Back with a fairly late review of last year’s excellent record “False Highs, True Lows” by the French black metal band Plebeian Grandstand. False Highs, True Lows is one of the great metal albums of 2016. This raging cacophony of violent negativity is almost too much to take in on one listen, and certainly demands repeated, careful listens with an open mind. The core of this French band’s sound draws on the legacy of their country’s vibrant black metal scene, but despite its concise runtime, the band also explore a surprisingly diverse range of musical textures and forms from raw, harsh noise and thundering beats to drone metal. In the hands of Plebeian Grandstand, guitars are turned into contorted, terrifying instruments; the chaotic, dissonant chords and riffs turn order into chaos and then both are lost to the swirling madness at the heart of this record. This extreme sensibility is compounded by the frenetic blastbeats and unpredictable fills, as well as the unhinged vocal-work of Adrien Broué.
The album was clearly thoughtfully conceived from start to finish, such that while the core of the album is comprised of the more straightforward black metal songs such as the aggressive “Low Empire”, the menacing “Tributes and Oblivion”, dirge-like “Oculi Lac” and mind-bending “Eros Culture”, these are also complemented by more experimental pieces. The brief opener “Mal du siècle” (French: Evil of the century) sets the album’s consistently dark tone, while the harsh noise, rumbling bass, and jarring feedback of interlude “Mineral Tears” neatly sets up the droning weight of “Oculi Lac”. And on “Tame the Shapes”, the band construct an imposing wall of dissonant, reverb-heavy drone metal, drenched in noise and feedback, which reaches its crescendo at the end. The album ends with “Eros Culture”, perhaps my favourite song on the album, a passionate, twisted animal of a track, which concludes with a single incredibly eerie, dissonant riff played over the relentless blastbeats, growing louder and noisier until the track comes to an abrupt close.
“False Highs, True Lows” is one of the most aggressively negative, nightmarish records you’ll ever have the pleasure of hearing. It embeds itself in your head and stays there, inflicting its malicious energies on the listener long after they have put the album aside. And yet there is something beautiful and fascinating about the complexity and thoughtfulness of this record, that inspires a kind of morbid fascination. Repeated listens expose new, darker depths to one of 2016’s finest metal albums.