A warped circus tune played by drunken lunatics overlaid upon a steady martial drumbeat. This is perhaps the best way that I can describe the opening to Peste Noire's Lorraine Rehearsal LP, and, while the rest of the record doesn't quite live up to that level of madness, the introduction definitely sets the proper tone for the rest of the album.
Peste Noire's sound on this album is a unique one, both highly raw and highly melodic. The first song, "La Fin Del Secle" provides a good example for the songs of the A-side. After the unforgettable introduction, the song metamorphoses into a more typical black barrage, later followed by a rhythmic bridge and then some surprisingly melodic and
catchy riffing, with a couple of technical, albeit brief, solo parts thrown in there for good measure. The drummer is decent, but the vocalist, Famine, is excellent, providing vocals which resemble a cross between a typical growl and a more Burzum-like shriek. What's more, the bass is completely audible here and contributes noticeably to the music, a rarity in most black metal. That said, the music really belongs to the guitars. These absolutely command the attention; I often find myself concentrating solely on the riffs, forgetting that the vocals are even there. The complete absence of keyboards, along with a production that puts everything on a fairly even footing aurally, only furthers this guitar-based dominance. In fact, the production here is surprisingly clean, especially for a rehearsal; the aforementioned rawness derives principally from the heavy distortion used on the guitars.
The other highlight on this side of the album is the second track, "La Césarienne". It's worth noting that this is the only song written by the bassist, Neige, who fronts both Amesoeurs and Alcest. As one might expect given his track record with those groups, the song is excellent, although it has almost nothing in common with the typical Nordic sound. At times, the song almost sounds rockish, but it maintains a heavy, aggressive edge that keeps it within the realm of metal and well away from the cold calm found in Neige's other projects. The other two songs on this side have more of a traditional style, especially "Maleiçon". "Psaume IV" is a bit distinct, though, in its use of some more shoe-gazey elements in the construction of its riffs.
The B-side is a different beast entirely, comprised of a single twenty-minute track, "Phalènes Et Pestilence". The group recorded this song in a different session than the A-side, and it shows. The production is noticeably worse, with a significant amount of crackling overlaying the sound. The music remains easily audible, which is fortunate since it's outstanding, even more experimental and varied than that found on the first side. The track feels less like one continuous song, and more like a piece broken up into movements; a feeling accentuated by occasional pauses or sampled interludes. This leaves the group a fair amount of room to play around, and they take full advantage of it, switching from traditional black metal to pensive and folkish sections to parts that have an almost pop indie-rock vibe. One section even drops the guitars in favor of organ-like keyboards, marking one of the few times that instrument appears on the album.
Somehow, all of this holds together without a moment that sounds at all off or bland.
The quality of the music on the album is unquestionable, but the overall worth of the collection, which stands as a side release in Peste Noire's catalogue, is a bit less clear-cut. After all, the tracks on the A-side were later rerecorded and incorporated into Folkfuck Folie, Peste Noire's second full length album, and "Phalènes Et Pestilence" appears in its entirety on the group's demo collection, Mors Orbis Terrarum. While I can't speak to the worth of Mors Orbis Terrarum, I can say that I generally prefer the versions of the songs on the A-side to those on Folkfuck Folie; admittedly, both "Maleiçon" and "Psaume IV" are a bit improved on the full length, but the other two songs suffer from muddier production (this especially weakens the introductions to both songs) that puts the vocals too high in the mix, taking away from the effect of the guitars.
On the whole, I would say this album is definitely worth purchasing if you have access to a turntable and if you can find it--there are only 1000 copies out there, and it's becoming increasingly hard to find. Get it while you still can.