Up until reviewing Zeal & Ardor‘s Stranger Fruit album, I’d decided that I didn’t like black metal or death metal, that it just wasn’t for me. But Zeal & Ardor’s ability to combine disparate elements within their music kind of snuck it into my listening, and I found myself enjoying the dark intensity of it in the midst of a lot of other sounds on the album. “It’s a gateway drug I think”, Zeal & Ardor’s creator Manuel Gagneux had said with a laugh in our interview. Considering I then agreed to review a full release that treads in the darker spaces, I would have to agree. There’s little that compares with the sharp intensity of blast beats and high screams when pointed in the same direction.
Melbourne based Âme Noire refer to themselves as melancholic death metal, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not well-versed enough in the genre to understand the nuances between the siblings that reside under the same roof of metal brutality. Formed in late 2016, Âme Noire consists of members Alex Hill (vocals), Toby Thomas (bass), Grant McGuinness (guitar), Alex Bell (guitar), and Aaron Hernyak (drums). With the band’s name literally translated from French as “black soul”, I hoped I was not getting in over my head as I began my review of their debut EP The Tree That Bears Rotten Fruit.
“What Lurks Below” is the ominous opener, eerily transporting us to a fog-laden and shadowy space. Downward tumbling riffs seem to soften the screams and growls, easing us into the EP. But it’s not long before the guitars join in with the intensity where there’s an assault on the senses from all directions. Throaty expressions and erratic rhythms are urged onward by relentless drums and angular riffs. The experience is ever-changing and an exercise in keeping up with the band. Breathlessly we’re allowed a momentary pause, confronted with a dirt-coated vocalisation, before an unsettling riff and anguished screams see us out.
Released as a single earlier in the year, “Slave To The Grave” is the second on the EP. The track has a broad feel to it at first, when it’s easy to get comfortable in conjunction with an easy riff (despite menacing vocal layers). Falling into overwhelming erraticness, the track lyrically refers to the album concept of a tree “that does bear rotten fruit”; with the ‘planting’ of dead bodies in their lonely graves.
A melody within “Slave To The Grave” is captivating as it shows up and unites voice and instruments momentarily in the midst of otherwise spewed hecticness. That’s not to say that it’s unpleasant at all, and I’m enjoying letting my ears wander toward the different elements of this band as the track progresses and they pull focus. Bass is a stand-out feature along the way, as is the assumed effort it would take instrumentally to keep up, and the distinct sections of focus; as though in this seeming ode to inevitable death, there’s moments of quiet focused observation before attention is ripped elsewhere. It’s proving to be never a dull moment on this EP and I’m enjoying the melodic qualities that break up any potential wall-of-sound monotony; one of the things that have put me off in the past.
Third track “Immurement” had a video released just yesterday, showing Âme Noire in action on stage in conjunction with the recorded audio. Grateful for the lyrics along with the video, it’s soon apparent that the track’s title is literal and not merely figurative. “Immurement” tells the story of a woman whose partner has died, and in her grief she seeks to be tortured via immurement; contained and left to die, enduring days of suffering until her own inevitable death, despite the fact that she has a son.
“Let me rot in peace”
While clearly dark in meaning, it’s (again) musically impressive and a pleasure to follow along. I’m again enjoying the contributions of Toby Thomas, but all members of the band offer their own uniquely exceptional musicianship. The constantly shifting track in terms of intensity and complexity follows the thought processes of the storyteller: The pain, the desire for death, the regret in abandoning her child, the frustration in the slowness of death, the fear of what her child will become due to the mental and emotional impact of the sudden loss of both parents. Sonically and thematically there’s so much going on here. It’s an impressive creation of darkness, demanding repeat listens.
Pensive melodics create a scene that’s almost warm as “The Wayward Home” begins. We don’t have to wait long before the blistering hammer of intensity falls though, sparking a high speed ferocity heralded by the vocals. Darting back and forth we could easily be in avoidance mode of shifting by obstacles and threats. A gang vocal chant, in a section that’s more Viking longhouse-esque in strength than I expected to find here, seems to offer weight in unity and forward progression.
The guitars of “The Wayward Home” garner most of my attention and I find myself really getting into the picture that they’re creating, honestly mesmerised and hanging on every chord. They’re the voice of reason that seems to be carving a path on an otherwise chaotic journey.
The last of the EP is “The Tree That Bears Rotten Fruit”. With its music video and lyrics, I understand the story we’re being told with this track is the future for the child referred to in “Immurement”. Doomed to a dark existence in isolation and “left to fend for life at a tender age”, this is an unflinching look at the inheritance of death as a legacy. The video also incorporates earlier references of the EP, with “Slave To The Grave” scrawled in a journal and the gradual degradation of the character’s sanity.
I’m enjoying the way this blistering track could be enjoyed at face value, or explored in the context of the rest of the EP. My word-loving self is appreciating the continued use of tree related metaphors expressing meanings of life as well as the ongoing cycles and patterns; like the cycle of seed to tree, and the fruit bearing its own seeds. It’s undeniably dark and an unpretty take from a perspective where the heirloom is tragedy, promising to continue, looping us back to where we began.
Despite my (previous?) lack of personal appreciation for this darker end of metal, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring the cavernous creation that is The Tree That Bears Rotten Fruit. My interest was easily kept throughout the EP, as well as on every song, due to a few factors: Unpredictability of direction and rhythms, unexpected accents (such as gang vocals), clearly talented musicians, as well as interesting storylines contained within these dark slivers of music. If you love your death metal for the blast beats and the whipping of hair, that’s here for you too, but there’s a lot more available on offer for the curious. The Tree That Bears Rotten Fruit is an exceptional debut from Âme Noire.
The Tree That Bears Rotten Fruit releases tomorrow! https://amenoire.bandcamp.com/
The variability by way of intensity allows the EP and band to be explored by newbies as well as veteran fans of this music. A really impressive debut release for this talented band.