Pensees Nocturnes - Nom d'une Pipe!
Les Acteurs de L'Ombre
Black Metal/Orchestral/Jazz
9 songs (50:04)
Release year: 2013
Official Myspace, Les Acteurs de L'Ombre
Reviewed by Charles
Nom du’une Pipe! is, if my new French vocabulary app is to be trusted, French for ‘flipping heck!’- or alternatively ‘oh crumbs!’ Fitting that Pensees Nocturnes should choose such an antiquated and non-sacrilegious expression of annoyance as an album title as opposed to, say, Vomitous Nunshagging Sickpuke or something else more in common with today’s black metal mainstream. After all, this project, both sonically and in spirit, has spiralled far, far away from standard blackened practice. Certainly the debut, Vacuum, was a grim curiosity which quite effectively spun together depressive black metal with classical and blues influences. But on the second record, Grotesque, Vaerohn really set out in his own singular direction. His music became flamboyant and showy, filled with grandiose orchestral swells and dramatic samples. Mixed with the kind of obnoxiously misshapen black metal in which Pensees Nocturnes specialises, the album was (as the title suggested) a darkly entertaining freakshow. I hesitate to play on national stereotypes, but it even featured some bucolic accordion soloing that practically screamed “this is the work of a kooky Frenchman”.

I missed the third record but, thanks to my day job requiring me to bone up on French politics and society, I have been listening to Nom d’une Pipe! with renewed fascination. I’m not sure what it takes to make something “very French”, but whatever it is, this album has it. In the accompanying booklet, all the song titles are written in the kind of typeface that graces the entryway to Café Rouge (said the English Philistine). More importantly, it also appears full of thematic mysteries that I am not remotely qualified to decipher. Why, for example, does it begin with a woman’s voice which- as even my pathetic French skills can decipher- grandly informs the listener that “we are about to sing the national anthem for our President, Nicholas Sarkozy”? Why does this begin a track whose title means (uh, I think) “he ate the sun”? The pervading sense of bafflement, in my view, definitely fits with the musical character of Vaerohn’s work and as a result this album has grabbed me in a way that Grotesque didn’t; so bizarre, and so obnoxiously tongue-in-cheek.

So, what is going on musically? Those with some experience of Pensees Nocturnes (barring Vacuum) will not be surprised by its feverish diversity and theatrical delivery. The addition of various new instrumentalists has expanded the musical palette still further, but in essence Nom d’une Pipe! continues with the same weaving together of rambunctious orchestral instrumentation and flatulent black metal. Like on Grotesque, the former element is usually employed in a way that is intensely evocative of a rowdy early-20th century theatre; one catering primarily for the baser pursuits of the lower orders. The latter element is equally bawdy, and sometimes utterly horrible: Vaerohn’s tortured vocals meld with lumbering, shapeless riffs in which it is frequently hard to discern hooks- rather, the effect is a lurching mass of electric sound that frolics obscenely with strings and saxophones. Hence, I imagine that those who aren’t prepared to make the “buy-in” will be put off by the black metal elements here- because they don’t really riff in any recogniseable way.

And, of course, multitudinous other ideas are hurled raucously in. Le Marionettiste, for example, diverts into a ska section which seems like an attempt to channel Ghost Town by The Specials; lacking only a Jamaican man to eulogise the closure of local youth clubs. Then, there is the mocking Gallic jazz of L’Androgyne, featuring an accordion jamming with a ribald muted trombone. The overall result is music that is so odd and ever-changing that it often feels like listening to an ensemble warming up: fragments of something-or-other emerge, before concentration is lost and ideas dissolve into disparate tinkering. But within this disorientation there are also moments of demented potency, like the danceable rhythms and raucous chanteuse-ing that prances alongside gnarly black metal blasting in Le Berger or the tighter meshing of blackened and orchestral elements on La Chimere (the latter suggests a bizarre parody of more straight-faced symphonic black metal). All in all, a fucking weird record which, in its baffling grandiosity, is probably my favourite Pensees Nocturnes album to date.

Killing Songs :
Le Marionettiste, Le Berger
Charles quoted 83 / 100
Other albums by Pensees Nocturnes that we have reviewed:
Pensees Nocturnes - Grand Guignol Orchestra reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Pensees Nocturnes - Grotesque reviewed by Charles and quoted 88 / 100
Pensees Nocturnes - Vacuum reviewed by Charles and quoted 84 / 100
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