If I remember well enough, I believe I was first recommended Doctor Livingstone in a conversation about which bands could channel darkness as well as Antaeus. Add to this that Doctor Livingstone has shared membership with other French legends including Arkhon Infaustus and Mütiilation, and an ample serving of Latin-speaking blasphemies to boot. I went into Contemptus Saeculi expecting something from the orthodox school: rabid contortions of ecclesiastical music and all. Doctor Livingstone did live up to those expectations—indeed, Mozart‘s Requiem is put to hellish use in the album’s closing moments—but there’s something much more at play here, and it’s the kind of thing I could only imagine happening in France.
The nation’s black metal character is arguably defined in large part by raw offensiveness (read: most of the LLN peers and pioneers) and street-bound hooliganism, the likes of which are seen most fully in Peste Noire. While Doctor Livingstone aspire to boldness and austerity in keeping with the religious focus of their ilk, they achieve those heights only to bring them right back down to a deviant’s level, with raw force and an irreverent sense of humour distinguishing them from their brooding contemporaries. Considering the aloof seriousness of many modern black metal bands, the frantic muddling of black metal with grind and punk on Contemptus Saeculi appears as a blasphemy of blasphemies. When it comes down to the bottom line, Doctor Livingstone have an incredibly unique style and a jarring grasp of it. It’s beautiful, ugly, even shockingly offensive, though I wonder if the band’s willingness to defile black metal into something new makes them a harder sell on the exact sort of people that should otherwise be admiring their work.
Contemptus Saeculi comes off as a hodge-podge mess of ideas and influences. Though it’s ultimately accurate to refer to the band as ‘black metal’ per se, the term is certainly used loosely in this case, and most of the time, that impression is coming off more in the despondent atmosphere than the objective ingredients in the music. In the same kind of way that Deathspell Omega confused their audience with their descent into quasi-mathcore circa the Drought EP, Doctor Livingstone dwell in a similar realm of sound. The performance, though polished, teeters on grindcore whenever they’re firing on all cylinders. The riffs on Contemptus Saeculi are consistently biting and effectively rushed; akin to a lot of grind, at their fastest the band sounds like they are rushing to get each note and beat out of the way as fast as possible. This gives a sense of vitality to the band’s sound, even if a large part of what they’ve done is transpose elements of other genres into a black metal mainstay. Most jarring of all, without a doubt, are the vocals; some adhere to the sort of Latin-speaking invocations I had expected, but the large part of it is truly screamed, and I mean that in the most visceral sense imaginable. Surprisingly, the sound of someone screaming at their top of their lungs outside of the trademarked frostbitten ‘kvlt rasp’ sounds incredibly jarring, even uncomfortable in the context of black metal.
Surprisingly, for a band whose music impresses me so much, there are surprisingly few tracks here that feel like full-bodied songs of their own. Most times I’ve listened through Contemptus Saeculi, the album’s appeared to me as a pummelling sequence of ideas that have been forced to live together in relative harmony. The changes of pace—of which there are many—are both satisfying and uncomfortable; I’m currently thinking both of the shocking eruption (‘Fuck you, fuck you all!’) that rouses the opener ‘Allegro Maestoso’ from its sleep, and the creeping piano interlude buried in the album’s highlight track, ‘Le’. For a band that is tapping into a pretty familiar aesthetic for the bolder end of black metal, Doctor Livingstone give the sound new life completely.
I think the most glorious moment on Contemptus Saeculi is left for the end. The way Mozart’s Requiem is made twisted alongside blastbeats and wretched screaming defines what the band are all about. I remember reading (I think it was regarding Deathspell Omega) that few black metal bands don’t tend to offer a proper attack on Christian theology and culture when they aren’t willing to elevate themselves and their craft to high art. Some bands have done this, and the effect is incredible. Doctor Livingstone took it one step further on Contemptus Saeculi; they dared to achieve that artistry, only to claw it back down to the depths with them.
01) Allegro Maestoso (Présentations à la Plèbe)
02) Starting the Fire
03) He Beneath the Scenery
04) By Serpents (Illumination Mea)
05) From the Bottom to the Grounds
06) Marked by the Whip (Part III)
07) Negative Planar Entity
08) Contemptus Saeculi
09) Eat You Devour Me
12) Requiem N°12 en La#