Plebeian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows (Throatruiner Records / Basement Apes / BLWBCK / Tapes of a Neon God, 29 April 2016)
Verdun – The Eternal Drift’s Canticles (Throatruiner Records / Head Records / Lost Pilgrims, 29 April 2016)
When there’s a new Throatruiner Records release, you can pretty much be guaranteed it’ll be filled with plenty of gloomy, yet intensely vicious music of exceptionally high quality. That’s been the case each time I’ve heard anything from this French label (including a few that I’ve written about), and the two we’ll be discussing today — one by toulousains Plebeian Grandstand and the other by montpelliérains Verdun, which both came out back in April of this year — are no exception.
And for some additional good news, at least for readers who live in the U.S., Plebeian Grandstand will be kicking off an American tour this weekend! After you’re done reading about these albums, divert your eyes down to the comments section to check out all the relevant details. Bonne écoute!
Since forming over a decade ago, Plebeian Grandstand have put out a couple full-length albums and a few splits, mostly through Throatruiner; their third album False Highs, True Lows is now here, ready to crush the spirits, hopes, and dreams of anyone within hearing distance.
The album opens with “Mal Du Siècle” (“Malady of the Century“), a thirty-second introduction that sounds like a foghorn that could be found on the boat of damned souls sailing across the river Acheron. And then, as though reaching the circles of suffering and torture on the opposite bank, it instantly explodes into a tumultuous mass of savage drumming and fiendish howls and snarls, surrounded by a barrage of vertiginous guitars, all of which continues relentlessly over the next seven songs.
As per the information gleaned from the label’s press release, apparently this record was tracked live, which seems like quite a feat. Pretty much the only times the listener gets any sort of respite from the otherwise ceaseless torrents of chaos are the first half of track six, “Volition,” which starts off a good bit slower (although still with lots of dissonance, and built around a dark, rumbly bass sound); and also the majority of the penultimate song “Tame the Shapes” which opens on a long series of drawn-out, cacaphonic chords and notes, while later, heavy doomy bass and drums enter, but it isn’t until much, much later (about the last 30 seconds or so) that it returns to the blistering madness that typifies so much of the rest of the album, with the whole thing becoming a kind of blackened footrace to see which instrument could reach the end of the song first.
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Verdun came into existence about five years ago, yet The Eternal Drift’s Canticles is their first album, and just their second release as a band (after a demo EP back in 2012). Mixed and mastered by Tad Doyle, this record runs nearly an hour long, despite only having five songs.
If the Plebeian Grandstand record resembled an excursion across the Acheron and into Hell, Verdun‘s unholy creation instead brings to mind the murky, swampy river Styx, where (according to Dante) the sullen have sunk beneath the water “into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe.”
Opening track “Mankind Sepukku” commences with slow, gloomy, sustained accordion chords for nearly the first two minutes (and thereafter this is replicated by deep full-band arrangement with a rather bass-heavy mix). When taken in combination with the introductions to other tracks here — “Self-Inflicted Mutalitation” features feedback and a slow distorted guitar riff alongside a long snippet of dialogue that sounds like it was lifted from an old French film, and “Glowing Shadows” starts off with even more dialogue — this really starts to feel like some sort of post-apocalyptic French nightmarescape.
Overall, here we find lots of heavy, monolithic, cavernous doom, with vocals that are often monotoned and emotionless — but sometimes these are combined with (or alternated with) harsh, hoarse shouting or deep, harsh growls. And while occasionally there may be sections of post-metal guitars, and at the beginning of “Dark Matter Crisis” there’s some dark, moody guitar smothered in spring reverb, overall the band has managed to generate rather dismal she unforgiving atmospheres throughout.
This is especially true in the final song, “Jupiter’s Coven” — it starts out very slow, very heavy, very deep and bassy; but then basically the whole second half of the song is just made up of wave after wave of long, sustained chords and feedback, ultimately feeling like the utter personification of doom and gloom.
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You can buy False Highs, True Lows here, and The Eternal Drift’s Canticles here. They can each be previewed using the Bandcamp players below — but if you wish to download a copy, Throatruiner has graciously made both of these, as well as their entire catalogue, available for free right here!
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