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A Skyward Stare: Basalte Experiences “Vertige”

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Start slow, end big. It’s the mantra for drama, a prescribed structure based on how we perceive the weight of music. Setting a tense uncertainty is the first step, followed by adding complexity through a storyline of sometimes conflicting emotions. Ultimately, things must “come to” in denouement, the point where all involved factors interplay toward the danger of total annihilation. Relatedly, it’s our complete inability to predict our futures which makes us susceptible to the awe, shock, delight, and torment of climax. Art in this context, then, allows us to collectively come to terms with these extreme feelings — with the extremity of the feelings themselves, and with the infinity of non-being. The object itself will differ for everyone, but the point is to feel something you’d rather not feel by feeling it strongly through something representational (theater) rather than actual. It’s our inbuilt fear of death which makes this sort of mirroring possible.

Il verse une larme sur la dîme des hommes; se retire tranquillement comme l’imposteur de sa propre existence, son reflet fragmenté lui paraissant ô combien plus familier.

Québécois black metal outfit Basalte utilizes drama to its full existential capacity: invoking the real horror of post-climax emptiness to reify all that precedes it. Their upcoming second full-length Vertige features four self-standing but interwoven movements, each its own microcosmic story, each its own interpretation of the same shared truth: none of us are permanent. With its power to give meaning to life, this fact should be cherished — not an easy task, but one Basalte nonetheless helps make easier. That is to say although there are no answers here, or anywhere else for that matter, you might find some personal meaning. Here’s an exclusive stream of Vertige‘s opening track “Ce que le corps doit au sol.”

“Ce que le corps doit au sol” establishes important themes for Vertige, opening in a gradual layering of clean melody and anxious drumming which leads into swaths of undulating chords and strategically positioned blast beats. The song’s atmosphere is at first sealed shut; its eventual unveiling feels celebratory in the constantly ascending guitarwork and spasmodic hammering of snare and double bass. Some black metal is encapsulating and choking by design, whereas “Ce que le corps doit au sol” demonstrates that an impulsive, blossoming feeling can be just as intense, and perhaps more revealing. Reinforcing the atmosphere’s wide impact are vocals which range from burly growls to protracted, pained shrieks; plus, the somewhat immediate but easily unnoticed transitions in speed and saturation add another fitting element of unpredictability. The sonic universe created by Basalte is expansive to the extent that its laws are unclear and navigation is futile; likewise, death is irreconcilable but universal all the same.

On its surface, Vertige is highly polished (and certainly well constructed), but the content within is a complicated entanglement of asides, diversions, and subtle effects which come to fruition inside overwhelming walls of noise. There’s a heightened technicality present for sure, but this does nothing to obscure or mechanize the human content within: the screaming face glaring you down in the mirror, abstracted but still recognizably yours. Like the rest of the album, “Ce que le corps doit au sol” is utterly bleak, only uplifting in the security that confidence in the certainty of death brings. In this way, Vertige as a whole is heavy (dramatic) to an ultimate degree, but not a product of the wonton maximization the genre sometimes breeds. It seeks not a solution but understanding — it claims not authority but subservience to the surest of truths — and it too eventually dies, just like you and me.

Fin de siècle funèbre, un cadavre tourne le dos au ciel, creuse vers ses semblables, y cherchant son désespoir.

Vertige releases February 13th. Cassette editions are coming via GBS Records, Black Arts Worship Records, and Six Thirty Recordings (Indonesia). Follow Basalte on Bandcamp here.

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