When you think of medieval music what comes to mind? Pipe organs? Gregorian chants? A synthy sound thick with grainy atmosphere? While none of those answers are wrong, none of them are really right. When I think of medieval music I think music like early Satyricon, Windir, and of course, Délétère. A year ago, I knew nothing about this band but a chance click on the almighty metal archives brought me in contact with what might be the greatest medieval black metal band since early Satyricon. The majority their content is medieval based, surrounding the plague and all things related. With such a narrow scope of inspiration I didn’t think they would be able to last more than an album or two, nor did I think they could maintain the level of creativity and musicianship. On both counts I was proven wrong. Back in March the band released an EP called Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam. I won’t hyperbolize it by saying it’s an instant classic and that it helps redefine medieval black metal, but I will say this: it’s the best follow up EP to an incredible album that I’ve heard this year. The band has gotten better in the two years since their last album.
Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam, roughly translated from Latin as “During the rough to the scornful” which, yes, sounds much better in Latin. However, you can take something from the name of the album knowing where their inspiration lies. One, the title is in Latin rather than French, as their last album was, and Latin was the language of the church during the time of the black plague. Two, with words like scornful and rough we can imagine that the album will be all about human suffering, pain, and hopelessness. Combine all of that and we can see, before we even start to listen to the album, that Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam is going to be about human suffering and that relief will be dangled, but never given, by the church.
The album opens with a sample from one of the greatest medieval movies of all time in Seventh Seal. Right away the listener is enveloped by the sounds of choral chanting. It’s half relaxing, half unnerving especially since only moments after the chanting begins we hear the sounds of suffering, cries for help and the sound of punishment. This begs the question, did the church believe that those suffering were somehow at fault for it? Were they responsible for their own suffering? It’s a very medieval religious mindset, perfect for some a virulent and hostile medieval black metal album. That theme remains throughout the album, staying in the mind of the listener as the real music begins. The themes of the album are relatively simple, a man seeks redemption and absolution during the time the black plague is ravaging anyone and everyone. Faith in anything is at an all-time low. Despair is easier to reach for than faith yet the unnamed protagonist tries until he is rejected by the church. He is told that he has sinned in the eyes of God and man is thus must endure his punishment, he will not be forgiven, he will not be absolved. Rage plays against hope, despair against faith, life against death. Someone could write a medieval style play based on this album and it would fit right in with all the other morality plays from the time. It’s beautiful in its ugliness. It’s painful to watch, it’s enraging yet it feels so real that you can’t look away, it looks at the heart of the protagonist, the man we root for from the beginning only to see him lose everything: his family, his faith, his hope, and finally his life. He’s the best example of an everyman you could find. He is a reflection of the audience, any one of us could take his place and feel his pain and his rage just as sharply.
And the music, Délétère really know how to play their fucking instruments! The technically and melody which they weave with the guitars, bass, and drums is incredible. They construct a cold, stony atmosphere that makes the listener feel the darkness around them. It’s not just a few thin riffs played blazingly fast to no end. The sound is genuinely constructed and built. Nothing here is haphazard or lazily produced. You can allow the music to surround your senses or you can headbang to it. Music that can do that is always welcomed at Resounding Footsteps. The vocals are a highlight all their own. I’m harsh on vocals, finding things wrong easily. There’s no weak spot in the vocals here. They’re strong and on point. They range from shrill and nasty to guttural depending on the music and the words being spoken. I like that. To me it feels as if they really care about the way the whole thing blends together. They don’t force sound were it doesn’t work. Just when I think they might get it wrong, they get it so right. I think at this point I can trust Délétère that whatever they try, they will succeed. Normally it takes more than an album and an EP for me to trust a band but they’ve earned it.
Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam is a masterful piece of work. It doesn’t blow everything else out of the water, it doesn’t redefine the genre, it doesn’t act like some profound insight. That’s what makes me love the album so much. It doesn’t need to do any of those things. It makes us think on our own about the music and they play the music well. What more could we ask of an album? If we are left entertained and thirsty for more, then the album has done what it should. Per Aspera ad Pestilentiam is entertaining and it’s deep. It’s fun to listen to and to dissect meaning from. Every part of me: the fan, the critic, the writer, and the theorist enjoyed this album. Every part of you will too. I just hope there isn’t too much of a wait between now and the next album, I’m hungry for more!
Highlights: Incipit: Noster Fructus Irae, Ordo Regis Caedis
If you enjoyed this try: Forteresse, Bathory, Csejthe
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