As Les Grand Compagnies begins one is immediately struck with a unique yet familiar sound. This two-piece from France use the tag ‘medieval metal’ on Bandcamp and that should more or less help you to visualise their sound in your head. I have pondered on whether this could be described as an authentically ‘medieval’ sound. I am of the opinion that it might be more accurately described as Renaissance metal but that discussion is too nerdy for this review. Nevertheless to most people the word ‘medieval’ should help conjure up the band’s sound fairly accurately. I am also of the opinion that this music is wholly original despite the pretty typical black metal type screams and occasional musical tropes. What really makes this band stand apart is the tonal quality of the instrumental backing which I personally find fantastic.
Where most bands that claim to be folk metal or ‘medieval metal’ generally consist of a typical metal lineup with the addition of a singular keyboard or violin, Grylle on the other hand have an altogether “real” sound using almost solely acoustic instruments, most of them seemingly traditional (bar the occasional drum kit and clean electric guitar I heard popping in now and again). Not only do the instruments feel legit but the writing style matches this trend. The album is not littered with the expected epic tremolo and brash riffing and apart from the screaming vocals this album, at times, would not pass for black metal at all. That is precisely why I find this album so alluring. It has found such a unique balance between acoustic European folk music and black metal that it has become something altogether new. The atmosphere the album presents is not dissimilar to that of dungeon synth albeit with no synthetic elements. The music is still ambient in nature considering that the vocalist is retching and rasping throughout. Though I have only described the vocals as being abrasive there are moments of spoken word and chanting as well as some clean proclamations from the vocalist that enter the fray from time to time. This album is a must-listen for anyone who is either a history nerd or into black metal (you know you are the same guy) and I believe this album might have some wider appeal as long as you can stomach the aggressive vocal sections.
The album notes proclaim this release has also added additional percussion to create a “special rock feeling” and it delivers on that front. It is in fact a heavier output than their previous and only other release Monstres et Merveilles. It is also a fair amount longer. The new album clocks in at almost double the length of their previous one and runs for just over an hour. Due to the atmospheric nature of the album, I feel this complements the music. Some albums that run over an hour might run the risk of becoming tedious. After listening to Les Grandes Compagnies I often wish it was even longer. It is hard to pinpoint specific tracks I like from this album as generally, it seems to all blur together. For that reason, I also consider this release best enjoyed as a whole album. I would not recommend listening to only a single track (I am more of an album guy than a track guy though, so take that advice with a pinch of salt).
Though I said the album does not really feel like a metal album there are momentary transitions into the odd blast beat or typical black metal verse. What sets it apart is the music’s overall timbre. The sonic quality of the music, its overall texture, is so much more welcoming than the slicing distortion and overpowering drums (and sometimes terrible mixing) that are generally indicative of a traditional black metal album. This album takes something tried and tested and spices it up with a hint of something fresh. Not too much to make it unfamiliar but not too little to make it clichéd.
This album kicks ass. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the one you take with you to the next medieval fair to score some points and help you find out who the real nerds at the party are. Just don’t take any of their pamphlets.