Here it is, the first full length album of Cauchemar after a long trip all over the world for the doom amigos. While there's 3 years between their debut EP ''La Vierge Noire'' and ''Tenebrario'' not a lot of things changed in their sound but they managed to fix most of the little defaults I thought their first release had. Cauchemar is actually a good version of the old school Québécois band Trop Féross (they're worth a look if you want to laugh!) as they're relying on a simplistic to the point approach and an unorthodox woman at the mic. The most important thing about the band is the total chemistry between the vocals and the riffs probably due to the fact Annick and François are a married couple in everyday's life. I was glad to hear the new album and I must thank the band for their friendship and the opportunity to write a review!
A complaint I heard was Annick's vocals. While I enjoy them, I reckon they're an acquired taste. They're much better than on the debut too, they're more adapted to the songwriting and her chops are better overall. Still, I think they're more enjoyable live as Annick has a lot of charisma and an aptness at theatricality. I can't wait to see them for the third time at Wings of Metal with Manilla Road, Satan and Midnight among others. Her vocals are well served by the catchy vocal lines, these were a strength of La Vierge Noire. Songs like ''Magie Noire'' or ''Les Ailes de la Mort'' had very catchy choruses and it's still the case here such as in ''D'Encre et de Sang''. She really managed to move me in ''Le Fantôme'' (one of the standout tracks) and in the dreamlike acoustic title track placed at the end of the album. There's some parts that doesn't work for me such as the chorus for ''Tête de Mort'' but it's still an improvement. While there's a clear NWOBHM influence here, she doesn't have the range of the great singers of the genre, she's more like a Terry Jones. I'm obviously not saying the singer of Pagan Altar has no range but his place at the helm is similar. Both are writing great lyrics with a total understanding of the music's atmosphere. I know she's a big fan of the mythical British horde but she's also a fan of Paul Chain, an influence on the track ''Trois Mondes''. The influence of the Italian doom scene is present but not thorougly, perhaps more in feel than in reality. I wish the psychedelic doom sound was more present in ''Tenebrario'' but knowing François, the sound is compromising between the classic rock and traditional doom taste of the guitarist (for example, Trouble and Pentragram) and Annick's darker and occult doom border-lining on black metal. Although some of the vocals can be hit and miss, it's really a daring task to compose metal in French especially the kind with clean and understandable vocals. Not a lot of traditional metal bands were really successful at Molière's language. ADX, Sortilège, Vulcain or Killers were able to but it's always been somewhat weird and not completely natural for many others. I think Cauchemar created a sound of their own and that, since their EP and even though this album is very good, I don't think their evolution is complete. There's hints to a somewhat more grandiose and developped sound in some of the songs and this could definitely lead to a more intricate songwriting.
To complete their sound recipe, there's good and very rockish riffs and the album is very cohesive regardless of the different tempos (mid paced to a bit faster, I guess?). It's not a slow band in any ways. It rarely even stops to have blistering Victor Griffinesque solos and it doesn't quite need to most of the time. There's no solos in Cauchemar (except the slow mournful solo in "Trois Mondes") but there's cool leads such as the one in "Salamandre". Nevertheless, I wish some songs had more leads and solos but the fact that the riffs are the main focus of the band leaves not a lot of place to intervene and it would probably be harmful to the rhythmn. It's fast and I think they could even take their time and develop some of the slower facets of their formula but that's my opinion, of course ! The album is rather short and there's nothing wasted, some songs could easily be six or seven minutes, they always were a tight band and I reckon they do that well. Their formula still really works though and for a first full length album, they took their sound further with an attention to details and some safe but present innovation.
The presence of a new bassist (Andrés Arango) is also noticeable, the bass was played by Annick on the EP and it was lackluster to say the least. It's still not sufficient to fully support the earthy and rocky riffs but there's some bass licks which are welcomed. The drums are professional albeit boring and safe, they lack power as well but that's more a symptom of the production that overpowers the guitars a bit too much. It's still a good mix though, it's clean, natural and has a fun ''do it yourself'' feel. The vocals are placed carefully behind the music as it's not the main asset of the band and this gives a pleasant cavernous and almost religious to Annick's voice. The guitars are heavier than on the EP as well but it's still pretty vintage and far from the extreme sound found in doom and stoner. Their 2010 debut still had a good production so the step is not very drastic. It has the doom spirit that I like, nothing is complicated and nothing is forced
As a big doomster, it's always a joy to hear a local band exploring the genre you like. They sail against the current in the Québec/Ontario metal scene populated mostly by death and black metal bands. There's a certain new found diversification these days with bands like Chthe'ilist or Beast Within. The scene has always been somewhat varied but technical/progressive bands are what Québec is known for since Voivod and a return to the basis of metal is appreciated, be it doom or anything else.
I must also salute the fact that their lyrics were once again written in French. in An artistic decision like that necessitates a lot of confidence and balls. Annick is the metal queen of Montréal (sorry Morrigan!) and she's definitely not afraid of anything and she's uncompromising. I like that it's a worldwide doom phenomenon with bands like Ocean Chief (Sweden) or Reino Ermitaño (Peru) who are singing in their mother tongue. It adds a certain vernacular charm to the music and it's easier to relate for the local fans of these bands. It's fun for me to sing some doom metal in my mother tongue, it's a good feeling . Their lyrics are good too, rooted in occultism and darkness while still being original and diverse. Cauchemar is quite unique in the small Canadian doom scene. They're not as psychedelic as Blood Ceremony and not as rooted in traditionalism and epicness as Funeral Circle, they play their cards well and they're are an hard working band with a lot of honesty both in their sound and their attitude.
I really liked ''Tenebrario'', it's a good first album for Cauchemar and it places them in a nice position in the doom world. Their label (Nuclear War Now !) doesn't seem to think they're a priority as there's some problems and delays with the release of the album and it's a damn shame. They're the sole traditional band on the black/death label and it always seemed weird to me. Nevertheless, I'm glad to follow the band through its evolution and even though I'd like them to push the boundaries further and to be a bit more epic, I'd gladly take another album like that. Long live the golden couple of Canadian doom.
The vinyl is available on Nuclear War Now!
*** Review by Antoine Richard - originally posted on Metantoine's Magickal Realm...