Album Title: Marionnettiste
Label: Klonosphere Records
Date of Release: 5 March 2021
Billed as an album that should find favour with fans of Fleshgod Apocalypse and Septic Flesh, it was a given that I would venture into the world of Exanimis and their debut full-length release ‘Marionnettiste’. After all, I do love a bit of over-the-top, grandiose symphonic death metal. I mean, who doesn’t eh?!
The proposition became even more appealing upon finding out more about the entity known as Exanimis. Hailing from Nancy in France, the band was put together by a group of former students of the Music Academy International. Clearly possessing the ability to play music to a very high standard, they came together in the pursuit of creating music that blends the atmospheres of horror soundtracks with technical death metal. The rest of the press release loses a little credibility though, as it says, and I quote:
“…“Marionnettiste” offers up nine tracks that masterfully blend the brutality and technical proficiency of death-metal bands like Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septic Flesh and Obscura, the melodies and progressive textures of Dream Theater, Opeth and Devin Townsend with symphonic arrangements and sinister ambiences inspired by great names of film and video game soundtracks like Danny Elfman, Howard Shore and Nobuo Uematsu.”
Let’s be honest for a second. If that was genuinely true, then Exanimis would have almost certainly released the greatest metal album of the year. But, in truth, they haven’t. ‘Marionnettiste’ is without doubt an extremely adept album, full of many positives, especially given that it is a debut release. Many of these positives I will explore momentarily. But in my opinion, it doesn’t meet this lofty who’s who of the music world. That’s not to say that they won’t of course; in time, they may reach this high watermark, and I genuinely hope they do. But I don’t believe they do quite yet.
Firstly, for all the technical prowess, the album suffers from a lack of genuine memorability. They talk of wanting to incorporate the melodies and progressive textures of Dream Theater, Opeth, and Devin Townsend, but I simply don’t hear it, at least from the melodic perspective at any rate. The music is opulent, dark, heavy, and hard-hitting. It is well-crafted and executed with aplomb. But I cannot say that it is anywhere near melodic enough to keep my attention. There are melodies that can be discerned, but not to the same extent as any of the three aforementioned protagonists or of some of their more direct competitors within the genre. I’d kill for a tenth of the melody you can hear within ‘Deadhead’ or ‘Godhead’s Lament’ for example. Hell, even ‘City’ by Strapping Young Lad lets loose with the melody occasionally. But if similar moments exist on ‘Marrionnettiste’, I can’t hear them. And it’s this that ultimately costs the band in my opinion, as well as tendency to over-extend a few of the individual tracks; at 65 minutes, I’d argue that it requires a little editing.
All that being said, it cannot be argued that Exanimis haven’t created a fantastic blend of glorious orchestration and properly heavy, technical death metal. This album thunders from the speakers with an aggression that is as bludgeoning and uncompromising as it is precise and meticulously delivered. The production, courtesy of Boundless Studio and Nine Rings Studios is equally impressive, ensuring that equal attention is paid to the metallic aspects and the orchestration, whilst maintaining a clear and vibrant sound.
I also happen to think that the spoken word parts that appear at points throughout ‘Marionnettiste’, such as at the half-way point of ‘Throne Of Thorns’, prove that the French language is more than capable of sounding dark and sinister, perfect for the atmosphere created on this record. As it so happens, this track also offers, via the ensuing solo, some of the most accessible of all the melodies on the album. It’s therefore one of my favourite individual compositions.
I also have to doff my cap in the direction of the orchestration because it doesn’t just play a supporting role, it is an essential ingredient and every effort has been made to ensure that the symphonic aspects are woven into the overall tapestry of the music. In that respect, Exanimis ensure that all the various ingredients come together is an homogenous manner, each enhancing the impact of the other. This, I really like and believe it deserves much credit.
Additionally, a mention must be made of the guitar work which is undeniably from the top draw. Take ‘Stampede of the 10,000’ as an example; the riffs are powerful and sharp, whilst the lead work is fast and complex, as well as being full of flair and exuberance when the need arises. You cannot fault this aspect of the material at all, although the same could be said of the bass, the drums, and the various guest performances that litter ‘Marionnettiste’.
Those of you into full-on epics, will no doubt lap up both ‘Cogs, Gears and Clockworks’, and the 16-minute penultimate track, ‘Cathedral’. Neither probably need to last quite as long as they do, but nevertheless, they both revel in the fact that they are able to cover vast amounts of ground, challenging both themselves as musicians and the listeners in equal measure. The latter is my favourite thanks to the malevolent organ-heavy intro, complete with choir, that feeds into the generally unsettling nature of the album’s dark atmospherics.
In closing, there is much to like and admire about Exanimis and their debut release ‘Marionnettiste’. I can see why it has garnered an awful lot of praise and critical acclaim from various quarters. Unfortunately, it hasn’t struck me quite as hard, ultimately due to a lack of memorable melody for my personal tastes. However, never one to enjoy writing reviews of this nature, I would still encourage you to take a listen and make up your own mind. After all, just because I am not so keen, it doesn’t mean it’s not a good album from which others may derive great pleasure.
The Score of Much Metal: 78%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: