Eminence: a dense, intricate and manic blast through European / French Fin-de-Siecle culture

Passéisme, Eminence, France, Antiq Records, CD / vinyl LP (2021)

Ha! Like many others I was taken in by Passéisme’s name, the front-cover artwork of the band’s debut album and that album’s title too, not to mention the trio’s manic and exuberant performance from start to finish on songs of dizzying complexity, packed as they are with riffs and often rising to heights of grandeur, and wrote these guys off as yet another wacky and deranged French black metal bunch. No, mes amis, despite their fixation with European / French Fin-de-siècle culture of the late 19th / early 20th centuries with its obsessions with decline and decay, and their deference to French BM inspirations such as Véhémence and Sühnopfer, the Passéisme musicians hail from Nizhny Novgorod, a city some 3,000 km away in the heart of European Russia. (A mere further 1,000 km into Siberia are the villages of Parizh and Fershampenuaz, founded by Cossacks in the 1840s to celebrate past victories in Paris and Fère-Champenoise during the Napoleonic Wars. Talk about a Russian fixation with all things French!) Led by vocalist / bassist Konstantin Korolev, who by day is a translator (he translated some of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry to include as lyrics in some of the songs on “Eminence”),è Passéisme is a young band formed in 2019 though all three members have been or still are members of death metallers Wombripper which formed back in 2012.

The music is dense and intricate, especially when played so fast as these guys do, with near-constant changes in pace, beats, rhythm and riffs, and the riffs sounding quite complicated on tracks like “Chant for Harvest”. At least the production is very clear, giving the music a polished sound so that all instruments and background effects can be heard clearly. The blast-beat drumming seems thin and often clicky compared to the rest of the music. What distinguishes Passéisme most of all is the hollering near-death metal vocal approach adopted by Korolev which adds a rough punk edge to the band’s music; this might not endear Passéisme to a lot of fans of French mediaeval BM and compared to the music the shouty approach lacks the subtlety needed to complement the drama and epic nature of the riffs in most songs. At the very least the vocals sound desperate and provide a tonal contrast with the clear, sharp guitar tones with their grinding edge, but as the album continues and especially on the last few tracks the vocals can be a tiresome distraction from the music.

While the album is consistent and technically strong, the songs on the early half of the album go so fast that many of their details are easily missed and repeat hearings are necessary to appreciate their qualities. This is where Korolev’s vocals can become really irritating each time you need to replay the album. The best music comes in the last three tracks which are the most varied, including as they do some beautiful acoustic melodies played on folk-like stringed and woodwind instruments and sometimes also featuring a slower pace and more relaxed music. With a slower pace the rousing melodies at last get their moment to shine with all their inherent martial drama and intense emotion.

If they can turn down the speedometer a notch and perhaps consider varying their vocal style, Passéisme could well be unstoppable in their march to French … er, Russian underground black metal domination. The musicians’ song-writing and playing skills are good and their energy and enthusiasm show ambition in abundance.