Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records
Rooted in the death-doom sounds of old, the music of Norilsk is that of cold spirits and desolate nights. Though not a concept album per se, Le Passage des Glaciers none-the-less feels as if it is telling a story of mourning and loss through its unfolding soundscapes. This is a journey in to the depths of winter, where the snow soon covers any traces that you ever dared ventured in to these realms. As emotionally crushing as it is musically, this is a difficult journey, but one that has much to recommend about it.
Whilst many practitioners of death-doom understand the importance of heaviness in being successful, a smaller number seem to grasp how vital a sense of melody is to ensuring that the listener stays engaged over the course of an album. That’s a lesson that Norilsk quickly demonstrate that they have learnt, with first track proper (after opener ‘Midnight Sun’), ‘Le puits de l’oubli’ as notable for its cold, emotionally charged melodies as it is the crushing riffs and powerful vocals. Likewise, there is a deftness to the drums at key moments that many bands should take note of; knowing when to ease off is as important as knowing when to batter the listener in to submission, and this songwriting intelligence is present throughout Le Passage des Glaciers.
It’s really remarkable how well Norilsk combine these different elements together, but it’s also notable that they do so in such individual style. For sure, the DNA of their inspirations can be found threaded through Le Passage des Glaciers – with early Paradise Lost and Katatonia being most prevalent, and the emotional heft of ‘Namolennye’, and the closing guitar solo during ‘Noirceur interieure’, is similar to that summoned by Pallbearer – but over the course of the album, Norilsk manage to take these inspirations and forge something singular, that could not be mistaken for any of these bands. The addition of blackened doom elements on some tracks, such as ‘La voie des morts’, also helps with this, adding an extra dimension to a record that is already rich in character and sound.
It should be noted though, that Le Passage des Glaciers is very much an album that is best served by giving it your undivided attention. Whilst it may not be a concept album in terms of a running narrative, there is still a sense of growth and story-telling that unfurls over the course of the album, meaning that treating a track in isolation will rob it of much of its power. This is an album in the classic sense, where the running order is as important as the actual music itself, and where it is at its best and most rewarding when given the time and space it deserves. At just under 45 minutes in length it may not ask much, but such is its emotional and musical power that it feels much longer than this, and by the end of the album, a sense of emotional exhaustion may set in; but also one of catharsis, of negativity faced and conquered, of an untamed and hostile land not only survived, but mastered. It may require a listen or two to get the most out of, but no journey worth undertaking was ever done so quickly.
All of which makes Le Passage des Glaciers feel like an album perfectly suited to these cold, winter nights; something to spend quality time with as the nights draw in, with the outside world rendered an after-thought as you lose yourself within the ice-cold wilderness on display here. Intelligent, emotionally charged, and highly rewarding, Le Passage des Glaciers is simply wonderful.