Album Title: Assassine(s)
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date of Release: 28 January 2022
Today’s review has been written courtesy of my desire to broaden my horizons a little more, and to check out something new. Despite being in existence since 2005 and releasing five albums during that time, France’s Celeste has never before made it on to my radar. Being referred to as a mix of black metal, sludge, and hardcore, I was guilty in the past of just moving on because I’ve never really been that big a fan of either sludge or hardcore, owning next to nothing of each in my album collection.
I’ll admit, straight off the bat, that I could not watch the video that accompanied ‘La Cœur Noir Charbon’, the first song to be made available to fans ahead of the release of album number six, ‘Assassine(s)’. Dark, violent, and full of graphic images I did not want to get lodged in my head, I was tempted to cease my listening almost immediately. However, there was something about the music that kept me from pressing stop. So I minimised the webpage and just listened.
I’m glad I took this decision, because there is much to like about ‘Assassine(s)’ as it turns out. Just like the video, the music on this record is not an easy listen; it is violent, aggressive, cold, and spiteful. But, at the same time, the nastiness is counterbalanced cleverly and kept in check by a judicious use of melody, enough to soften the harsh edges a little, and keep me interested in the process. And, having kept me interested, Celeste somewhat insidiously manage to burrow themselves deep under my skin, making me come back for repeated listens without thinking about it.
With absolutely no intro at all, ‘Des Torrents de Coups’ hits you from the opening second by a barrage of impenetrable guitars from Guillaume Rieth and Sébastien Ducotte, a barrage of drums from Antoine Royer, and the sinister bass rumblings of Johan Girardeau. When the song changes tack, it moves from a post-rock soundscape to one that’s more black metal in delivery, thanks to more pronounced fast-picked riffing and the caustic, rasping vocals of Girardeau. The various elements of the band’s sound come together surprisingly well, with subtle melody warming the otherwise cold, abrasive sounds, adding an almost majestic melancholy to the composition.
‘De Tes Yeux Bleus Perlés’ absolutely thunders into existence with a nice technical, groovy, churning riff that is vaguely djent-like and with nice prog undertones. As with the predecessor though, the atmosphere is intense and almost suffocating. I find myself wanting to escape and to be able to breathe, but something keeps me from doing so. The pace quickens, and Girardeau laces the track with his diatribes, delivered in his native tongue, before were pulled back into the lurching groove again. There’s less melody on offer here until the latter stages when a little is presented, almost reluctantly.
‘Nonchalantes de Beauté’ is much more openly within the black metal vein, the guitars punishing anyone who listens with yet more fast-picked riffing that creates an imposing wall of sound. The drumming of Royer is impressive, flamboyant and hard-hitting in equal measure, as you get the feeling that the quartet are building up to something. And that ‘something’ is a stunning passage of arresting melody and power, leaving me open-mouthed in appreciation.
Just when you’ve got Celeste all figured out, though, they manage to change things up in the form of ‘(A)’ which materialises around the midpoint of ‘Assassine(s)’. It begins quietly, allowing electronic sounds and textures to dominate, thus creating a more subtle but no less foreboding and dark soundscape. Throbbing bass and a simple drum beat add to the composition before, finally, the guitars join in. And when they do, by hell are they heavy, threatening to shake the foundations of the Mansion Of Much Metal. The closing sequence is stunning though, as blastbeats underpin tremolo riffs that create more surprisingly beautiful melody. This instrumental piece is nothing short of gargantuan and it is nothing short of magnificent.
And then, to close out the record, we get the aforementioned ‘La Cœur Noir Charbon’, the longest single composition on an album that, at around 41 minutes, is a lesson in succinct and well-honed songwriting. Being a little longer, it enables Celeste to take their time to marry their black metal elements with more pronounced post-metal and post-hardcore sounds. The net result is a song that feels more overtly challenging and diverse, albeit cut very much from the same cloth as the preceding seven tracks. The soft, ethereal female voice you can hear is that of guest vocalist Emily Marks, whilst Celeste also invite Heaven In Her Arms’ Katsuta to lace the track with a guitar sample.
When I listen to this record, I don’t necessarily hear hardcore or sludge, although their influences within the music are undeniable. Instead, what I hear is an impressive album that seeks to bring myriad ideas together in their own personal vision. I cannot comment on how ‘Assassine(s)’ differs from previous outings, although if time allows, I may investigate in due course. What I can say though is that for every oppressive, sinister, and uncomfortable turn that Celeste make, they also add a melodic or atmospheric twist, leading to an album that I have enjoyed listening to far more than I ever thought I would as I viewed the first moments of their accompanying video. ‘Assassine(s)’ is not an easy listen, make no mistake about that. But if you give it time and attention, you might find that you fall for its sinister charms too.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: