P​â​lefroid - P​â​lefroid (Antiq)

When it’s well executed, French black metal (BM) is one of the most robust, experimental, and captivating sub-genres in extreme music. The country’s revolution-scorched political history, combined with its affinity for philosophy and fine art, has produced some of the more subversive and boundary-pushing bands in the extreme arts. Preeminent groups like Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, and Antaeus hardly need any introduction; these bands injected the traditional second-wave BM formula with an imperious, jewel-studded devotion to aesthetic sophistication. As a result, the stylistic aftershocks of their impact can still be felt todayand not just in mainland Europe. Cross-pollination of the French approach almost certainly gave rise to the mystical and hallucinatory Icelandic BM sound, while also galvanizing more avant-garde varieties of American blackened death. As a fan of the French style, I was initially excited to dig into P​â​lefroid's debut album. I’ll admit that I don’t typically gravitate toward meloblack, but I noticed that Soleil de cendres was proffered by Antiq, a French label known for their mastery of medieval-themed BM. Most notably, their roster includes Véhémence and Passéisme, two bands that have successfully integrated the caustic, tattered feel of lo-fi BM and a guild-sized hoard of bardic instruments into the meloblack formula.

Not all French BM is created equal; however, and sadly Soleil de cendres comes up short. Despite being released on Antiq, there aren’t any medieval elements at play. This is simply a meloblack record, albeit a raw one, and the stripped-back approach to production doesn’t really benefit the material. Sometimes a little grit elevates an otherwise mundane mix into something a little more monstrous and tortured, giving it a blood-foamed, rabid bite. With this album, though, the shoddy bedroom reverb and flimsy sonic architecture cheapens it into something tinny and brittle. This issue is exacerbated by the uninspired and redundant songwriting, which relies heavily on recycled tremolo runs conjugated in the same tired, minor key. Aside from a sky-searing riff on on "L'Effondrement," which temporarily invokes the epic, windswept feel of Havukruunu at their best, P​â​lefroid is unfortunately unmemorable. Much like the blizzard whipping past the rider on its cover, it's just a blur of homogenous color that eventually exhausts the listener.