It's hard to deny that black metal means a lot of different things to different people. It can be raw and primitive, or atmospheric and progressive, and a lot of time can be wasted debating whether one or other approach is the true (or possibly tr00 or even trü) path into the musical abyss. Obviously, it doesn't really matter, but it's worth noting that bands like SETH are far more likely to appeal to a broad spectrum of metalheads than either the grim shoegaze contingent or the recorded-straight-to-a-shitty-tape-deck one. Although it's undeniably artful and sophisticated, "La Morsure du Christ" taps into that willfully hostile, extreme and blasphemous strain of line-blurring, deathly black metal that bands like DARK FUNERAL, BELPHEGOR and NECROPHOBIC have made such a staple underground aesthetic. With underlying symphonic textures and an unerring melodic sense, SETH are arguably even more accessible than their peers. But from the turbulent drama of the opening title track onwards, the Frenchmen's sixth full-length is an atmospherically supercharged feast for the senses, too.
When SETH do wallow in atmospherics and embark on detours, they do it with the same intensity with which they attack everything else. "Métal Noir" begins as a serene, mid-paced drift, steeped in the windswept mysticism of FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM, before erupting into a tornado of blastbeats and bitter recriminations. The contrast is electrifying, even before the song's warped and surging refrain knocks over the conformist applecart once again. Admittedly, SETH are not seeking to reinvent the blackened wheel here, but their subtle idiosyncrasies ensure that "La Morsure du Christ" is a dizzying blur of wonky malevolence, rich in surrealist detail but also well-equipped with aggression and virtuosity. It reaches an apex of potency on "Les Océans du Vide", wherein the hazy scree of the blackgaze movement is somehow assimilated into SETH's bruising, all-out onslaught and haunting synths loom above the exploding violence. As partial calm descends, the song mutates into what sounds like a mournful waltz through hell's flames, before hell's gates are flung open with a wicked flourish for the stately filth of closer "Le Triomphe de Lucifer".
The magic is all in the subtle details here. SETH are great songwriters, and even at their most adventurous and vicious they know how to bash out a memorable tune. But it's the harnessing of those disparate elements and their molding them into such a cohesive and destructive whole that makes this stand out as the kind of black metal album that most fans of heavy music will be able to get behind. Highly recommended, in other words.