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Allelic - A Contre Vent

A Contre Vent
by Kira Schlechter at 24 May 2020, 4:58 AM

The Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist known as P.I. seems to be uninterested in taking the easy road. His latest effort, “A contre vent,” is certainly a unique listen. It’s the follow-up to “The Smoke of Atavistic Fires,” released in 2018; a two-song EP “Reverberations” also came out that year. “A contre vent” translates to “against the wind”; according to the Bandcamp bio, this is a story of a metaphoric Wolf and the turning of the seasons, the attuning of us with nature, as it says:

“…we all have been sown unto this Earth, a land of dichotomous vileness and beauty. We have been gifted the will to mutate the soil that has been bestowed upon us in the way we truly desire. As we nourish the ground, our roots will strengthen and shape the very garden we decide to germinate and flourish in. In deprived conditions, our hearts and leaves will wither and die. Like the Wolf, listen to the wind that carries the voice of your soul, drink from the river that quenches the thirst of the heart and forge your own path unto this diverse landscape we have fortuitously been given for aeons to come, shall we choose to nurture it.”

Since this is mostly an instrumental album – and what vocals there are are sung in French – it’s admittedly a little difficult to ascertain that stated theme at any point throughout. These are long tracks, or “figures” as P.I. calls them, the shortest clocking in at about six minutes, and very experimental – don’t expect much structure or many definitive melodies or tempos. They are soundscapes really, going back and forth from grooves, feels, instrumentations, and even keys within the same piece – call it black metal New Age or meditation music.

“A l’anaphase de nos chemins” (rough translation, “to the anaphase of our paths,” anaphase being a part of cell division) opens the album with acoustic guitar, flute, and very gentle drumming, with the spoons providing the initial beat. Then it gets surprisingly heavy, if a bit chaotic – there’s no real melody or groove to latch on to and there’s a mind-boggling amount happening. A pause, then into a haunting loon’s crying accompanied by an acoustic guitar and that’s beautiful, especially when a cello is added. The 6/8 tempo throughout makes sense, but it does get chaotic again before it heads into a fairly straight-ahead metal groove. It revisits the beginning part, with acoustic, spoons, and flute, and that wraps things up well.

P.I.’s vocals throughout are a mix of chanting, whispering, and growling and are buried so deep in the mix as to nearly be an afterthought. Despite the black metal bent here, the mix overall needs a bit more depth and dimension, particularly with the vocals. “La rupture des chaines” (“breaking chains,” again rough translation), at almost 11 minutes, begins with hunder, rain, and guitar before the actual body of the piece kicks in. The slower section is contemplative and moody, added to by the keyboard programming, then it gets atonal with the guitar. Tribal drumming adds suspense and pushes and pulls the rhythm, and the faint touches of acoustic lighten it a little. Some of the instrumental portions are very METALLICA-sounding guitar wise, but you just wish you’d have something to latch onto – a melody, a riff, a tempo – if we’re investing all this time in a piece. There’s just so much going on that it’s sometimes hard to focus even to make a constructive comment, although the end is lovely and reprises some of the earlier familiar themes.

“L'éveil et la contemplation” (or “awakening and contemplation”) again starts acoustically, with just guitar and cajon (or box drum) and it’s beautifully played. Adding the flute is an effective touch, and the brief little taps on the cajon are nicely primitive. There’s a clear melody in both the guitar and the flute on which to focus. It changes almost imperceptibly in the second third of the piece, with more strumming-style guitar (with a French or even Latin feel) and more insistent drumming. The acoustic, and the swaths of electric guitar, echo that initial melody. This transition makes sense because it builds in intensity for a reason and maintains a musical theme. The final third backs off again to almost a mix of the two previous movements, stripped to a few instruments and adding cello, and then ending with birdsong and more acoustic. It’s definitely the most listenable piece because again it makes sense and has a structure.

“Des âmes tissées sur Terre” (or “souls woven on earth”), all 12-plus minutes of it, has an initial tempo, but again it gets frenetic and doesn’t settle into anything for long. It goes into an acoustic bit for a second, then back to the opening idea (with the addition of flute and screamed vocals), then into another acoustic section. These are notable not because they’re softer or a relief, but because they’re more coherent and better played. Here we also add a nice swinging groove and some hypnotic electric before going back into the chaotic part again – and back yet again. At the halfway mark, it goes into a clogging rhythm, hand claps and tapping feet and all, paired with harmonic singing. It’s very folk-influenced, obviously, and when it adds acoustic guitar and harmonica to that rhythm, it’s terrific. But don’t get used to it, because back to black metal we go, and you find yourself asking why. There is a coherent guitar melody here and precise drumming and it does stay that way til the end.

One-person projects are admirable, but it usually means you don’t have a third objective editing voice, which seems to be the case here. While I don’t want to stand in the way of someone’s obviously avant-garde creative vision, there’s always a place for restraint and listenability. This album would cater to a very specific – and very patient – audience. It definitely spins your head around, that’s for sure.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 7
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

1. A l’anaphase de nos chemins
2. La rupture des chaines
3. L’eveil et la contemplation
4. Des âmes tissées sur Terre
P.I. - Vocals, Guitar, Feet Percussion, Wooden Spoons, Harmonica, Programming
Record Label: Independent


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