La Torture Des Tenebres - “Acadian Nights/Choirs of Emptiness”
Stream and buy on their Bandcamp
We don’t know too much about Ottawan black metal band La Torture Des Tenebres (French for “torture of darkness,” roughly), but we can make at least one educated guess: they like space. We can even hazard to say they probably enjoy sci-fi, which a glance at the artwork for their two albums (that I’ll be treating as one release) readily confirms: Acadian Nights seems to depict a scene from Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, a desperate tug-of-war between two astronauts struggling to reel one another in, and Choirs of Emptiness a still of Interstellar’s breathless docking sequence. Both scenes are emotional high-points of their respective films, and the music La Torture… supply is accordingly harrowing, claustrophobic, and antiseptic.
It’s funny that it’s taken so long for black metal to turn its attention to space, what with its preoccupation with cold winter aesthetics and the unknowable horror of existence - space is the ultimate exacerbation of all that, a legitimately dead void that so many black metal acts try to evoke in their music. It’s about as perfect a union as you can imagine with La Torture Des Tenebres, but they go several extra miles by incorporating chaotic screamo elements and frosting their tremolo assault in pure noise: static and feedback whine from every gap in the music, smothering the vocals and reducing riffs and beats to murky silhouettes. We can’t even rely on the guitars to anchor us down, since the noisy production on both albums, on top of their jacked-up treble and flimsy tone, ensures that riffs sound more like failing sirens than actual riffs. If all this seems off-putting, that’s because it is. Neither album is an easy listen, requiring more patience and many more listens than most black metal, which typically has the benefit of trancing out the listener. You can’t do that here, but if you have the patience, you’ll find something pretty damn unique at the bottom.
The screamo aspects of their sound will be the first thing, mainly encapsulated in the vocals, which lack the signature black metal “rasp.” I haven’t yet been able to determine whether there’s one vocalist or many, but whoever’s on the mic at any given moment has a high, bracing screech that strikes me as unusually sincere. This screech rarely adheres to the beat or tempo of the song, but you can’t really fault them for not bothering: the underlying network of snares, toms, and kick drums is constantly shuffling blast beats and fills in a way that’s just impossible to follow, especially because the drumwork, which relies heavily on the use of what sounds like dozens of cymbals, produces a hiss that gets hopelessly tangled up in the mix. It’s such a crazy performance that there’s doubt as to whether the drummer actually even knows how to play, or if he’s just cutting loose as fast and hard as he can, trusting the sheer impenetrability of it all to elevate the racket into something more.
If so, he’s put his trust in the right place. For all the dissonance between the parts of La Torture’s sound, the sum is as emotive and terrifying as the moment Frank Poole goes spiraling out into the maw of space in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is cold and inhuman music on the whole, but the obvious passion behind the playing - when it can be detected - is so vibrantly human that you can’t help getting swept up in its pathos. It’s not for everyone, and as a matter of fact, I really struggle to imagine anyone who might genuinely enjoy this kind of music, hence the low-ish score running kind of counter to all the praise I’m throwing its way. I haven’t pointed to any stand-out tracks or individual moments because, by just about anyone’s estimation, these songs are kind of homogeneous. They’re arbitrarily divvied up, irreverently titled (“Slave To The Coach’s Son”? “Sailing The Mississippi Delta”? “We Should Have Left It On The Country Station”?), and I find myself wondering why there was even a need to split this body of work into two albums, except maybe to provide a little breathing room between the halves.
But you don’t play this strenuously and scream this hard for nothing. Even if the point is just to provide an hour or so of nihilistic backdrop for a listener’s projections (their Bandcamp description starkly proclaims “Life is a pointless, manipulative game / Do not be swayed by its false promises”), or just to goad reviewers into wasting too much time and vocab on something without meaning, I think the true strength here is as I’ve said: there’s something deeply emotional locked away in all this clamor that can grip you by the throat as often and as easily as it can elude you.
Both Acadian Nights and Choirs of Emptiness are available for name-your-price download on Bandcamp.