Jusqu’a la Mort: both a return to form and a precursor to new work for a black metal veteran band

Monarque, Jusqu’à la Mort, Canada, Sepulchral Productions, CD SP052 (2019)

A longtime stalwart of the French-language black metal scene in Quebec province in Canada, Monarque comes roaring back with this EP after five years during which the band made no new releases while various members worked on other projects. Probably one frustrating thing the band’s fans will grumble about “Jusqu’à la Mort” is that it’s so short (at just under 23 minutes) with just three tracks. Welll, we won’t quibble about quantity: what we want is succinct raw BM with biting cold atmosphere that flows in rivers of scourging acid guitar and harsh demon vocals that spring from the harsh forest lands of Quebec itself. This music Monarque delivers in spades, with plenty of icy majesty.

The title track reminds Monarque fans of what they’ve been missing for the past five lean years: blistering Arctic-wind aggression, running tremolo guitars and energetic percussion. The attitude is brisk and business-like, the pace is speedy, almost blast-beat speedy in some parts of the song. “Le Serment Prononcé” (“The Oath Pronounced”) is a more relaxed song that emphasises distinct folk-like melodies and riffs, and changes in key over the aggression and energy though these are still very much evident. Atmospheric ice-ambient synthesiser adds a cold edge and depth to the music.

The surprise comes on the final track “Le Grand Deuil” (“The Great Mourning”) which takes up over half the EP’s playing time and returns to the blunt-force trauma aggression of the title track, this time though with solo violin accompaniment courtesy of Lambert Segura from UKBM band Saor. While this is a very energetic track, my impression is that the blast-beat pummel overshadows the violin melodies, to the extent that the acoustic instrument is swallowed up in the noisy roar, and Segura’s participation only really comes to the fore much later in the track when (for a brief time) the drumming stops and the guitars adopt a dark low-key presence. Had the violin been given a more prominent place in the music, then this collaboration might have given the EP a melancholy beauty that complements the abrasive aggression. The best music also comes quite late in the track when it slows down and melodies and key changes start to appear that give the track an intriguing depth it should have had all the way through.

For the time being, while a full-length album “Up to Death” is apparently already in the works, Monarque fans will be happy that the band is still committed to producing old-school Quebecois BM with passion and enthusiasm.