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Review: Sombres Forêts - Royaume de glace
Sombres Forêts
Royaume de glace

Label: Sepulchral Productions
Year released: 2008
Duration: 51:19
Tracks: 7
Genre: Black Metal

Rating: 4.5/5

Review online: February 16, 2009
Reviewed by: Brett Buckle
Readers Rating
Royaume de glace

Rated 4.38/5 (87.5%) (8 Votes)

Due to its often musical minimalism, Black Metal has attracted many one-man bands (as my reviews testify — sometimes it seems like I don't listen to any actual bands!), and this review focuses on yet another. Sombres Forêts, with sole member Annatar, hails from Quebec, and, like countrymen Gris, plays a depressive and solemn form of Black Metal that is slow and atmospheric, relying on harsh production and sweeping soundscapes to produce an entrancing album.

Like so many albums in the style of depressive and atmospheric Black Metal, Royaume De Glace eschews modern production values, opting for the razor sharp guitar tone of mid-period Burzum, but unlike the more standard production approach Annatar has produced a full and rich sound where the bass is audible, the keys and guitars work together sharing the same space and the drums perfectly placed to allow room for the other instruments without becoming lost in the mix which so often happens with this style of music.

Annatar is quite accomplished as both an instrumentalist and songwriter. The drumming is varied and interesting without being distracting or unnecessarily complex, and the bass playing is likewise interesting, moving around under the riffs with some melodic flourishes while still laying down a solid foundation. The keys are provided mainly for atmospheric enhancement and while they never take the lead their presence is appreciated, but it is with the guitars that the beauty of the album is revealed. The dissonant riffs frequently give way to soothing acoustic interludes that have a strong folksy edge, the title track being a prime example as it switches effortlessly between bleak distorted open chords, folkish strumming and huge riffs with wonderful melodic accompaniment.

Once again we get a standard atmospheric keyboard intro (cleverly titled "Intro"), a short track that has a feeling of awakening like rising from a deep sleep to the sight of a clear night sky. It is not long before the cold guitars sweep in accompanied by angelic keys and Annatar's harsh screech. His voice is uncompromisingly bleak in the same manner as Gris' Icare, visceral and untempered as it goes between standard Black Metal screams and wild, emotionally charged wailing, and frequently provides some soaring clean vocals as accompaniment. "La Nuit" (available on their Myspace page) is an album highlight with its wonderful folk melodies and charged vocal performance, and like all the tracks on the album, it strongly conjures visions of sweeping snowscapes and white forests that hide the secrets of nature (such as the icy glade on the cover). Sombres Forêts do not shy away from the guitar solo either with a wonderful lead in "The Forest" that weaves in and out of the established melodies. "L'oeil Nocturne" is very reminiscent of some of the work on Gris' Il Était une Forêt... with acoustic and distorted guitars mournfully shredding under some highly emotive vocals that screech with despair courtesy of a guest appearance from Icare. The keyboards come to the fore on occasion adding a slightly uplifting feel to the depressive core of the track and rather than operating at odds, complement each other wonderfully.

Royaume De Glace is a wonderful album full of atmosphere, melody, and emotion. It frequently courts the epic with its lengthy tracks, each with a depth of feeling and melody that demonstrates a maturity in songwriting beyond that typically found on a second album. It may take a few listens for the subtleties of the album to come to the fore of your consciousness, but once they do you will be hooked.

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