Opening with a suitably dramatic, classical flourish, ‘dazzling dawn’, the second full-length album (not including the band’s demo) from French metal maestros Eclectika is a grandiose, ambitious affair from the outset.
With ‘the end’ the band set the tone by producing an instrumental set-piece of simple, understated eloquence before the album’s title track attacks you with all the power of a wild beast. Tinny, ultra-fast and overseen by the relentless vocals of Aurelien Pers, ‘dazzling dawn’ sits somewhere between the dry, unpleasant tones of Paradise lost’s ‘Gothic’ album and Darkthrone’s icy blasts yet, for all its intentionally bad production and overpoweringly trebly drums, there is an inherent melody that set this band apart from the masses of death metal bands all plying their trade at the moment, something underscored by the quietly beautiful vocals of Alexandra Lemoine whose ethereal presence fleshes out the ravages of Aurelien’s razor-gargling vocal approach and brings out the hidden beauty in Sebastien Regnier’s dense soundscapes. Arguably this approach is less successful on ‘sophist revenge’ where Alexandra struggles to hit the lofty requirements set by the music although overall it’s hard not to be impressed by the seemingly limitless ambition of the band and musically the track is a success.
Better still is ‘les demons obsedants du regret’ which opens with a stunning instrumental piece before Alexandra joins in clearly demonstrating that when the composition is within her range she has a stunning voice which she uses to enchanting effect here. Moreover, for a band as overwhelmingly heavy as Eclectika often are to try such a stunning piece of music is a brave move and it recalls the wilful experimentation of Celtic Frost’s ground-breaking ‘into the pandemonium’ album. The track even features a glorious, classic rock influenced solo emphasising Sebastien’s skill and rounding out the song nicely. ‘There is no daylight in the darkest paradise’ is equally obtuse (and a personal favourite), opening with a lone piano in the darkness before eerie effects lend an atmosphere and the song builds nicely, yet in a completely unexpected direction. Actually stunningly progressive, it’s almost like listening to a completely different band until, about two minutes in, the guitars come crashing in, once again recalling Celtic Frost’s early period (which is never a bad thing) but with enough originality to mark out Eclectika as something quite special.
Where the chugging riffs of the previous track are a head banger’s delight, ‘Experience 835’ is a dense, claustrophobic experience, not unlike the incidental music in the X files if scored by Axis of perdition. Synth led, and almost industrial, it’s a hugely unnerving piece that leads into the stunning, unexpectedly Philip Glass-esque instrumental travels of ‘the next blue planet’ which echoes the soundtrack to ‘Requiem for a dream’ and which widens the view form the grimy, rat-infested streets of ‘experience…’ to whole new, gloriously panoramic vistas. ‘Marble altar’ reminds you that you’re listening to a metal band as shades of early, ‘grom’ era Behemoth collide with Satyricon’s martial beats, pounding the unwary into submission. ‘Stockholm syndrome’ (happily not a Muse cover) is easily the best track here combining perfectly the creepy synth of ‘Experience…’ with the ambitious death metal of ‘Dazzling dawn’ while the closing ‘11 corps Decharnes’ is a deep, disturbing personal hell for the listener to wade through if they only dare. Coupling the deeply unpleasant instrumental trauma of Axis of Perdition with the slithery industrial feel of Ephel Duath, you’re once again struck by the sheer scope of Eclectika’s vision.
Overall this is a towering achievement. There are moments where the album flounders: Alexandra clearly has a stunning voice, but it needs to be used appropriately and on occasion (albeit rare) she can’t quite produce the required range although on the whole her performance is exemplary. Equally, there are moments when the sheer depth of Sebastien’s ambition can’t quite be contained by the frail production and you long for a weightier sound. However, with those mild reservations dealt with, what you’re left with is an album that is as eclectic as the band’s name might suggest with myriad influences cleverly welded together to forma convincing and intriguing whole. While there will undoubtedly be purists outraged by the depth of imagination displayed here (there’s always a few), most people with a varied taste will find something to marvel at here and it is clear that Eclectika are capable of astonishing things when given the chance to let their imaginations run free. Quite simply this is a wonderful album which overcomes its few flaws and offers much to the listener brave enough to take the band on.