Abreaction (n): the expression and consequent release of a previously repressed emotion, achieved through reliving the experience that caused it (typically through hypnosis or suggestion).
With a ferocious blend of black metal, death metal and several other malign musical influences, France’s Svart Crown are back with a long-awaited new album, aptly titled Abreaction. That psychoanalytical title reveals much of the drive behind the record, even if the songs and aesthetic take much of their inspiration from voodoo and African tribal spirituality, the band seemingly more concerned with externalising metaphorical demons than real ones…
“The title is definitely about exorcising your inner demons, and it was very cathartic to make this album,” confirms straight- talking vocalist and guitarist JB Le Bail. “It’s been kind of a ‘therapy’ doing this, so that’s the concept behind the title. I’m not a very spiritual person – I’m quite pragmatic and both myself and the band have always been more focused on the human aspect. For example, on this album we are using a theme like voodoo and African ritual stuff, but a second reading could be more personal, something that I experienced by myself.”
It’s been four years since the release of their previous album, Profane – no small amount of time in today’s increasingly fast-moving scene – and far from sitting idle, the group devoted much of that time to touring, playing with the likes of Deicide and Marduk and exploring Europe, the UK, Japan and the United States. In the process they earned themselves a contract with Century Media, their biggest label to date, but also faced a number of significant challenges, not least a sizeable lineup change. As JB explains, this was a result of the many all-too-familiar challenges that face even successful extreme metal bands in an increasingly cash-starved industry.
“It’s very difficult for bands our size,” he begins. “We are not big enough to make a living just from music, but not small enough to have regular day jobs, because we are on tour for three months of the year. It is the most difficult stage and that is why two people left the band; it was too hard to combine the touring aspect with the rest of life. The ultimate goal would be to make a living from Svart Crown, but we don’t want to make any compromises with the music – I don’t want to make something ‘easier’ to get a larger crowd. And we are touring with death or black metal bands that make a living from metal and sometimes you can see that some of them are doing it for so long now – playing the same clubs for 25 years – that they are bored, and we don’t want that.”
Such challenges have, perhaps understandably, served to harden the band’s resolve and the result is a tempering of the searing aggression of their earlier material with a greater complexity and a more brooding, cold feeling. Having “reached the limit of what could be done in terms of ferocity and dissonance” with Profane, Abreaction is clearly an ambitious work. Recorded over a month (at the Studio Sainte-Marthe in Paris, a studio the band used previously) it introduces a more atmospheric approach and some sinister, ritualistic overtones that mirror the album concept in a suitably dark manner. That said, the band’s more rational and psychoanalytical leanings set them apart from the current obsession with occultism that is evident in today’s extreme metal scene – a point on which JB is more than aware. As it turns out, it is not just the thematic but musical inspirations that set him apart from many of his peers.
“I don’t know what to think about it,” he replies thoughtfully. “These days every band is calling their shows a ‘ritual’, even some of the bands in France we are friends with. I can understand and we like the ritualistic aspects of the music, but I don’t see Svart Crown as taking too much part in that. We take part in the parts we like and leave the rest. I think even on the new album with all the atmospheric parts people could be reminded of [enigmatic Polish black/doom act] Batushka, but although I respect them I don’t listen to that. Honestly, I wasn’t that much inspired by extreme metal in general as I was a few years ago – it was more artists like Wovenhand, Chelsea Wolfe and Wardruna, and I think we took more inspiration from them than all the ritualistic bands.”
Though obviously rooted in black/death metal, Svart Crown are an ambitious band, both in terms of their career and their musical evolution. Hesitant to accept any of the stylistic and cultural limitations of the underground scene, they share the approach of many of their countrymen in France, who knit together various sonic strands to create a work that is both complex yet also stirring and epic.
“The main thing when I created the band was to not have any limits in terms of genre,” JB recalls. “When we came out everyone was talking about ‘true black metal’ and you had to do it in a certain way, otherwise it was not black metal anymore. I was really enjoying black metal in this period but I am a fan of metal in general and also hardcore, post-hardcore, doom, sludge… so everything I think is pertinent to the band I try to incorporate into our music. I think it is the same with Deathspell Omega. They were into black metal but then I guess they discovered Neurosis and Dillinger Escape Plan and they thought that it was quite interesting to incorporate elements of this music. This also be might be true of Gojira, who were big Morbid Angel fans and later put in these Neurosis and Opeth touches, and now you can see they are also into rock and stuff like that. So I think in France it’s really eclectic; we like different kinds of genres and musically we like to mix this together and create something really unique.”
ABREACTION IS OUT NOW VIA CENTURY MEDIA