Passéisme - Alternance (Antiq)

I’m tickled to receive and review Passéisme’s sophomore full-length, Alternance, because their feudal black-metal “chants” bring me back to a formative moment in my music listening, when a few years ago I decided it was worthwhile to share my scattered thoughts about new metal releases. It takes a certain self-flagellating depravity to work meticulously through your feelings in Notepad, hoping only to share them with a small coterie of pity readers. Now, at least, I can rummage through my digital desk drawer and, with something resembling grizzled authority, point to one of my earliest ‘newsletters.’ A writeup of June 2021 releases, I praised Passéisme’s “ingenious cocktail of growling, hardcore vocals and that shimmery ‘medieval’ guitar work,” but lamented those guitars’ “over-eager compression” in the mix. In conversations with fellow goofs, I dared even to dream about what might happen if the upstart troubadours recruited expertise from an underground sound guru like Colin Marston. Lo and behold, the metal gods granted my wish!

Now, the pairing of Marston and Passéisme bassist and lead vocalist Konstantin Korolev was not totally unforeseeable. A few months after Eminence’s release, the two formed an international coalition under the name Paroxysm Unit to put out a wacky demo of brutal tech-death (think Edenic Past dabbling more in Replicant skronkery). The operative word in this backstory is “tech,” because as seasoned metal listeners know, Marston tends to partner with virtuosos—and never let their great instrumental talents go unnoticed. Unlike with Eminence, I won’t need to throw Alternance on my turntable to hear that booming tube amp enter the chat on opener “Azure Mockery Chant.” Korolev’s pacy bass attack enables Passéisme to etch ornate melodies with a frantic urgency more often associated with non-‘medieval’ meloblack bands like Havukruunu or Ninkharsag. And yet, it’s his dog-bark vocals that root this shimmy in hardcore spunk. Marston pulls these leads back slightly in the mix so they can participate in the flitter of crackling textures, but his deft hand is most noticeable in the guitars. No longer the victim of “over-eager compression,” their warp-speed rococo gets a jolt of action-movie energy, when they can throw punches in frames of varying temperature, definition, and depth. Check out “Stubborn Zeal Chant,” and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.

All told, a curmudgeon might argue that Alternance’s improvements consist almost entirely of picking Eminence’s low-hanging fruit. The sophomore effort is definitely more of a tune-up than an overhaul, but I for one credit that to a justifiable faith in Passéisme’s tavern-wrecking black metal—which will turn even more heads, now that it’s rumbling and tumbling with more purpose and efficiency of movement. “Prurient Flamboyance Chant” is a total gaol-break of a closer, and would not have cohered so wondrously, had Korolev and company not thought to storyboard their Falstaffian wit and high-octane riffage. In nailing the bit, Passéisme have not only infused Seth’s dour cathedral porn with the delightful “ecstasy” of bands like Yovel and Agriculture, but also wrought mosh-pit havoc in Ungfell’s shambly bardic register. Alternance is the band’s best record yet and an instant subgenre classic, straight from the label re-establishing its hold on the world's best Antiquarian black metal.