“À Travers Les Lambeaux”: Shezmu Embrace Doomy, Mythological Death (Album Review)
Montréal is notable for several things: Cirque de Soleil, the delicious cheese fries and gravy dish known as poutine, and, of course, the majestic range of mountains from which the city derives its name. On a more visceral level, however, the city also has a long history of hosting a burgeoning underground metal community, especially the more extreme hemispheres of black and death metal. An imposing trio known as Shezmu fits quite snugly into this ongoing paradigm, with their upcoming debut release À Travers Les Lambeaux exemplifying how to summon forth a colossally memorable sound in a minimal amount of space.
The three Quebecois have traditionally pumped out a thickly layered blend of death, black, and doom metal (largely that first one) -- this debut, however, sees these sounds melding in noticeably more proportionate fashion than previously, and the bassy doom elements in particular really give Shezmu’s compositions an extra sense of oomph and gravity this time around.
A more pronounced bass role shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise on À Travers Les Lambeaux either, as Shezmu bassist Yannick Tremblay-Simard also plays in Montréal stoner doom outfit Aiuasca. Whether taking a cue from his groovier outlet for Shezmu’s debut album or not, Yannick’s bass on here is stellar and serves as the crucial element to propel the songwriting forward into absolutely moshpit-inducing territory (just give “Ode À Hathor” a listen).
Packed with a dense meatiness and lathered in a clear over-abuse of distortion, here Shezmu’s plodding, mid-tempo riff structure creates a considerably suspenseful, sublime aesthetic.
Á Travers Les Lambeaux addresses intriguing subject matter that goes part and parcel with the atmosphere conjured by its abrasive, forward-marching atmosphere. The apparent influence here is ancient mythology, hinted at not too subtly by track titles referencing Megido, Hathor, and “Ziggourats,” as well as the gory album artwork. Unlike many extreme metal bands that focus on mythology and folklore from the more epic, grandiose perspective, Shezmu instead chose to narrow in on the bleaker, more barbaric side of its history.
The little “La Rage” interlude track in the middle of À Travers Les Lambeaux serves as an exciting diversion away from Shezmu’s bludgeoning approach -- carrying into more ambient-ish, acoustic territory that equally calls to the mythological influence in its own way. Though this is the only example, it does expand the scope of their songwriting by serving as a tasty little bridge between the first and second halves of the album. Hopefully the technique here is one Shezmu will expand upon in the future, or even eventually learn to integrate into their more dominant, pummeling metallic persona.
Unquestionably, it’s the production that’s largely owed to this maturation of Shezmu’s aural recipe. True to black and death metal fashion, it’s treble heavy and imbued with an overall ringing abrasiveness. But it’s also a lot heavier on the bass than was the norm for Shezmu in the past, resulting in a more suffocating, almost sludgy touch that imparts a greater feeling of hefty catchiness to the music. It’s partly the benefit of the band only having one guitarist as well, as this is a move that, more often than not, inevitably results in more breathing room for the rhythm section.
Although À Travers Les Lambeaux may leave a bit to be desired in the way of melody and atmosphere -- maybe it is more of a “meat and potatoes” extreme metal album than anything -- its meat and potatoes are considerably more succulent than most. Shezmu are certainly not the first band on the block to combine black, death, and doom metal, but the particular way they fuse the three in almost seamlessly equal fashion results in an unusually captivating offering.
Hitting like a sledgehammer and distinctly indelible, this Montréal trio and their forceful inaugural album ought not to be glanced over anytime soon.
-- Sahar Alzilu
À Travers Les Lambeaux releases this Wednesday, July 29th, 2020 via Krucyator Productions.