December is nearly upon us, and how the year has flown by. Looking back, one is bound to notice what a fantastic year 2017 has been for doom metal and its offshoot sub-genres. From the psychedelia of Elder over Bell Witch’s haunting masterpiece Mirror Reaper to the crushing heaviness of Spectral Voice, this year has indeed seen many truly outstanding doom albums; and now, we can add Le Passage des Glaciers by Norilsk to the list.
Le Passage des Glaciers is the sophomore album by the Canadian-French duo Norilsk, who return after a gap of two years; their beautiful debut The Idea of North came out in 2015. With the name Norilsk being derived from a city in the Siberian region of Russia, the band’s music does justice to the album’s title, as it presents a gloomy, desolate and cold landscape over the eight songs. Sticking to the old-school formula of atmospheric death-doom metal, and taking inspiration from legends such as My Dying Bride and early Katatonia, Norilsk build their own footing by good pacing and variation throughout the album, which makes the 45-minute runtime of the album pass quickly.
What is evident about Le Passage des Glaciers right off the bat is that the band has abandonded the harsher, sludgier side of their music found on The Idea of North in favor of a more melodic song structure. “Le puits de l’oubli” captivates the listener early on, as the track takes one through a perfect amalgamation of heavy, chaotic moments and slower melodic interludes. These transitions never come across as forced or awkward, as the musicianship of Nic Miquelon and Nick Richer truly shines in such moments. “Namolennye” feels like a page from the iconic Turn Loose the Swans that was long forgotten, Miquelon’s work on the bass shining particularly bright throughout the track.
With the lyrics being in French, the lyrical themes remain mysteriously shrouded (at least for many). But midway through the album, the upbeat track “Ghost of Loss (Passage pt. I)” quickly catches one’s attention with its grieving lyrics. The deep, rumbling guest vocals of Pim Blankestein (of Officium Triste) provide a new edge to Le Passage…, as the quickened pace helps in becoming truly engrossed with the album, even if it’s at the most subconscious level. When “L’érosion (Passage pt. II)” sees the band dabble with minimalistic touches of post-rock sounds, their core essence nevertheless retains the atmospheric doom flavor. The subtle outro in “Ellesmere” brings an amazing balance, as the vocals fade before each instrument comes to a slow, tepid halt.
To summarise it all, Le Passage des Glaciers is a tribute to the cold dry lands of the north. Yes, the glaciers are melting, and the temperatures are soaring, but deep in the landlocked barren lands Norilsk have managed to carve out a sonic beauty that reveals its subtle nuances when the listeners are drawn in. Moreover, praise must go to Mike Bond, as the mixing and mastering on Le Passage des Glaciers truly allows the duo behind Norilsk to shine. Despite the clean, modern production, the music retains its roughness and raw charm.
Notable Tracks: “Le puits de l’oubli”; “Ghost of Loss (Passage pt. I)”; “Noirceur intérieure”
FFO: My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Katatonia