It’s always a cool thing when expectations for a country’s metal scene are thrown by the wayside with the arrival of an album. In the case of the French outfit Verdun, their first full-length (following 2012’s The Cosmic Escape of Admiral Masuka EP) The Eternal Drift’s Canticles is quite the opposite of what we normally expect to come from France. In a country that is often recognized for its boundary-bending black metal, Verdun stick to a tried-and-true template of doom/sludge metal with occasional flourishes of stoner vibes ala Electric Wizard. While it has some really strong moments, The Eternal Drift’s Canticles primary weakness is one that plagues many other sludge acts – not knowing when to let an idea go and move on from it.
For the record, and to start on a positive note, the release as a whole is solid. Verdun boast a strong sense of balancing tense discordance against more melodic moments and have an ear for dynamics that many bands of their sort are absolutely clueless about. The opening track, “Mankind Seppuku,” when it finally gets going, morphs from explosive, pummeling sludge into something more nuanced and melodic as a clean guitar arpeggio dances over top of a bruising riff, and “Glowing Shadows” takes some detours into trippy territory with a flanged-out, modulator-soaked guitar opening before launching into the album’s strongest and most atmospheric passage. “Dark Matter Crisis” is the most compelling tracks, climaxing in a monolithic wall of Neurosis-like fervor with layered drums, tremolo-picked echoing leads and a battering ram intensity. It’s on closing track “Jupiter’s Coven” when more of the stoner influence comes to the forefront – these riffs are straight out of the playbook of Dopethrone but stretched out even more, leaving room for the gruff hardcore shouts to take the helm. It’s a rather distinct vibe from the album’s remainder, and the Pallbearer-like section of the second half caps off the album quite wonderfully, replete with droning melodic leads.
The Achille’s hell of Verdun, then, is that, while they know how to integrate varying shades of doom and gloom into their sound, there’s little done in the way of editing or maintaining momentum. Once the songs finally do get going, they’re generally good: “Mankind Seppuku” smartly uses chanting clean vocals to complement a bleak, industrial-sounding riff, but the downside is that this is literally the only riff you hear for the first three minutes before any change happens. The reprisal of the clean guitars goes for a while before a lead is introduced, and then proceeds to go on drilling that lead into the ground. “Self-Inflicted Mutilation” is probably the worst offender in this regard, though, as an overly long sample is straddled alongside a pedestrian doom riff that loses steam by the time the rest of the band kicks in. Had each of these songs been 2-3 minutes shorter, the impact would be far greater; a good idea only stays a good idea if properly executed, and that is the main fault of The Eternal Drift’s Canticles. The compositions themselves are clearly well put together, but many of the patterns within are stretched beyond their welcome. Additionally, the hardcore barks of the vocals are at times fitting and others not so much. For every gravelly, hoarse bark that is positively fantastic, there are five strained yells that are unintentionally comical (insert arbitrary joke about constipated screamers here).
On the whole, The Eternal Drift’s Canticles is a good-to-solid hardcore-soaked dose of sludge metal that is taken down a few notches only by, ironically, its ambition to be emotionally crushing. With some more concise choices in songwriting and execution, though, Verdun could be excellent, and their debut has pricked my ears to keep me curious for their future.
The Eternal Drift’s Canticles will be released on 04.20.2016 (of course it is) through a co-release of Head Records, Throatuiner Records, and Lost Pilgrims Records and is available for pre-order on CD and LP. For more information on Verdun, visit their official website or Facebook page.