France has the strongest black metal scene of any country in the world today. I’ve felt that way for a long time now, and recent discoveries have only seen fit to reinforce that impression. While I don’t think anyone expects much when they come across another one-man black metal project for the first time, there was clearly something about Ars Moriendi that indicated to me that multi-instrumentalist ‘Arsonist‘ was operating on a higher level than most. It is painfully easy for atmospheric black metal musicians to get lazy with ambiance and repetition. Here, the music achieves the common ends of atmospheric black metal with ever-dynamic composition and a dark heart of melody.
In that sense, Ars Moriendi bears a great deal in common with Imperium Dekadenz—another fantastic band I discovered under similar conditions. Even though Arsonist’s compositions are progressive and often lengthy, there’s never a moment far removed from a well-written hook. I think this is what separates La singulière noirceur d’un astre from so many other atmospheric black metal albums I’ve heard. What is a sense of scope, after all, without a dynamic structure to justify it?
Although Ars Moriendi hasn’t received as much attention as it’s deserved over the past fifteen years, Arsonist hasn’t stopped with honing his craft. 2014’s La singulière noirceur d’un astre is his latest record, and though all of its parts are familiar from other bands—the electronic interruptions, Gregorian chant samples, dreary melodies, and core black metal facets among them—it doesn’t sound contrived the way they come together in the music. A lot of the strength in the songwriting here relies on the way he’s able to create and layer melody on the guitar. Somewhat like his legendary compatriots in Amesoeurs, Arsonist lines up sweeping atmospheric sections against punchier riffs. The contrast between the two helps to ensure that the formula remains engaging.
La singulière noirceur d’un astre‘s earthy production took a while to adjust to, but I think the clarity it brings to Ars Moriendi’s music is more of a plus than a fault. The bassy rhythm guitars make a solid counterbalance to the airier leads. Most importantly, the relative crispness of the album’s sound makes Ars Moriendi’s trips between genres feel fluid. The most prevalent and surprising of these stylistic breaks is the descent into trip-hop that Arsonist takes on ‘De ma dague…’. Where other parts of the album sound as if they’re conjuring the ancient past (see the bellowing chants on the last two tracks), ‘De ma dague…’ manages to sound incredibly urbane with a chilled beat and bass line, all despite the deranged screams atop. I was quickly reminded of Mayhem‘s own trip-hop excursion on Grand Declaration of War‘s ‘A Broadsword and a Colder Sun’. Unlike that track, however, the genre mixing feels completely organic.
Ars Moriendi might not push its ingredients further than we’ve seen from some other bands in the past; Arsonist nonetheless paints himself as an expert for the way he’s combined an ambitiously progressive palette together without falling into the common shortfalls faced by many similar projects. For what it’s worth, La singulière noirceur d’un astre sounds like the work of a band that deserves far more attention than it’s received thus far. Hopefully that’s something that changes for Ars Moriendi in the future.
01) De l’intouchable mort
03) De ma dague…
04) Ars Moriendi
05) La singulière noirceur d’un astre