Plebeian Grandstand “False Highs, True Lows” review
It was bound to happen at some point. Deathspell Omega’s genre-defying, epic trilogy of albums cast a long shadow over black metal, and now its influence has crept into other areas of extreme music.
Enter Plebeian Grandstand. Their first album, 2010’s How Hate is Hard to Define, is a technical, metallic, dark hardcore album that wouldn’t feel out of place amongst the classic Hydrahead records roster. Somewhere along the line, this French quartet discovered their fellow countrymen’s forward-thinking and astoundingly fresh take on black metal and fused it with their own approach. The resulting album, 2014’s Lowgazers, is a stunning album that revealed a new direction for the band, one that is far more potent, chaotic and heavy.
Their newest offering, False Highs, True Lows, is a refinement and improvement upon Lowgazers, and the band wastes no time letting everyone know. While the opening track on Lowgazers, “Thvrst,” was quite the hook, it led with a haunting, spare guitar line. “Low Empire,” however, blasts right out of the gate with one furious riff after another. What follows is a relentless descent into a dense, malevolent monolith of an album.
Where False Highs, True Lows shines over its predecessor is that the album seems much more conceived as a whole. The songs themselves shine, but the sequencing of the tracks makes an intense and demanding sound a breeze to listen to. “Low Empire” and “Tributes and Oblivions” are two frenetic, breakneck statements, but the band caps them with the downtempo and sparse “Volitions.” While that track provides some breathing room, it ends with a blasting, chaotic coda. These guys have mastered the old Discordance Axis trick of using a slow riff over a blast beat and use it to maximum effect.
“Mineral Tears,” a minute-long noise interlude, provides the only real respite on the album before “Oculi Lac” gets the blasting right back on track. It is important to note here that there is not one riff, idea or song on this album that overstays its welcome. These songs are dense and compact, and the album itself clocks in at a mere 35 minutes. The only song that can be considered long is the seven-minute instrumental “Tame the Shapes.” It’s an atmospheric, doom-laden soundscape of minor chords and war toms that builds to a climax that somehow outdoes the one on “Volitions.” The album closer, “Eros Culture,” is a concise blaster that concludes with cymbal swells and death moans. Its technical prowess and poisoned atmosphere makes it a perfect way to encapsulate the album.
Another area in which this album excels over the band’s previous efforts is that, quite simply, they are far better musicians than they used to be, and better songwriters to boot. Guitarist Simon Chaubard seems to lead the way and knows how to build songs out of alternating between furious strumming and clean-picked, dissonant minor chords. A highlight are the swept chords in “Oculi Lac.” Drummer Ivo Kaltchev is an absolute machine who spends the majority of this album blasting, yet has a restrained approach in that he plays exactly what is needed for the song. Vocalist Adrien Broue deserves to be considered amongst the best vocalists in heavy music right now. His performance on this album is masterful. It is haunting and absolutely feral at the same time, like a poltergeist made flesh.
What separates Plebeian Grandstand from Deathspell and others of the orthodox black metal ilk is that their sound is informed by hardcore. In place of Satanism, evil and malign spirituality is an undistilled, barely controlled rage. With False Highs, True Lows, Plebeian Grandstand have captured its very essence.
While the band has yet to break out in the metal world, a distribution deal with Deathwish Inc. and an upcoming U.S. tour will undoubtedly corrupt a slew of innocent youths.