The French don’t get the credit they deserve when it comes to pushing the boundaries of extreme metal. Sure, plenty of bands get their dues here and there, but how often do you read or hear about the virtues and quality of French metal, specifically when it comes to progressive, experimental, and avant-garde music. The country is home to some of the best metal acts around; Blut Aus Nord, Peste Noire, Kronos, Benighted, and my personal favorites, Deathspell Omega and Gojira all call France home. Hell, even their French-Canadian cousins create some of the best metal around, evidenced by almighty acts like Voivod, Cryptopsy, and Gorguts, all of which hail from Quebec. Clearly, there’s something in the Foie Gras.
If one were to assign descriptors to the type of music each of the aforementioned acts write, words like complex, dense, and emotive immediately come to mind. Such words would also be the perfect way to describe yet another group of French metal masters, Gorod. In 2012, the quintet delivered their lauded opus, A Perfect Absolution, and are readying their next slab of tech death insanity with A Maze of Recycled Creeds.
Maze begins with a piano intro track, “Air de l’Ordre” which creates an airy, bright atmosphere that carries throughout the album. The entirety of Maze is defined by a clear, upbeat tone that has more in common with bands like Protest the Hero or Between the Buried and me than it does Gorguts or Necrophagist. Don’t take that to mean that Gorod has abandoned their tech death sound; Maze is a more streamlined package compared to their previous output, but is still very much the tech death we’ve come to expect from the band.
Despite being a complex record packed with technical instrumentation and compositions, Maze is a remarkably listenable and catchy record. Following the intro are the songs “Temple of the Art-god,” and “Celestial Nature,” two whirling tracks that display Mathieu Pascal and Nicolas Alberny’s melody- and groove-imbued guitar work. “The Mystic Triadof Artistry” is yet another guitar work showcase, with middle-east inspired riffs and cult chanting interspersed between expertly finger tapped melodies and arpeggios. In terms of production, there’s minimal distortion on the guitar tone. This opens up the mix, allowing the bass and guitars remain audible alongside each other. For example, “An Order to Reclaim,” one of the album’s slower paced bruiser, is defined by a gargantuan bass line that manages to remain audible throughout despite the dizzying skronky guitar riffs. All the while throughout these tracks, Julien Deyer’s varied vocal delivery adds further hooks and texture to the already infectious music. The only member of the band who hasn’t benefitted from the stripped-down production is drummer Karol Diers. The drum tone lacks weight, often resulting in the fills and lines to be drowned out at times. It’s a shame, because Dier is a damn great drumming, and while he shines on this record, it’s easy to get distracted by the more dominant elements of Maze’s sound.
Maze is a joyous, energetic, and dizzying record, but it isn’t perfect. The constant slew of jazzy fusion metal riffs is difficult to parse on the first listens. After multiple spins, the novelty of it all slowly begins to diminish, and the songs reveal themselves to be lacking ever so slightly in identity and staying power. The other problem with some moments on Maze meld together, while others are simply lost altogether by the album’s close. Finally, upon reflection of Gorod’s previous work, particularly the impeccable Transcendence EP and many of the experimental moments of A Perfect Absolution, Maze’s songs are streamlined to the point where they lack much of the experimental flair Gorod are known for. Aside from a few moments, such as the ska riffs on “From Passion to Holiness,” the album lacks the characteristic breaks of flamenco and jazz fusion that many listeners have come to expect. It’s also the first record to diverge from the concept albums of Gorod’s past, instead focusing on thematic identity rather than a complete story. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for some fans it may come as a disappointment.
Still, A Maze of Recycled Creeds is a fun record with remarkable staying power, even if some moments tends to float in one ear and out the other. It’s a damn fine example of what makes French metal so interesting and unique amid the global scene of extreme metal, and is a worthy addition to Gorod’s already outstanding career.