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Horizon Obscur : Parade Lugubre

Horizon Obscur's second release has merits, yet also comes across as somewhat generic in terms of songwriting.

Hailing from Quebec, Canada, one assumes Horizon Obscur are firmly in the French-speaking quarter. Everything on this self-released second demo is in French: the titles, the vocals, the album credits and the quote from Victor Hugo on the inlay booklet. My ancient schoolroom French is good enough to translate the titles and identify the quote as being from "Last Day Of A Condemned Man". That, the guillotine on the gloomy cover illustration and the reference to BicÍtre Ė a famous Parisian prison/asylum Ė suggests there is probably some sort of concept theme in play: the French Revolution, perhaps.

That would certainly help explain why the whole of 'Parade Lugubre' sounds so interlinked, as if it was written as one long evolution of a single piece of music through several passages. The other thing that might explain it is, of course, the positioning of the band at the slow end of the Death/Doom spectrum, where developing a song through the extended, hypnotic repetition of slow riffs is a staple of the genre. Not necessarily a bad thing: plenty of bands have used that technique to extremely good effect, and would think nothing of stretching a single track to the 30 minutes that this release offers.

For a self-produced demo, the quality is quite reasonable. It's obviously not full studio material, and the mix is a bit shallow in places, but the band have done a fair job of both disguising that and packaging the finished disk professionally. The only really noticeable production failing is the somewhat feeble drum sound, not really given enough depth or prominence to emphasise the importance of the beat to the slow escalation of each piece of music.

Indirectly, perhaps, that leads on to the main weakness of the band: the frontman is a much better drummer than vocalist. His voice, whilst not completely unsuitable for the genre, falls just a little short of convincing; essentially a somewhat strained growl that lacks much in the way of feeling or projection. It is rather unfortunate that this gets a far more significant placing in their sound than his work behind the drumkit.

To counter that, it must be said that the guitar work is exceptionally good, sliding adeptly between acoustic links and evocative Ė even soaringly Ė melodic riffing. The bass plays a strong counterpoint to this; both instruments set the musical tone unselfishly, adding just enough embellishments to give it character and depth without straying from the thrust of the piece. That, of course, may not to be to everyone's taste, but those who do appreciate that style of slow-burning development should find plenty to admire.

As noted earlier, 'Parade Lugubre' sounds more like a single composition than separate tracks: the meat of it being 'La Lame Pour Tous', 'BicÍtre' and 'La Place Rouge'. 'Fugitif' and 'Au Gibet' are short, scene-setting effect pieces, cross-fading acoustic sections with the sounds of horses and rain. Both pleasant enough, but not particularly essential. Taken as a whole, the pace and intensity builds successfully within each remaining track and overall throughout the body of music. Highpoints are the closing sections of 'BicÍtre' and 'La Place Rouge': in the latter, the vocals also reach their peak and truly do complement the music.

If that comes across as a slightly ambiguous summary of the album, it probably is. I quite like it, whilst recognising that it is more of an exercise in potential than actual success. It has merits, yet also comes across as somewhat generic in terms of songwriting; transitions a little clumsily between changes of direction, yet some of those directions are inspiring enough to be worth exploring. If I had to make a comparison, it would be somewhere in the Melodic, almost Gothic, end of the spectrum Ė despite the absence of either keyboards or female voices, in their best (guitar-led) moments Horizon Obscur manage stylistic and compositional similarities to the likes of Elegeion, Doom:Vs or Mar De Grises. Enough, at any rate, to attract some interest: I rather hope to see their next step develop those strengths and be backed by a label.

Reviewer's rating: 6/10


Tracklist :
1. Fugitif
2. La Lame Pour Tous
3. BicÍtre
4. La Place Rouge
5. Au Gibet

Duration : Approx. 30 minutes

Visit the Horizon Obscur bandpage.

Reviewed on 2012-02-27 by Mike Liassides
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