Black metal, to the common man, is a music scene whose followers only consist of ne’er-do-wells. Pariahs who, when destructing, perform dark rituals, burn churches, defile and even kill themselves and their own; outcasts who, when constructing, choose to continually blast their brethren with feedback, thunderous pounding and abhorrent, bellowed lyrics. The truth, of course, is that there is so much more to this fascinating genre than meets the eye. On the very outskirts of this admittedly morbid realm, for instance, you will find the kind of richly progressive, profoundly haunting music that France’s Smohalla are capable of producing. Music that doesn’t simply resort to blasting your brains out, but instead seems to drift towards you on the air, delicately drapes itself around you, ekes its way into your very soul, secretly extracts your most darkest of thoughts and whittles away at your bones until you’d swear they were hollow.
From the off, Smohalla submerge and tug at you with the sweeping currents they create. Softly, echoing heartbeat kick-drum, fizzing bubbles and gargled chanting nudge you gently towards the meat of Resilience where heartier beasts like “Au Sol Les Toges Vides” and “L’homme Et La Brume” await with their avalanche of chaotic sound. Delving into the rubble you’ll find drowning synths, a cathedral-sized choir of chanting, scrawling guitar riffs, chugged chords, a demonic roaring and, right at the very bottom, a beauteous tinkle of slowly rising and falling piano. The lyrics drift through such subjects as religious holocaust, disease, famine, fear, paranoia and vanity; subjects that will inevitably eat away at you.
In between such violently melodramatic cataclysms lie moments that distort perceptions. You’ll be swept into straight-forward time signatures that acquiesce to give way to narcissistically jazzy intermissions. You’ll trip over bluesy stringwork, spoken passages, electronic beats, lovingly looped scratching and warming xylophone and you’ll crash into these psychedelic moments where the music is moved from left to right, reversed, and warped. Although excitingly disorientating, it soon becomes increasingly distracting.
Indeed, Smohalla aren’t the most comfortable of targets for the uninitiated to base their attack on such a decadent genre, but with anomalies like the gently nostalgic “Marche Silencieuse” and the mesmerising magic carpet ride that “Les Repos Du Lezard” takes you on, they show that they do have a wonderfully soft underbelly. In the main, though, Resilience is furiously experimental, is ambitious to the point of naivety, even more so than on their mini-album Nova Persei, and, as a result, could never be accused of being the class dullard. Easily as pungent as the music of their forbears, Blut Aus Nord, Arcturus and Deathspell Omega, this is Smohalla, the “Dreamer”; part-fantasy, part-nightmare.