Gothic rock has undergone something of a resurgence in recent times, and it’s not the sole achievement of Ville Valo or his purple beanie. Bands like Beastmilk (now Grave Pleasures), the Soft Moon, and Soror Dolorosa continue to carve out a pale, dyed-black niche for their distinctly miserable brand of post-punk by stamping their unique personalities over the music, harkening back to the Batcave glory days without sounding stale. With Après le chaos, French coldwave act L’Ordre d’Héloïse capture that classic industrial-tinged goth sound, avoiding any degree of originality or sense of individualism in the process.
Spanning just shy of twenty tracks, Après le Chaos is a tall order. Composed almost entirely by bandleader Alain in memory of his late musical partner Frédéric, the album’s extended run-time acts as a loving tribute to a fallen comrade in dark music. Clocking in at well over seventy minutes, listeners are treated to rambling, almost cyclical song structures which remain trapped in the confines of generic tropes, offering little in the way of experimentation. This is a true-blue coldwave, complete with ice-cold, bare-bones production values and that trademark Francophone baritone.
Post-punk connoisseurs will appreciate the dedication with which L’Ordre d’Héloïse stalks every waking move of that vintage ’80’s sound. Unfortunately, the chase was a bit too successful, and now Après le chaos wears the face formerly belonging to Depeche Mode, Siouxsie and the Banshees, et al. Individual moments of catchy gloom are peppered throughout the album, from the spacey, synth-drenched ‘Coupés du monde’ to ‘Le néant’, an industrial goth-rock stomp reminiscent of Museum of Devotion’s heavier output. Many tracks boast interesting ideas here and there, but songs drag on beyond the musical pale, inexcusable considering the album’s needlessly lengthy duration.
The repetitive nature of the tunes calls to mind Akira Yamaoka’s instrumental soundtrack albums, most blatantly on the oddly familiar chord progressions which kick off ‘Photosynthèse’. Without clearly discernible beginnings or ends to much of Après le chaos’ repertoire, one can imagine certain tracks played on a loop, cementing the anxiety of, say, walking around a deserted moonlit town alone. ‘Héloïse’ shambles along like a ghost in a haunted castle, with its abrasive synth popping over a consistent trip-hop beat. Album opener ‘Carnage’ follows a similarly droning rhythm, albeit with earthier acoustic instrumentation. Again, moments on this record do pop, but they remain moments which could have stood out if this album was, say, half an hour shorter.
Alain’s vocals disappear and return frequently, maintaining that characteristically monotone, coldwave inflection throughout. Valiant efforts to mix in contrasting vocal shades dot the album, such as the melodious chorus hook in ‘F.’, or in ‘Contaminés’, where L’Ordre d’Héloïse shoot for a Sisters of Mercy-style vocal harmony, incorporating a high-pitched alto to compliment the deeper male bass. Whereas Andrew Eldritch’s croon was highlighted and, at times, bested by Patricia Morrison’s legendary screech, this homage elicits an unintentional giggle from this reviewer with each rotation.
Disparities in songwriting quality fracture any sense of cohesion among the tracks; Après le chaos could pass as a multi-band coldwave mixtape, and while this speaks to the variety of sounds and tones on display, it becomes increasingly difficult to pinpoint a signature personality. Fields of the Nephilim can transition from gothic melodrama to rockabilly disco with ease, precisely because they’ve chiselled out an identifiable sound—a certain unmistakable sonic hallmark which sets them apart from legions of copycats. Repeated spins of Après le chaos yields no such luxury for L’Ordre d’Héloïse.
That said, if the idea of a ‘various artists’ compilation full of glum vocals, icy mechanical synths, and robotic drum machines tickles your fancy, then check this album out. Après le chaos hits more than it misses, though its middle-of-the-road coldwave target will struggle to find an audience outside devotees of the niche subgenre.
04) Coupé du monde
05) Ne restez pas en paix
09) Après le chaos
10) Le néant
11) Le danger
15) Les arcanes de l’esprit
16) La foule
18) Demeure la chute