Occupying the extreme fringes of the black metal spectrum where route one blasting and hymns to the horned one are de rigueur, French three-piece Neige Morte (Dead Snow) are in no hurry to make friends or respect convention. Their second album “Bicephaale”, asides from being unpronounceable, is a challenging and often frustrating listen where the rug is pulled out from under your feet so many times the only option is to lie there and take it, regardless of whether or not you’re enjoying yourself.
The ten-minute opening track ‘500 Jours de Haine’ (‘500 Days of Hate’) begins with an odd looping melody before launching into an incredibly dense wall of noise that recalls Darkthrone before they gained a sense of humour. This eventually burns itself out and the track quietens dramatically before settling into an uneasy ambient mode similar to folk n’ rune obsessives Wardruna, but with the added danger of a treble-heavy bassline and the deranged howls of vocalist XT lurking in the background. As album openers go, it’s a lengthy and intense trial period for those new to Neige Morte, and if you’re still with us the rest of the album should be a breeze right?
Unfortunately it was never going to be as easy as that. ‘Death Shall Have No Dominion’ is borderline unlistenable, and not in a good way. Here XT attempts some lacklustre death growls while the noodling/fine tuning/blasting sections all have the air of on the spot improvisation and should have been left in the rehearsal room. Things improve slightly on the black metal/post punk dirge of ‘Eaters of Worlds’ as at least the timing isn’t all over the place but the feeling that this has just been thrown together on the spot persists and it soon begins to grate.
The ambient drone of ‘Plenitude’ is much better, evoking the feelings of solitude and melancholy that were captured on early Burzum recordings while ‘…Et Vacuite du Combat’ attempts to cram as many of the earlier ideas into nearly nine minutes as possible, which is far more miss than hit as the track is robbed of momentum and comes across as a derivative Deathspell Omega knock-off with only tiny hints of the horror and unease that they possess.
While there is undeniably some twisted talent at work on “Bichepaale’, it remains just out of reach of those who at least require a shred of convention in their music. The frequent improvised quieter sections are pointless, low on inspiration and add nothing to the faster and more abrasive sections. Feelings of unease and disquiet are common but so are feelings of disappointment and frustration that the band appears to be opting for a ‘this’ll do’ mindset. “Bichepaale” may well be a grower for those who can tolerate it but many will wish the band had tried a bit harder.