Throughout the infamous, controversy-splattered history of black metal, many of its contributors have fused the genre’s trademark raging harshness with orchestral arrangements. It seems that the most devoted of fans would agree that this practice could go one of two ways, depending on how it’s done. Some bands seem to rely far too much on the sound of violins and cellos to get their unholy point across, while others choose to keep it at a comfortable (if not barely noticeable) minimum. Strangely, the ones that appear all-too-eager to overdo it are the same that have managed to get further into a more “acceptable” mainstream spotlight, such as the later work of the often-ridiculed Dimmu Borgir, among others. But, fear not, for in the vast, cavernous recesses of the underground hordes upon hordes work endlessly to add outside elements in a way that is both effective as hell and likely won’t get them spit on by their peers. Which brings me to eastern France black metal collective, Malevolentia. Much like their fellow corpse-painted countrymen, Otargos, Malevolentia bring an ungodly ton of blackened, destructive wrath to the table. Where they differ, however, is the inclusion of the previously-mentioned, minimal orchestral elements included in their sound. It should be said that this does very little to distract from the quintet’s haunting fury.
With their latest release, Ex Oblivion (Season of Mist/Epictural Production), takes the whole concept of orchestral black metal and flips it right on its loved-and/or-hated ass in just over forty-seven ominous minutes. That’s right, this is not what we’ve come to expect. For the most part, anything involving string arrangements is used sparingly throughout the record. Usually, it’s presented as a few seconds of intro to a few songs or as subtle, mid-song interruptions (such as with “Martyrs“ or “A L‘Est D‘Eden“). The blatant exception, however, is the two-and-a-half minute instrumental, “Dies Irae”, which pretty much relies on the orchestra vibe from start to ghostly finish. Meanwhile, numbers such as “Serment De La Corde”, “Dagon”, “La Nonne Et L’Incube” take on a decidedly more straight-ahead black metal approach. Searing riffs and sledgehammer percussion are all unleashed through a pristine production from the start.
One small setback (aside from the strings that may turn many completely off to this recording), that may fall upon the shoulders of us not quite familiar with the French language, is that all vocals are delivered in the country’s native dialect. Looking at the insert won’t help either, as it too is au Francais. However, this will most likely not prevent fans of black metal of any sort to be sucked directly into the hellish inferno that Malevolentia has sparked. Enigmatic front-woman, Spleen holds her own through the record’s duration with a sense of darkly vicious elegance that can match any one of her male peers, if not completely (and mercilessly) stomp them into the ground and leave them to rot. And the four guys accompanying her do their part to see that all opposition stays down for the count under their heels.
When all is said and done, Malevolentia have delivered a solid effort of ten eerie, lethally-charged, slightly orchestra-friendly black metal explosions worthy of the soundtrack to all of our human nightmares. Where some have tried and failed miserably to incorporate the new with the old, the band appears to have succeeded. Ex Oblivion takes a much-criticized concept and, with obvious ease, proves that it truly can be done the right way. Open your burning eyes wide and witness oblivion!