K Amon K – Arca Ende Aeterna

Black metal and I have an odd relationship. I generally can’t stomach “traditional” black metal. The more “kvlt” it is, the more it restricts itself to the conventions of the subgenre, the less interest I have. But add just a bit of other influences, and it makes the blast beats, tremolo guitars, and animalistic shrieks not just palatable but maybe even beautiful.

The members of K Amon K have been in France’s metal scene for over twenty years, knowing each other through other projects through the years. That experience is palpable on the disc, as they play through the eight songs with the kind of aptitude that is only earned through lived experience. These songs are focused in black metal, yes, but they are tinted by the popular movements that have informed metal in the last two decades. There are shades of churning doom metal, Neurosis-influenced post metal, anthemic heavy metal, and even some moments of progressive rock. The songs are long and winding, only three clocking in below seven minutes.

These extended runtimes are filled with dynamic shifts, lush ambient segues, and some absolutely moving passages. Opener “Le Bruit et l’Enfer” (“The Noise and Hell”) begins with machine-gun blast beats and shredded guitars before sighing into atmospheric noise. When the band finally returns to full volume, it’s with a triumphant chord progression that feels almost religious. “Voyageurs” follows a similar dynamic roadmap, injecting its quieter moments with a David Gilmour-esque guitar solo a la “Shine On You Crazy Diamonds.” The subdued “Voeu de Ténèbres” (Vow of Darkness) builds patiently on a single progression until it is interrupted by the catharsis of “Les Paroles s’envolent les Ecrits brûlent” (The Words Fly Away, the Writings Burn). Aggressive as that song is though, it features one of the most gorgeous bass lines I’ve heard in a long time.

Throughout the disc, K Amon K demonstrates just how powerful a subtle musical shift can be: drums shifting from double to half time, guitars slightly adjusting their strumming pattern, melodies jumping from one instrument to another. Gloomy synths soften even the harshest moments, adding a full atmosphere to the most jagged riffs.

And I have to confess: as much time as I spend listening to French black metal (and black metal adjacent subgenres), most of my awareness of that scene is filtered through the lens of Alcest and their myriad of side projects. But if K Amon K is any sort of sampler for the wealth to be found in non-Alcest-related French black metal, then it’s time for me to dive a bit deeper.

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