posted on 2/2011 By:
It is no small secret that symphonic black metal has been in a lull for several years now. Really, calling it a lull is far too nice. A more accurate statement would be to say that it has gone to complete commercialized SHIT for the better part of a decade. Much like melodic death metal, a handful of bands gained massive levels of underground popularity around the turn of the millennium and then promptly let the sub-genre become cartoonish. The style’s greatest flag-bearer, Emperor, broke up as if to signal what should have been the temporary end, but unfortunately those other bands took it into bloated, overly melodramatic, theatrical, and just plain generic territory.
By keeping in mind what (almost) led to the style’s demise and doing exactly the opposite, Belgium’s Saille has produced an excellent debut in Irreversible Decay. The group was formed in 2008 by keyboardist and composer Dries Gaerdelen, who brought together a collection of musicians with the intent of creating aggressive yet symphonic black metal. This includes skilled performers at the normal metal positions but also some actual symphony musicians: two violinists, one cellist, and a flugelhorn player. By using real instruments – but only a few of them – the band finds a welcome balance in the symphonic side of their songs. The resulting music is absolutely loaded with killer tremolo riffage, well-placed Baroque passages, surprising variety with the keys (keep an ear out for the Hammond sound), some great lead work, and insanely-skilled drumming. Saille therefore finds themselves channeling and expanding upon bands such as Emperor, Keep of Kalessin, and even Vreid (the melodic parts, not the form-a-militia stuff).
It’s apparent pretty much from the get-go that Saille does two things mightily right. First, the root of their sound is black metal. This is not highly-simplified metal with an orchestra and blackened vocals pretending to be something it isn’t. This is naturally-produced and riff-obsessed sweeping black metal that also happens to have some strings and keys expertly woven in. The second thing is an extension of the first: the focus is on the songs, and the band’s sound is merely the vehicle with which they are delivered. While this should be an obvious goal for music of many styles, it has become increasingly rare in symphonic black metal over recent years, making Saille stand out instantly. Songs such as “Plaigh Allais,” with its swirling melodies and alternating guitar-string syncopations, or the beastly “Maere,” boasting an especially unforgettable tremolo theme, reveal the depth of song-craft on display on Irreversible Decay. Perhaps the best example is “The Orion Prophecy,” which builds rapidly to a section that shows exactly how great the symphonic metal combination can be when the musical themes are layered with a deft hand. Furthermore, the album as a whole maintains pace and shows a subtle progression throughout its 43 minutes, peaking with fitting finality on the appropriately-titled closer “Tremendous.”
For myself and hopefully countless others, Saille’s arrival is a welcome and oh-so refreshing one. Despite its title, Irreversible Decay shows that symphonic black metal’s decay was indeed not irreversible. This deserves to be mentioned alongside Drautran’s latest and Arkheth’s 2010 masterpiece as albums appealing to even the most estranged fans. We seem to only get one great album in this style each year, so enjoy it, and hold hope that Saille and their equals continue to reinsert a little class into a starved genre.
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