Review: Kreationist (feat. Paul Verlaine) – Dans L’Interminable

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This got slightly out of hand, but I promise there’s good music in here somewhere.

A few weeks ago, I grossly misused an installment of Flush It Friday to highlight some releases from the reliably weird and reliably excellent Italian label I, Voidhanger. While all of them were very intriguing and I had especially been looking forward to the Creature album for some time, it wasn’t until two weeks later that the label would drop my personal highlight of their 2021 catalog in the form of Kreationist‘s Dans L’Interminable.

Kreationist shares enough similarities with Creature that I initially suspected the same person might be behind both projects, which seems to not be the case. Both are from France and play a style of music that, while loosely based on black metal, borrows from other genres so freely that it ultimately becomes hard to classify. Further stoking suspicion was the likeness in the projects’ names and the use of a very similar style of vocal distortion.

Both also share a penchant for incorporating electronic elements in their music. The title track on Creature’s latest is a straight-up rap song, while Kreationist’s 2019 debut EP mixed black and doom metal with trip hop. Dans L’Interminable doesn’t go that far, but still retains a sense of being unbound by genre restrictions. Its creator, simply known as Vidi, stresses that the “songwriting is based on atmosphere, not riffs,” and indeed, I’m hard put to name anything that has conjured a similar mood this year.

Relegating riffs to the back seat might not seem like a particularly metal thing to do; drawing on French poems for lyrical content even less so. It turns out, however, that the French poets of the late 19th century were actually pretty metal. The so-called poètes maudites—the “accursed poets”—went against contemporary trends by vehemently rejecting realism and its misbegotten offspring naturalism, favoring ideals, spirituality, dreams, and a general vagueness and subjectivity over accurate depictions of reality. Truth was not in the subject itself, but rather in the effect that the subject produced.

Of course, their views on art were in turn rejected by the mainstream, and while some of them embraced the accusation of decadence that detractors cast on them, others instead sought to formalize and legitimize the movement in manifestos, which eventually led to the foundation of symbolism. One of these founders was Paul Verlaine, who not only coined the term poèt maudit but also served as a prime example of the lifestyle he attributed to this group, i.e. that of the tormented artist fueled by drugs and debauchery. Also kinda metal. His poems serve as the lyrical content on Dans L’Interminable.

Vidi is hardly the first to set Verlaine’s poems to music. Opener “Mandoline,” for example, had previously been adapted by composers Debussy and Fauré, but where they clad the text in jaunty, light-hearted tunes, the scene is here imbued with gravitas and festivity, conveyed via the grand melodies of an organ. This is one of many instances where synths take center stage to shape a song’s mood, and although the “atmosphere over riffs” premise quoted above does not mean that the album is wanting in the riffs department, it is chiefly the synths that elevate the music to a point where simply describing it as “doom metal with black metal leanings” is not quite enough anymore.

But what warrants the exalted atmosphere of the track? The poem describes characters from various 16th- and 17th-century plays lazing about in a grove, exchanging idle chatter while a mandolin plays. Not exactly heavy stuff, but this decadent life depicted here would likely have been rather desirable to Verlaine and his compatriots (and indeed seems to have been the main inspiration for the poem). Moreover, the characters themselves could be seen to point to ideals that the poets would have aspired to.

Two of them are from a pastoral play, which brings a lot of connotations with it. This style of poetry idealized rural life, which would likely have fallen in line with the world-weariness of the symbolist poets, brought on in no small part by urban life. Pastoral poetry also put an emphasis on the musicality of its verses and would often feature lovesick protagonists, both aspects that the symbolist movement was well acquainted with.

The other characters respectively come from a play that was generally deemed too confusing and one that caused enough offense to be met with censorship. A lack of understanding and some degree of outrage were both things that the poétes maudits faced regularly, so a scenario in which all of these characters could come together to spend their lives in peace may well have seemed like something hallowed, a safe haven deserving of exactly the kind of reverie that radiates from Vidi’s musical accompaniment of the text.

I originally meant to mercilessly go on about two or three more songs from the record, but I’d rather refrain from turning this into a thesis and instead point out that long before I dove into its literary background, Dans L’Interminable already exerted an irresistible pull on me. It’s one of several albums this year that struck me with such great yet somehow intangible quality that I barely felt able to put my admiration into words. That’s what brought on all this research in the first place; I wanted something to pad out the review so that I could say more than just “music gud, pls listen.” Now I’m almost 900 words deep and no closer to finding out why this outwardly simple music should produce such a reaction, but if I understood any of this correctly, being unable to pinpoint its exact qualities is exactly what makes it good.

If Kreationist were to play at a Parisian café in the late 1900s, there would be

4.5/5 Old Verlaines Blitzed on Absinthe

Dans L’Interminable came out in November on I, Voidhanger Records.

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