Triumphantly moving black metal
Glorior Belli might not be a household name amongst metal fans. Relatively obscure, the French band has been known for combining black metal with elements of NOLA Southern sludge. That’s something that may turn a few heads, considering the two disparate subgenres exist on very different ends of the metal spectrum (and on the geographic spectrum).
The result amongst fans and critics has been pretty mixed, with critics rejecting the unconventional blend of sounds and supporters of the band claiming their particular brand of avant-garde black metal can be an acquired taste. Their previous NOLA-infused offerings are actually not too bad, though it’s easy to see why they might cause a divide between metal fans (especially black metal purists). However, experimenting with such different sounds speaks to their willingness to step outside the barriers and comfort zones established by the bands before them, and in that there is something admirable.
Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes), the band’s sixth release, decides to take a step back and return to a more traditional black metal sound. Albeit, it does have some distinctual elements. Rather than the traditional tinny, high-gain guitar tone, the guitars on this record have a thicker, mid-range sound that resonates a bit more clearly. The vocals have some of the usual high-pitched black metal squealing but incorporate a lot more guttural power beneath them. Some of the NOLA elements can still be heard on “Rebels In Disguise,” and there are still some more avant-garde progressive ideas spread throughout the record. Despite these factors, the compositional elements are pretty reminiscent of many of the early Scandinavian bands that experimented with melodic and atmospheric black metal sounds. They may have fit perfectly alongside bands like Dissection or Dark Funeral, had they been founded in a different era.
That being said, just because something lacks originality doesn’t mean it’s bad. There are many bands who just do what they do and do it well. In this case, Glorior Belli is a band that does it well. Sundown is a deeply emotional record, a triumphant display of atmospheric black metal that grips the listener right in the heart and buries itself deeply into their soul. If you finish listening to this record and do not find yourself moved, the kind of corpse paint you’re probably wearing is the kind put on by a mortician.
Glorior Belli may have moved away from the experimental, but in doing so they have developed a mastery over the black metal sound that they originally started with. There’s a lot of black metal out there that is just plain boring, using the same regurgitated minor-key and diminished riffs over never-ending blast beats to the point of becoming unlistenable. But this band has learned how to use dynamics, melodic contour, and tension to build something truly momentous, a beautiful display of what black metal can really achieve.
Because of how moving and soulful the record is, it feels almost wrong to continue to criticize its lack of originality, but unfortunately, it’s necessary to. This is a band that took a huge risk in the past and didn’t see a big payoff from it. But this is true of many great artists, who sometimes take creative risks that don’t resonate with the audience right away. Sundown is proof that Glorior Belli is capable of producing metal that’s well above par, but their lack of distinctiveness may end up being a hindrance to their growth.
Glorior Belli could be a band that goes down one of the two paths: they could retain their current sound, and with their solid and thoughtful songwriting skills, garner themselves a modest but sizable following. They could have a respectable career opening up for bigger name black metal acts, but might not ever have a headlining slot of their own. Or, they could take the compositional elements that make Sundown such an extraordinary record and combine that with the ambitious risk-taking they’ve done in the past, using that to create something that truly sets themselves apart from the crowd and earns themselves a place amongst the metal elite. One can only hope that a band with such promise will go down the latter.