Reviewed: Délétère – De Horae Leprae
Can one be kvlt AF in a nation that maintains a strategic maple syrup reserve? Guess so.
A five-piece out of Québec, Délétère’s brand of black metal is stylistically indebted to Dissection (circa Storm) and Blut Aus Nord (circa Ultima Thulee), namely, a thick second-wave foundation of shriek n’ blast overlaid with a modest melodic sensibility and a flair for the theatrical. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, and De Horae Leprae, their second full-length in nine years, by and large earns its place for anyone who thinks late-90’s BM needs more ammunition, if only retroactively. But first, context.
From the promo blurb:
“The disciples of The Crawling One are back with a monumental concept album devoted to Teredinis, a simple leper whose calling it is to become a prophet of Centipèdes as well as an incarnation of the Plague.”
Well alrighty then, scowly man. I can’t claim to know much background on any of that, but it’s an acceptable if vague premise for a concept album.
De Horae Leprae consists of 9 tracks over a 64-minute runtime, most of which is a dialogue between feverish black metal blasting, within which the drumwork is particularly impressive, and a more bizarre overlay of organ and vocal histrionics. The latter fall somewhere between a howl and a shriek, and while they do add counterpoint that some may appreciate, they can come off as excessively corny. It’s not a significant liability, though, given that neither the compositions nor the production make them a focal point. Track to track, the album is fairly uniform in pace; each track maintains an internal balance between tempos and themes, but dramatic swells and ebbs between tracks are mostly absent. No ambient interludes are to be found, nor are they necessary in this case. “Cantus I – Teredinis Lepra” leads off with a rather bold, mildly fuzzy organ intro that is equal parts churchy and retro horror, but that quickly drops into straight-ahead 4/4 lest the listener mistake it for, dunno, Lychgate or some shit. “Cantus V – Figura Dysphila” plays a straightforward, almost black n’ roll chord progression off against speedy organ melodies to produce a satisfyingly maddening earworm of a track, while “Cantus VII – Barathra II” blasts to a near-overwhelming degree before pulling back, at the last second, into a slow and spacious bridge replete with monklike chanting. “Cantus VIII – Atrum Lilium” is an uncommon instance of black metal churning out a fist-pumping anthem, while “Cantus IX – Oratio Magna” brings keys to the fore over a mid-paced, mid-range churn, before dialing the speed back up and throwing the melody into polyrhythm.
As a concept album, one might expect De Horae Leprae to have demonstrated greater dynamics between rather than within tracks, as its metanarrative would imply. Said dynamics are not present, but the advantage gained is that each track stands on its own more firmly than it might otherwise, with nary a dud in the bunch. If that tradeoff is acceptable, then De Horae Leprae displays an admirable balance, shifting gears smoothly and regularly within each number to keep the listener’s attention, while maintaining distinct and cohesive harmonic themes. The guitars and drums are similarly focused, tight yet stopping just short of clinical precision, and displaying stylistic flourishes (such as dextrous cymbal work and harmonized rhythm guitar work) evocative of Mgła. Together with the production, that being pleasantly clear with just enough fuzz to keep an edge, with this template it’s hard to go wrong. Their biggest risk from this perspective is probably an excess of zeal more than anything else …
… but said excess fails to materialize, to Délétère’s credit. It is true that De Horae Leprae may have benefited from greater variety in tempo, easing off the sheer speed in a few more instances than it does. It is true that the mix is a little loud, and some might find it too clean (I am not among them). It is true that sometimes less is more, and that certainly applies to most albums whose runtimes exceed an hour, this being no exception. And it is true that concept albums too often suffer from lack of clarity in narrative and/or thematic statement, which arguably applies here. But there’s a difference between being flawed outright, on the one hand, and displaying room for improvement, on the other, and most possible complaints against De Horae Leprae are in actuality the latter.
If Bandcamp is any indication, the current state of black metal is long past the point of market saturation, with seemingly everyone and their mother out to create the next great opus in weepy DSBM, A Blaze in the Northern Sky-worship, yet another identical Mesarthim release, or what have you. The downside of this is listener fatigue and eventual apathy. The upside is that we can afford to be choosy, and Délétère have here made a serious bid for your attention, one that you’d do well to grant. They may have largely bypassed innovation, but it’s more than compensated for by confident execution of a time-tested black metal archetype. De Horae Leprae goes fast, goes hard, keeps your attention, and- most importantly- lingers in your memory long after the final track has wrapped. And if that’s not enough for you, then Bye Felicia and good hunting.
4 / 5 Canadian Toilets ov Hell
De Horae Leprae releases June 15 on Sepulchral Productions. Stream “Cantus I – Teredinis Lepra” here. Order here.