Review: Clarion KnellAbyss Of Fear

Clarion Knell - Abyss Of Fear album art

Can you hear the clarion call? It’s calling out to one and all.

(This review was written by Aaron)

A war trumpet sounding solemn, shrill finality. France’s Clarion Knell‘s one-man brand of blistering, rollicking black metal implicitly asks how much black metal re-treads context, re-treads aesthetics? In adhering to traditional forms, to what extent can black metal provide unique experiences, unique commentary, unique challenges?

The project comes courtesy of burgeoning label Syrup Moose, a label whose outwardly anti-fascist stance contextualizes their releases in both aesthetics and message. Beyond the quality of their output—an eclectic line-up that boasts two ridiculously good records this year alone in the form of instrumental powerhouse Arklay Mountains and anthemic punks American Goner—their committal to being an “anti-sketch label with communist overtones” gives the ferocity of Abyss Of Fear an immediate analytic framing that a lot of other black metal bands operating in the same vein lack.

“Enlightenment” sets the pace with prominent fingerstyle basslines emphasizing the mid-paced riffing of the guitars, like a military march. It’s a track that introduces Abyss Of Fear as a record that’s warmer in production than the viciousness of its content might imply. Through the hoarse vocals and sharp instrumentation, something oddly triumphant bleeds through, something that evokes both militaristic machismo and war propaganda. Following a track with subtle melodic flair, it dissipates into nothingness, fading out with a sinister progression—something knowing and powerful, satisfied with its works.

“The Great Dimmers” is delivered with raspier, reverb-soaked vocals, and is more dynamic in composition. Following the 2-minute mark, a bridge containing some intensely ugly, nasty riffing is accented by galloping bass—images of champing horses clashing with modern weaponry, suitable for such temporally warped music. A tension-building key-change temporarily uproots the track, leaving you on edge; it’s another track that ends without rounding out its edges, without a cohesive resolution. It arrives violently and leaves quickly, like a bloody skirmish.

It’s interesting to listen to Clarion Knell within the context of the French black metal scene. It has tones of the intensely gothic morbidity of the LLN groups, the offbeat experimentation of Blut Aus Nord, the introspective composition of the better French DSBM and blackgaze projects, etc. Abyss Of Fear isn’t necessarily the sum of these styles exclusively, but it’s interesting seeing such a traceable holistic lineage.

Beginning with an ominous sample of French dictation and mortar shelling, “Adoration” is the most transparently eerie track. Proceeded by some soft synth pad work in the background, you’re hit with an opening riff that has more in common with speed metal in terms of composition—accented by the record’s most tortured vocal performance yet, as black as tar. Slowing down to a marching, funereal dirge at the halfway mark, it’s another example of the project’s dynamic composition.

The biggest outlier in the tracklist, the angular and staccato guitar runs of “Totality” gives the closer the flavor of something approaching blackened math rock. While it’s absolutely the record at its most rollicking and catchy, it also most succinctly depicts what makes much of the songwriting on Abyss Of Fear so solid. The track emphasizes how Clarion Knell approach a framing of riffs and musical ideas, wherein a short bridge devoted to an isolated guitar riff sets the tone of the following passage. It’s something Abyss Of Fear does that specifically reminds me of the compositional makeup of a beatdown hardcore record or something; it’s unique among the world of one-man black metal projects.

It was difficult to articulate initially why Abyss Of Fear left such a strong impression. So much black metal fails to feel truly oppressive, truly disquieting. Clarion Knell manage to evoke implicitly the type of discomforting realities you’d more commonly find in a Muslimgauze release. A sort of militaristic, totalitarian aural depiction that feels tangible and repulsive. In a genre which is packed with great musicians writing ceaseless and brainless recitations of transgressive shit in hopes of shocking and offending, it’s fucking lovely and thoroughly surprising to hear a record where the compositions are as tight as its aesthetic sensibilities.

Abyss Of Fear is out now via Syrup Moose Records.

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