Saturday, May 15, 2010

Celestia - Promo 2001

Celestia - Promo 2001
2001, Drakkar/Self-Released

This cassette release features, for your pleasure, seven (the holy/unholy number) songs, tracks from the 'Evoking Grace and Splendour' EP and 'Dead Insecta Sequestration' demo, both set to be released later by Drakkar.

The best thing about Celestia is that they obviously play in a style and form that adheres rather closely to the particular 'assigned' traits of underground black metal, and yet they just don't sound like any other band. At a cursory listen, scanning the particular, idiosyncratic style they offer on display - and in which they have always played - I think it's easy enough to place the blame (or praise) for this fact on the guitar sound, the way it just cascades down through the listening sphere/space in chilling wave after wave of treble-overdosing tremelo-picked progressions, playing through simple melodies that are nevertheless often completely alien because they are so beautifully personal to the guitarist. If I was asked point blank to describe these melodies/riffs I could only say that they belong to the Eastern European tradition of black metal, say...close to Maniac Butcher, but almost inverted in that they don't follow the usual descending orders, from higher chords to lower. Now everyone knows that the main difference between black metal and, say, punk or hardcore is the fact that punk often employs major chords and ascending progressions while black metal (while having riffs that are quite similar) does the opposite: minor chords, dissonance, and descending riffs are mainly put through their paces. In black metal, when major chords or ascending progressions are used, the result is something that sounds unfamiliar or 'outside' the tradition/style - witness some of the latter Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir material and the way it sounds too 'happy' to be black metal. Early hardcore bands like Black Flag sometimes manipulated descending chord progressions to devastating effect, and it is exactly in the time/space location where hardcore and punk bands (or musicians who were influenced by the major chords of punk and the minor of metal) started changing their riffs and melodies to concentrate on descending progressions that black metal was born. In other words: Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost. The great thing about Celestia is that they invert this tradition yet again, and while keeping the other elements that define black metal (the high, screeching vocals, the blast beats and cymbal use, the dark image and lyrics) intact, the guitars go back to ascending melodies but still use minor chords. Not exactly a major innovation, I know, but this band's tendency to concentrate solely on this methodology makes their music stand out from the crowd in the long run. The result is something that sounds almost perverse in its application. One session of listening to any Celestia song will convince you of this...it's almost a new kind of dissonance in black metal (or, at least, a form that hasn't been used all that widely), and Celestia have made it completely their own. This kind of high, seething, freezing melodicism in combination with Noctu's ever-strange, otherworldly vocal patterns (which are even more extreme on this new material than ever before) and original voice are the basis for the Celestia's true originality. To be honest, music like this is an acquired taste, and be forewarned about Noctu's voice...it can be hard on one's ears. For those of you who have not heard this band before, all I can say is that he sounds very close to the way Varg Vikernes sang on the first two or three Burzum albums, but with this schizophrenic tone and edgy paranoia in his voice that makes him sound twice as demented, and three times as suicidal as Varg ever was, on the cusp of being monstrous...or rather: almost inhuman. Of course, as he said when I interviewed him a few months ago, Celestia is not supposed to be 'of this Earth' at all, and Noctu's voice completes the spell that the guitars have already started to weave on your senses...they transport you into another existence all together, one where there is precious little light...

In fact, one of the songs on this cassette is a cover version of Burzum's 'Ea, Lord of the Depths', so you know just where this band is coming from stylistically.

One of the most resonant particulars of Celestia's sound is of course their references to Mutiilation within the guitars, specifically the first songs off of 'Vampires...', or the Mutiilation demo material, with harsh, angular single-note additions onto morbid, echoing arpeggios, and a jarring, jangling sound when the tremelo riffing begins properly, somewhat akin to Darken's tone on 'Following the Voice...', or (and this is the most bizarre connection) the rhythm work of the early Dead Kennedys singles. If one were to take the bass frequencies out of an equalized rendering of these songs, precious little information would be lost...it's all in the treble, constantly reaching higher, higher - towards what? The light? A discovery of some sort? I can't determine...you will have to listen to it yourself in order to form an accurate opinion. All I know is that Celestia continues to be one of the most original bands in the French black metal scene, and - as ever - one of the most difficult to firmly grasp in one's mind or attempt to describe. This material shows that they are continuing along their process of evolution, although where it's leading them is anyone's guess...