soul-crushing as it is celestially beautiful. It is as intense as its predecessors. Only now, hope is summoned into a place where it has no apparent meaning – yet it has a reason to be.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Sans Sèves
- In Humus
β – lead vocals
₣ – guitars, bass, synths, vocals
Season of Mist