Tech Death Thursday: First Fragment – Gloire Éternelle
Tl;dr- it’s one of the best tech death albums of the year and you should listen to it as soon as possible.
True to tradition, First Fragment has stuck to their five-plus year album cycle, and Gloire Éternelle is finally upon us. Their last album, Dasein, hit way back in May of 2016, and it still stands as one of the most ludicrous tech death albums you can listen to, at least in the melodic sphere of the genre. That sheer instrumental prowess is why I stuck it with a score of 4/5 when I reviewed it, but time has been a little less kind to it, at least in my ears. As impressive of an album as it is, even as enjoyable as it is, what it ultimately lacks is staying power. I’d argue the opening track, “Le Serment de Tsion,” is one of the best tech death tracks ever written; it’s incredibly fast and flashy, but memorable in spite of how quickly the melodies fly by. Barring a couple standout moments, however, little else has stuck with me over the past few years.
So when a band of ambitious musicians hits a point like this, they have a few options for a follow-up record. They can choose to continue playing to their strengths and simply fine-tune the things that worked while cutting back on the stuff that didn’t. They can push the musicianship even further, though in First Fragment’s case, this might have proven difficult given the material on Dasein. They can focus on songwriting and making new songs that either branch out in new directions or ensure they’ll stick with their listeners- my preferred direction for a Dasein successor.
Gloire Éternelle is what you get when a band chooses all of the above, and it is glorious indeed.
At its core, Gloire Éternelle is much like its predecessor in that it’s built on a foundation of neoclassical shred and feels much like an appreciation of mastery over one’s instrument. As expected, this album is every bit as wild as Dasein, brimming with frenetic instrumentals and some of the most aggressive vocals in the genre. Somehow, the melodies sound even more complex than on the previous album, too; while this may sound like a negative based on the aforementioned sticking issue, it actually works to the music’s benefit in how they approach it. The range of fretboard exploration here opens up the band’s sound and adds variety to the band’s sonic palette, making the moment-to-moment guitar and bass work pleasant on the ears, even if you have a hard time keeping up with exactly what is being played. It flows in a way that few records of this speed and intensity do, and the much-improved production (more akin to the above remix of “Le Serment de Tsion” than the rest of Dasein) certainly helps.
Building on what worked before and pushing the limits of what one can do on a guitar to the point where it sounds like all the musicians are in pain by the end of a single song is great and all, but it’s the new shit that takes the band to the next level. Well, maybe not quite new, but expanded on to the point that it almost completely redefines their sound. I’m talking about the parts of the songs where the band steps away from the pure neoclassical elements, parts that were more sparse on Dasein and have been fully embraced here. The album opens on a flamenco guitar duel underscored by a funky slap bass line in a moment that would have been fun as a one-off, but the proliferation of which makes this album practically danceable. The band also lays down some of the filthiest swing grooves this side of a Gorod record, which besides simply being a lot of fun, help even out the pacing.
It’s just so damn good. The slap bass, those 80’s-ass guitar solos, a handful of power metal riffs straight out of Luca Turilli’s playbook, those flavorful vocal accents- all of it comes together to make Gloire Éternelle one of the most enjoyable tech death albums in recent memory. A dozen or so spins later and I keep coming back to it, and it has yet to start feeling worn, even with its monolithic 20-minute closing track. First Fragment have pushed themselves forward yet again, and their work has paid off fantastically.