Hardiesse - Rêverie féodale (Antiq)

The metalverse has this embarrassing habit of rewarding my writeups with a better release after the fact. Sometimes, I’ll forego the second review altogether to avoid qualifying my enthusiasm for the first, but Hardiesse forced my hand with their dazzling ‘Feudal Reverie,’ or Rêverie féodale. Right after Prieuré and Vermineux danced their little duet for the court of medieval black metal (BM), this niche supergroup showed why its members (representing Aorlhac, Grylle, Véhémence, et al.) still wear the crown. Their quality demo offers fans of the subgenre hope for what could be an epic resurgence from Antiq Records. More importantly, though, it revels in the substance behind the style of the so-called ‘medieval’ sound.

I’ll begin by noting that I’ve always felt something was off about calling black metal ‘medieval.’ The recent fad seems to me less concerned with any traditional conception of the ‘Middle Age’ (ca. 500–1,500 C.E.), than it does with a more abstract nostalgia for premodernity. We’ve written here at Mutant Breakfast about bands inspired by ancient Hebraic lore, playing an essentially klezmerized variation of medieval BM. So too will you find projects like Departure Chandalier, depicting Enlightenment- and Revolutionary-era happenings in a similar palette of gravelly tremolos. That is to say, for all of black metal’s looking backward, it maintains a decidedly ahistorical imprecision in distinguishing treatments of one period from another. Even Ungfell’s Es Grauet, the most finely wrought concept album medieval BM has to offer, was advertised in somewhat oblique terms as a "pre-modern" murder mystery. Simply put, bands aren’t always interested in locating their music in the age of Justinian, Charlemagne, or Alfred—nor should they have to be. Sure, a Mystras can come along and draw inspiration from a specific historical event, but even then there is a foreshortening of the great variety in the ‘medieval,’ because the music responds as much to other subgenre practitioners as it does the reclaimed moment. Include all the atypical instrumentation you want—even a hurdy gurdy and a tabor drum—and your songs will still probably default to modern meloblack hooks.

What does this rant have to do with Hardiesse and Rêverie féodale? Antiquarianism is the name of the game for Antiq Records steward Hyvermor, but here the aesthetic and music bespeak a thoughtful irreverence toward the ‘medieval’ in medieval BM. In a corner of Bandcamp where woodcuts and illuminated manuscripts dominate, the sneering artwork extends a middle finger to others who spent hours scouring Wikiart for obscure Hieronymous Bosch paintings. (I can’t help but think that the dude’s white pupils were dotted last-minute with a cursor.) Yet even if someone could easily mistake Rêverie féodale’s cover for some raw Spider God fare, the opener “Conquête” unfurls a tapestry of medieval BM vignettes—from the sped-up take on Obsequiae’s cascading guitars, to the hint of Noble Déchet’s carnivalesque wonk. Wÿntër Ärvn’s contributions on bass are not to be trifled with, and the layered harshes he adds as guest vocalist match Menetekel at his most ferocious. Still, it is master tremolo craftsman Hyvermor who ushers in the record’s best moments, particularly when he uses multiple guitar tracks to give the catchy melodies a technicolor shimmer. Some may decry the lack of acoustic instrumentation, but in an odd way, that absence attests to this demo's success translating the ‘medieval’ in medieval BM into something more than garnish—and without reference to anything you’ll find in a history textbook, either. By simply collecting and echoing back the subgenre’s best moments, Hardiesse hone its received medievalism better than any twelfth-century troubadour ever could. The same way Waterhouse doubled down on painterly realism to bring The Lady of the Shalott to life, Hyvermor and Wÿntër Ärvn use galloping major-scale hooks to contemplate what ‘hardiness’ (hardiesse) it must have taken to survive the more threadbare days of yore. Those seeking the sheen of chivalry will have to squint, but they won't be denied a Rêverie féodale.