Forteresse - "La Lame du Passé"

Back in late April of this year, I went to a show in the basement of Santos Party House in Manhattan, headlined by French black metal kvltists Celestia (an insanely rare occurrence; the last time the band played on American soil was 2009, when they scheduled exactly one U.S. performance). Opening for Celestia was Quebecois band Forteresse, whom I did not know at the time, but most of whose set I caught that night.

I wound up totally entranced by Forteresse’s ambient black metal—it was buzzy and raw, an ethereal atmospheric drone with splashes of melody. The band’s frontman, Athros, would go into a sort of meditative trance for extended periods when he wasn't singing. I was slowly drawn in, and by the conclusion of their set, I had been totally captivated and captured. (After that, I found Celestia to be pretty flat and uninteresting by comparison.)

The Forteresse appearance was even rarer than that of Celestia—the six North American dates shared by the two bands were the first and only of Forteresse’s young career. Forteresse are part of the movement known as “Métal Noir Québécois” (which is also the name of the band’s 2006 debut LP), and their subgenre is referred to as “Patriotic Black Metal”. As such, it’s important, apparently, to state clearly that Forteresse are Quebecois, not Canadian; as was pointed out in a 2009 entry on the Black Metal War blog, “Their songs are about patriots fighting for freedom against Canada, so they are not Canadian patriots, but Québecers”.

On some level, this reminds me of the Odinism embraced by Varg Vikernes—it’s a preexisting subculture trying to wrest some national identity (and separate themselves) from the more recently entrenched dominant culture; while Varg sings only in Norwegian, Forteresse sing only in French. The comparison is doubly apt, because the music of Forteresse bears a strong resemblance to that of Burzum, especially the music produced by Varg on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem: It’s harsh and raw and repetitive and quite beautiful. It has a deep undercurrent of melody below waves of guitars and frantic drums. It is music of wilderness, of winter.

Forteresse are now on the eve of releasing their fourth full-length LP, Crépuscule d'Octobre (which translates, I think, as “Twilight of October”). Invisible Oranges and Sepulchural Productions are premiering “La Lame du Passé” (en anglais, if my Google-translation is correct: “The Blade of the Past”). The new album has moved away, somewhat, from the band’s ambient beginnings, into a more aggressive territory; Crépuscule d'Octobre is notably muscular and propulsive. “La Lame du Passé” opens with a folksy fiddle (which plays what becomes a recurring melodic leitmotif on Crépuscule d'Octobre), which is quickly obliterated by the band’s storming might: a hail of guitars and drums and Athros’ violent battle cry. And in that chaos and fury, it is impossible to not be carried away, not get lost.

Mike Nelson



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