Year of No Light
he proliferation of Isis-alikes has reached epidemic proportions. Every time you turn around, there's another band with atmospheric riffs, eight-minute songs, understated artwork, and a beard (or two). It's easy to see why this sound has caught on: Black Sabbath, Godflesh, and Neurosis sound much less scary with more melody. French outfit Year of No Light is as guilty of imitation as any, but with only one album, the band has leapt to the fore of atmospheric metal, giving Isis themselves a run for their money. When not only Isis but also Jesu, Godflesh, and The Cure come to mind, an album deserves attention.
From the get-go, it's evident Year of No Light isn't just Isis, Jr. Whereas many bands of this ilk take forever to build up to anything notable, "Sélénite" starts the album straight off with solid chords that quickly mushroom into rich, melodic textures. For most bands, this density would be an endpoint, like a chorus or a climax. However, Year of No Light takes these textures and plays with them over time, gradually morphing melodies and swapping layers for new ones. "Tu as fait de moi un homme meilleur" does likewise, slowly turning a leisurely stroll into crashing waves of riffs in contrary motion.
The band isn't afraid to drive a good riff into your skull. "Traversée" is not only the album's highlight, but also nine of the best minutes in metal this year. The song essentially has two halves. The first meditates on huge, lumbering riffs topped by upper-register melodies, recalling Jesu's first album. The melodies (and their reverb) have a piquant yet distant quality reminiscent of The Cure. This isn't a unique trait; Agalloch, Insomnium, and Killswitch Engage, too, have draped anthemic melodies over emotive chords. But until now, no one has applied such melody so boldly to atmospheric metal.
Bands are ever-careful to build tension, but they seem to forget how to release. This song's release could cave in heads. After five minutes, the upper-register melodies darken to a single dissonant chord. The song then breaks down, the chord insistently chiming like a warning. Half a minute later, the hammer drops. Menacing, chugging riffs bruise the earth as the dissonant chord saws away up top. Eight neck-snapping bars later, earsplitting yet controlled feedback bleeds through: ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in Godflesh.
One of the album's strengths is its balance of violence and quiet. "Somnambule" starts as a hostile stomp, riveted into place by a strategically-tuned snare. But halfway through, it drops into beautiful shoegazer textures—imagine Kevin Shields turning the intro to U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" into his patented sheets of sound. In addition to buildups and breakdowns within songs, two ambient tracks help break up the album.
Nord isn't perfect. The screamed vocals mixed way back are straight out of Isis, and they're often superfluous (again with Isis). At an hour long, the album is almost too much of a good thing. By the time the flawlessly doomy finale, "La bouche de Vitus Bering," rolls around, the album feels like great sex that's gone on too long. However, these are merely rookie mistakes. On only its first album, Year of No Light has reached musical highs and lows that take bands entire careers to accomplish. This is a debut of incredible maturity, and one of the most moving albums of this year.