Thursday, November 17, 2011

Grey November - The Fall Of the House Of Usher (2011)

Fans of doom, rejoice! The French two piece known as Grey November have a new album, one that boasts such a stunning contrast, that it can only be described as "romantic doom." How those two words fit together may seem a mystery to many, including myself, but this effort, spearheaded by Cedric Seyssiecq, is an education. Based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name, "The Fall Of The House Of Usher" is a mere 90 minutes of near flawless writing and execution.

Our story begins with an howling wind, as synthesizers take hold of "A Dull, Dark, and Soundless Day In The Autumn Of The Year." Strings and keys set an immediate mood, creating an atmosphere of darkness and pain. As vocalist Marieke Delanghe makes her first appearance, you will be immediately struck by the power and emotional weight in her voice. Each and every note will lift you up, and let you float back down to earth. the pounding of the kick drum keeps the momentum building, allowing Seyssiecq to deliver a short spoken passage in his ominous tone. The track builds, only to fade away in a sea of synthesizers. The story of our narrator's boyhood friend, "Roderick Usher" follows, with a heavier hand on the drums. Crashing cymbals sizzle throughout, bookended by Delanghe's heavenly voice, and Seyssiecq's dark one. A clean acoustic guitar plays the melody, light and airy, over a crackling fire. The explosion of percussion that followsn is as dynamic as any you will find in the doom genre today. Intertwined with thunderstorms and synthesizers, the drums and distorted guitars will chill you to your core. Therein lies the true genius of a composition like this one, the ability to elicit an emotional response. The guitar solo work is haunting, played with surgical precision but a deft hand.

"Lady Usher"is precisely the kind of track that comes to mind when dealing with the "romantic doom" tag. The instrumentation echoes the traditional symphonic doom style, but with a more pronounced female presence, one that Delanghe fills beautifully. She manages to perform in the slow-paced way that defines the genre, but her voice doesn't waver or falter. Instead, it becomes progressively more powerful with each passing moment. her soft whispers are ghostly in nature, as if she is speaking directly into your ear. The drums and guitar work are minimal, but that is not to say they are inconsequential. Each beat of the snare, each thud on the kick and each tap of a cymbal finds a home in the air around you. The artistic nature of music can be exemplified here, and Seyssiecq takes that quality to new heights. The following track, a short four minute interlude is one that may leave you checking under your bed when things go bump in the night. One long synthesized note runs through, tracing the footsteps and motions of a lone figure. It is a choice of both form and function, keeping the mood dark, but furthering the story through use of effects and weather.

The aptly titled "Requiem" follows, with a absolutely stunning mix of orchestrated string, synths and clean, acoustic guitar tones. Seyssiecq's low, bass heavy voice speaks, the only disruption of the beauty that occupies the background. His breathy passages create an aura of pure morose, down to the last whisper. His final exhaled leads directly into the next track, "La Chute de La Maison Usher," with a building kick drum taking over where the spoken word left off. Delanghe reenters, taking the low rumble of distorted guitars and drums, and giving it a sublime twist. Her voice shines through the darkest of night, enchanting but melancholy. The musical performance, complete with claps of thunder, is perfectly played, layering each sound on top of one another with an even hand and impeccable timing. The occassional raucous burst of drums keep you on a constant rollercoaster of emotion, leading the charge of dark guitar riffs. But nothing can prepare you for the all out thrashing that follows, blast beats and double kicks shaking you from side to side. Machine gun snares and crashing cymbals do all they can to beat and batter you, while those airy synths and strings try to calm your nerves. That sultry female voice coddles you, and puts your mind at ease.

The twenty minute epic that is "Epilogue" lives up to it's name, with over three minutes of simple pattering rain and light synths opening the track. Even as the guitars enter, strings bending and notes blaring, the track has merely just begun. A pulsing drum beat pounds out a steady time structure, and the layers begin to build around it. Part one fades, welcoming a second wrinkle, a synthesizer to accompany Delanghe in her solemn spoken words. Calamity ensues, with the entire story unfolding in the background. The rain is falling, thunder rumbling, and the voices of all involved heard on top of it all. This is masterful storytelling, something that metal has relied on for as long as the genre has been in existence.

There are few words that can described what Grey November have achieved on this one ambitious album. Each note, each spoken word shares a sense of longing and despair, an emotional weight that will rest on your shoulders long after the music has stopped. Through Marieke Delanghe's voice, sadness flows. Few albums come to mind that have the ability to affect change in your emotional state, but "The Fall In The House Of Usher" is one of them. Cedric Seyssiecq may have done Poe proud; or he may have outdone the man himself.


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