Pénombre and the Poetry of Satan
A conceptual exploration of The Adversary may seem a bit old hat in second wave black metal, but the new trio Pénombre are breathing new life into Old Nick’s bones with a poetic take on the evil one’s fall from grace. Consequently, Méphistophélès (ou le Diable sur Terre), feels more like an epic work in the vein of Milton than a by-the-numbers exercise in Norwegian angst. I reached out to guitarist C.B. (of Shezmu infamy) and bassist I.P. to get the scoop on what makes their hellfire burn so brightly.
At first blush, Méphistophélès sounds like a comfortable, well-trodden path through black metal’s charred past. Spanning four tracks, the EP is replete with brimstone riffs and apocalyptic blasts, bathed in a sulfurous, raw production that lends the flayed-alive vocals a visceral, almost damned quality. Albeit capable, the music takes little risks.
And yet, there’s an elusive, romantic thread woven into the fabric of the scabrous tremolo and strained screams. Tiny shreds of romantic crimson bare themselves when you examine the melodic hue of the riffs in the title track. Pulling the thread unravels even more of the earnest, almost heartfelt nature of the music present in the lead guitar work on “Révélations”; the plaintive, otherworldly and windswept piano notes subsequent to those leads only further instill a sense of depth and purpose lurking beneath the rusty surface of the buzzsaw riffs.
The explanation for that mysterious X factor. according to the band, is I.P.’s French language lyrics, a recounting of a horrific vision wrought in anguished poetry.
The concept of “Mephistopheles” appeared to me several years ago. It comes to me necessarily from my strict Catholic education … When I think of the world in which we live, I see more a world led by Lucifer than by God. I then had the idea to transcribe my ideas or my visions into poetry, being myself a great lover of poetry (My record label is called Les Fleurs du Mal in tribute to Charles Baudelaire). I imagined the fall of Lucifer, until his triumph and I separated it into four acts. Without pretending to be a great poet. I found these well written and I then showed them to friends including O.T. of Akitsa/Tour de Garde and C.B. of Shezmu … C.B. convinced me to dust my bass and help him to set them to music … and later, O.T. has agreed to release them! So I think I showed them to the right people!
But translating an interesting lyrical concept is easier said than done. It takes a keen eye for detail and nuance to alchemically produce black metal gold. Thankfully, C.B. is already a seasoned musician and was certainly up to the challenge.
[It] Was quite easy actually. It’s like the devil wanted me to sing those lyrics. They were very well written so it helped. Also French being my mother tongue it was a plus. [The] Riffs were made to be cold and harsh. Fits perfectly with the theme of our songs. Also singing in French was a new challenge for me. Clearly harder than in English. Which makes it more “grimier” because it has more pronunciation than in English.
All told, the effort was a success. Pénombre’s Méphistophélès is an intriguing listen from front to back, one that captures a far grander sense of scale and import than its four short tracks would imply. If you’re a fan of Milton or Marlowe, you owe it to yourself to pay close attention to the literary elements at play in this work. But if you’re just here for the riffs, you’ll find plenty of elements to sate your appetite for black metal in the vein of Darkthrone or Funereal Presence.
It seems that the old deceiver has a little bit of something for everyone in this EP.