Gone, it seems, are the days when metal was about alcohol and Satan. One can hardly move now without tripping over bands whose lyrics read like cosmological theses crossed with metaphysical poetry, whose imagery consists of abstract nouns and verbs which imply a larger context while simultaneously bewildering any guess at what it may be. The realm of progressive black metal, in particular, has embraced this sort of wilfully abstruse pageantry; in the late 80’s, your typical black metal song might have been a three-minute, three-chord lashing called “Necromance” detailing the lyricist’s profound urge to perform unspeakable acts upon fresh corpses. As of 2013, that song’s more likely to be called “Non-Euclidean Kinesthesis Act I: The Flower that Blooms in the Void,” a winding, sixteen-minute treatise outlining the means to subvert the second law of thermodynamics in dactylic hexameter.
I’m not saying I yearn for simpler days. One of the benefits of metal’s current existence as a hermetically sealed subculture out of the view of mainstream entertainment is that it allows artists with loftier ambitions to explore more sophisticated and esoteric subject matter, both musically and lyrically, with faith that it will reach an audience who will make an effort to dissect and understand it. Thus come the Deathspell Omegas and the Blut Aus Nords of the world. The problem with a greater preponderance of intellectualism, though, is that it makes way for pseudo-intellectualism. That is to say, bands who cloak themselves in grandiloquent presentation, throwing around big words and references that will send listeners scurrying to Wikipedia, looking mighty impressive right up until you hit the “play” button and realise the musical ability just isn’t there.
Hence, “Lure of Ephemeral Beauty” by France’s Eclectika. The third studio album by the Dijon-based act formed in 2001 sports on its cover a picture of what I presume to be a quasar. The song titles range from obscure (“Trauma 835”) to long-winded (“Sophist’s Death: Legacy and Bitter Tears”) to purposely transgressive and bizarre (“Handicapped Sex in a Mental Orgy”). In addition to playing all of the instruments, all of the music, lyrics, artwork and production are the work of one man, Sébastien Regnier (the only contributions from band members Noémie Sirandre and Aurélien Pers are vocals). It was released on Asylum Ruins Records, a label whose only prior output, as far as I can glean, consists of Eclectika’s previous albums. You can probably see where this is going.
Yes, Eclectika know how to put on the appearance of significance. They don’t miss a trick when it comes to dressing “Lure of Ephemeral Beauty” up as Serious Art™. The intro “Through the Supernova Remnant” does a good job at creating a sense of pomp and circumstance, synthesiser strings drifting across the portentous crash of timpani drums and cymbals. But when the first track proper arrives, the title track, all hope that Eclectika might realise the promise they’ve allotted themselves leaves like air out of a punctured balloon. The core sound “Lure of Ephemeral Beauty” aims for is atmospheric, spacey post-black metal in the emotionally downbeat, introspective register of Alcest or Fen, but Regnier simply isn’t very good at it. For six minutes the title track plods listlessly away, unimaginative and uninteresting minor-key melodies that elicit only the idea and not the effect of reflective contemplation not being helped by the thin and scratchy guitar tone. A potentially distinctive selling point in Sirandre’s technically proficient dramatic soprano is thoroughly squandered, she feeling utterly out of step with the rest of the music. For as hard as she tries to give the album an ethereal allure, all she ends up doing is emphasising how drab everything else is.
So it goes for the majority of the album, “Cyclic Anagnorisis,” “Room Nineteen,” “Handicapped Sex in a Mental Orgy” et al. varying only in the tempo at which they fall flat. The tragedy of it is, “Lure of Ephemeral Beauty” isn’t a total wash; the moments when it moves away from metal occasionally provide us with glimpses of an Eclectika who know what they’re doing. “Trauma 835,” for instance, is an effectively agoraphobic piece of dark ambience, crashes and bangs punctuating droning, unnerving tones like half-seen shapes flitting through the night. “Sweet Melancholia” manages to put Sirandre’s voice to good use, attaining a vaguely Dead Can Dance-ish vibe with a hypnotic repeating acoustic refrain and gentle synth orchestration. The ten-minute closer “Aokigahara,” named for the famously quiet Japanese forest, is also predominantly made up of subtle acoustic guitar and synth work and also attains a measure of grace.
It’s just that Eclectika use these positive moments like a crutch; they momentarily distract us from the realisation that the attempt at post-black metal that makes up the meat of the album is utterly tedious. Eclectika are like a politician who waffles in order to dodge an issue they’ve failed to address. Their waffle is eloquent, even pleasing, indicative that they are capable of real creativity, and if they ever put out an ambient album I would be keen to hear it. On “Lure of Ephemeral Beauty” though, it’s just window dressing that fails to redeem a misbegotten project.
01) Through the Supernova Remnant
02) Lure of Ephemeral Beauty
03) Cyclic Anagnorisis
04) Room Nineteen
05) Sophist’s Death: Legacy and Bitter Tears
06) Trauma 835
07) Sweet Melancholia
08) Les Sept Vertus Capitales
09) Handicapped Sex in a Mental Orgy