The French melodic Black Metal band Seth are back with “La Morsure du Christ“ (The Bite of Christ). This new effort is both a return after almost 10 years without releasing new material and a visitation back to their original sound from the late 1990s. But it is neither a ‘come-back,’ nor is it a mere copy of what they used to be. But let’s start with a little History.
The melodic Black Metal that wouldn’t die
The year is 1998 and the short years of the glory of melodic Black Metal are about to end. This sub-genre was born as part of the Second Wave of Black Metal and had become intensely popular, raising Black Metal from the underground – which would make it very unpopular among the more orthodox, Trve and Kvlt Black-metalheads. A few bands became the spearheads of melodic Black Metal, and after 1998 they will all soon leave this style. Emperor will start turning too progressive, Cradle of Filth too goth, Dimmu Borgir too symphonic and, for example, Gehenna will return to more brutal roots.
The hundreds of bands that spontaneously appeared following the hype will soon after disappear or change radically in the search of an individual sound. There was quite a lot of rubbish among those bands, but there was also some amazing talent. Seth belong definitively to the latter.
Hailing from Bordeaux, which is not far away from where I as born, this new band got my interest from the very beginning. On top of that, they had decided to sing in French. The stupid cliché wants it to be the “language of love,” but there is something absolutely fitting for mid-tempo melodic Black Metal in how French words slither. The band released their first album, “Les Blessures de l’Ame“ (The Wounds of the Soul), in a back-then small, underground French label known as Season of Mist. Bloody hell! The album is a masterpiece for the ages. It can really stand its ground when compared with releases such Cradle of Filth‘s “Dusk and Her Embrace“ or Dimmu Borgir “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant“. And, in comparison with other bands from back then, Seth showed a rather individual sound.
But the evolution in the Black Metal scene took them away from the path they started. For their next album they left Season of Mist and joined Osmose Productions – a label that was paramount to everything Black Metal in the 1990s, but will soon start decaying after them, releasing less and less relevant music and with just re-releases, Impaled Nazarene and Bütcher as memorable productions nowadays. They also abandoned melodic Black Metal going more and more into an experimental quest that reminds a bit of what post-“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas“-Mayhem had done. The records “The Excellence“ (2000), “Divine-X“ (2002) and “Era-Decay“ (2004) are good works that would surely have deserved more attention. Their weak spot is maybe that it really feels like the band was desperately trying to make something new, when they already had done something unique with their debut. Then came a long silence, and then, in 2013, “The Howling Spirit“ they are back with Season of Mist. That album surprised me as a step in the right direction towards the old greatness, mixed with some elements of what was at the point and still is en-vogue today in the French Black Metal scene. I was expecting something to come after that but… nope. It was almost as if they had tried one last time and left.
In 2018 Seth reunited for live performances commemorating the 20th anniversary of “Les Belssured de l’Ame.” There is a worthy live recording of these shows released by the label Les Acteurs de l’Ombre. This reunion apparently woke up something in the band. Earlier this year, Season of Mist announced a brand new album by Seth. They promised it will be a follow-up to their debut. I was excited but also feared Seth may have gone the lazy mile and simply repackaged old ideas to sell to a few fans like me. So, what is it like?
Seth – ing cathedrals on fire
First of all, one has to admire the cover of “La Morsure du Christ.” The cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is burning. Church burnings are probably the oldest hat when it comes to Black Metal. Despite that, the burning of Notre-Dame on April the 15th 2019 was a worldwide cultural shock. This gives the cover a truly blasphemous character. It is a bold move for a French band and I can’t wait to see some reactions to my new Seth shirt. The malicious joke goes on in the album with the song titled “Ex-Cathedral“ and also with the inclusion of a large box of matches as a goodie with the limited edition of the record. I have to admit that it takes some special talent for a Black Metal band to make me laugh, as long as it is not because of some goofy and cheesy attempt at being evil. Major points to Seth for doing so.
But what about the music? It is to some extent a blast from the past. But is it a good or a bad one? The basics are really the ones from 1998: Mid-tempo meets blast-beats, rather organic-sounding Keyboards that create atmosphere without burying the riffing guitars, breaks that create tension without being those eternal intermezzos other melodic Black Metal bands would include to make their albums last one hour, smart song writing that is neither tedious nor really experimental, beautifully written lyrics, and the whole thing packed with a production that is clean without being sterile. Given that 23 years have passed since their debut, it is quite logical that the members of Seth (both original and new) have become better at their instruments, allowing for a better and more complex performance than on “Les Blessures de l’Ame.” Also obvious, Season of Mist are no longer the small underground label they were in 1998, and they could pay for a pretty impressive production. Theses are two of the elements that make this album sound new and fresh.
Seths Black Metal in 2021 focuses on the epic side of things. It is more blasphemic than it is brutal. The darkness it emanates is beautiful rather than rotten. The dissonances that they included in their sound following the path of Mayhem are no more. The clear and roomy production allows for the virtuous musicianship to shine. The whole thing sounds dynamic, even catchy at moments, with some stellar riffing and extremely well crafted arrangements. The diversity in the guitar sounds and specially in the keyboards and electronica give life to the music, that keeps nevertheless its consistency. The songs have been composed with their own character each, contributing to a very well balanced album. You don’t get that one or two minute Punk-rock song to sing along followed by a 20 minute long dark ambient piece. If you feel like listening to this album, you’ll probably never skip a song, because each has its memorable aspects. And then there is the diversity of the vocals, that are a very important part of the music. They are dead serious, used in amazingly well built lines that contribute to making this album so beautifully dynamic.
It appears as if Seth have intentionally taken the spirit of 1998 and formed it into a very 2021 album. Because “La Morsure du Christ“ sounds very modern despite it’s old-school heart. It triumphantly brings the music I loved as a kid into the present. It should make nostalgic old farts like me happy, while having the potential of convincing younger listeners of its quality. Now, is it a closing chapter or the rebirth of a tradition? Time will tell. The only thing that matters right now is that it is a magnificent piece of black art. As you may all learn from the lyrics of the song “Métal Noir“ (Black Metal), the French words for “Glory“ and “Black,“ do rhyme.
Rating – 4.666/5