Vespéral - Nuits Blanches (Analog Worship / Productions Haineuses)

Drawing heavily upon the raw, melodic, and somewhat off-kilter Quebecois style of TurpitudeDeparture Chandelier, and Serment, Montrealers Vespéral are the latest entrants in a quickly growing canon of dungeon synth (DS) and black metal (BM) hybrids – with their own punky flair to boot.

From its fuzzy introduction, Nuits Blanches endears itself to listeners with a lovably ramshackle sound, rough around the edges without grating the ears. There is a surprising depth in this lo-fi approach too, with well-deserved attention given to the bass. But where the mix really shines is in the charming DS dabblings that soften the raspy screams and pounding rhythm section, an ethereal film of melody washing over muscular low-end grooves. While these tastefully retro electronics place Vespéral in the same region as many recent BM artists, their near-twee sensibilities are most reminiscent of Bandcamp darling Trhä, especially in the almost dream-like fairy punk of Vat Gelevna! The swells of synth that conclude “Jusqu’a la fin du monde” are no less evocative than any of Ojeda’s flourishes, and there is a similar feeling of fondness evoked by the enveloping warmth of distortion. Nuits Blanches feels like music fit for a warm night indoors, resting alone by the hearth and drinking red wine – and its lyrical themes of personal seclusion suggest that this was the band's intent.

Despite this strong focus on creating an immersive sound, this is not atmoblack as far as tropes are concerned. Vespéral may provide a strange comfort for the wallowing misery guts, but their force forgoes long-form dirges for a concise, no-nonsense approach to rock-based composition. “L’etoile du Matin” takes on a melancholic affect, its measured and steady pace anchoring riffs that, without distortion, would be at home on a Chameleons record – a post-punk inclination also signposted by the yearning baritone of closer “Jusqu’a la fin du monde”. Given their use of this moody bass-driven style, not to mention the substantial use of atmospheric synths, the work of Sunrise Patriot Motion also comes to mind. But while Sunrise felt like blackened gothic rock, Vespéral are a far more “trve” unit, closer to the eerie incandescence of Lamp of Murmuur’s Submission and Slavery or the morose swells of Laster’s Der Verste Verte is Hier. “O Solitude” opens with a fantastic stomp, “Paralysie” kicks and claws its way along with the blackened hardcore vigor of Raspberry Bulbs, and the skittering percussion of “La Tristesse de mes Murs” pushes the energy into a higher gear. When the band do take their feet off the pedals in “Priere” and the two interludes, they do so briefly and with clear purpose – the former by introducing the record by cleverly pre-empting the gripping guitar riffs of “L’etoile du Matin”, the latter two by juxtaposing the melodies of guitar and synths as well-placed breathers. Atmosphere is deeply important, but the band never indulge in it at the expense of their lively spirit.

Nuits Blanches as a whole is an incredibly compelling release; Vespéral have a characterful and engaging musical language, sometimes rollicking, at other times as entrancing as a roaring fireplace. The 40-minute runtime always goes more quickly than you think, the record always begging for another spin.