Sombres Forêts

Quintessence

82.5%
6 reviews

Quintessence reviews

78%
TheAbyssalArchivist on June 14th, 2017

Depressing as it can be, but his weakest release

Sombres Forêts is a Canadian one-man black metal band that can definitely fit into the whole "metal noir" scene of Quebec. Depressing atmosphere, ice-cold guitar riffs, tortured shrieks...it's taking the classic Norwegian sound but adding a little sprinkle of something new to the table. And this band starts off with a rather solid debut, even though after listening to the two follow-ups (as of this writing) it's clearly the weakest album he's done.

It's not really like anything on Quintessence is done wrong. In fact, the vast majority of elements in this album are spectacular. The guitar tone has an excellent raw-but-not-indiscernible sound that black metal loves, making just about every note heard with utmost clarity, surprising enough. There are plenty of interesting melodies, especially in the first proper song "Le royaume", whose ending reminds me strangely enough of Cradle of Filth. Occasionally some keyboards come in the background but they are used in an insanely minimal fashion, and quite frankly they're not needed. They're probably used the most prominently in the song "Vents des désespoirs", towards the ending. Annatar's vocals are spot-on in terms of black metal.

So what makes this album weak overall is a mixture of two main things: The best songs are the first three and while the actual performance is stellar, it's far from the most interesting and gets blown out of the water by both of Sombres Forêts' succeeding albums in terms of production, layering, and dynamics. I love acoustics in black metal but Quintessence is quite sparse in that department. HOWEVER these flaws can be easily overshadowed by how damn good the music actually is, so Quintessence has that going for it! Classic black metal from one of the most interesting places to spawn a black metal scene: if you're a fan of that old-school sound you'll love this!

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85%
dystopia4 on February 27th, 2013

A Successful Portrayal Of Nocturnal Landscapes

Although this Québecois one man black metal band often gets labelled depressive/suicidal black metal, the tag seems only partially accurate. The wintry nature-oriented atmosphere is the driving force behind the music. The hypnotic buzzsaw tremolo riffs are complimented with the occasional reverb-drenched arpeggio or ethereal ambient passage, culminating in a fantastic snapshot of the feeling of Québecois winter. I am currently living in Québec and it is snowing heavily as I type this, and this seems to perfectly capture the feeling of the forest during night that I can see outside my window. This album, taking a few cues from pre-incarceration Burzum, certainly has a depressive edge to it, but to simply label it as another depressive black metal album would be selling this release short.

The non metal breaks are crucial for maintaining both atmosphere and interest. While the black metal alone is very well done, these atmospheric sections allow the music to breathe. While minimal in nature, they successfully evoke images of twisting branches and heavy snow falling amidst the darkness. The droning tremolo riffs tend to blur together, creating a fluid dynamic. The drumming, while nothing mind blowing in itself, is a very good fit for this music. The drum tone is nice, clear but not overly polished. While simple, it often propels the music forward with it's minimalistic grace. The album is also mixed well, with the guitar not being much louder than the drums, allowing both to be heard clearly without drowning the other out.

Perhaps this release's biggest flaw is external to the album - while this release is great, the sophomore improves on just about every aspect of it. While expanding on the atmospheric passages, the following full length improves songwriting, adds more variety and features improved instrumentation. If not for this, I would find myself listening to Quintessence far more often than I currently do. While this album is very successful in it's atmosphere, in someways it seems like a stepping stone to what is to come. This is not to say this release is not worth listening to; I'd take it any day over your average black metal band, it's just that the next album takes what this album was doing and pushes it to the next level.

This album straddles the line between depressive and atmospheric black metal. While this release certainly evokes the forest at night above all else, currents of despair run through Sombres Forêts' sound. The howling shrieks, while not nearly as over the top as your average depressive black metal band, do draw certain parallels. The songs seem to blend together, which is not at all a detracting quality in this case. This is more about all the songs as a whole than it is about individual tracks. While the album largely does not deviate from it's formula, it does not wear it's welcome thin. Although not quite as good as what is to come, this is a successful portrayal of the Québecois forest at night.

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80%
Perplexed_Sjel on September 6th, 2009

Royaume De Glace Is Far More Quintessential.

As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be many differences between the two Sombres Forêts full-lengths and still, somehow, the allure of ‘Royaume De Glace’ is far stronger than that of ‘Quintessence’. It comes down to a simple matter of presence as one has more than the other and the minor differences between the two somehow manage to become important to the opinion of the listener as Annatar strives to create a similar feeling throughout both, but somehow they operate as individuals. It was a foolish mistake on my part to review ‘Royaume De Glace’ first, but I became so swept up in the material that I couldn’t hold back on my review. Though I had ‘Quintessence’ for some time before I heard ‘Royaume De Glace’, I never listened to it as intently as the latter and despite the fact that the two are closely related, Annatar somehow manages to portray his themes in a much more controlled manner. This could be due to the fact that ‘Royaume De Glace’ showcases a cleaner production style which affords the acoustics and keyboards much more room to manoeuvre, giving these once subtle elements of the soundscapes more presence, an idea that is striking on the sophomore given the mature approach which is often felt in the vocals too.

Taking the title track from ‘Royaume De Glace’ as an example, the bass is more impacting. Though it lightly sprinkles the underbelly with more flavour and texture, it still manages to play a pivotal role in the grand scheme of things as Annatar has become more productive with experience when it comes to simple matters like how to deal with song structures. The tips of the songs, like the aforementioned self-titled track, are also lightly doused in subtly symphonies courtesy of the keyboards and like poison darts, these pierce the heart even with a gentle sting, allowing the two most mesmerising factors, which are low lying, to become more affective in their approach. The bass is full of character, something which was perhaps lacking on ‘Quintessence’ though this wasn’t for lack of trying. As previously stated, the material is constructed in a similar fashion from one record to the next, but the production is where the methods seemed altered when they’re in fact the same. ‘Quintessence’ is a fattening dark chocolate whilst ‘Royaume De Glace’ is a lighter snack which doesn’t contain many saturated fats.

One is easier to digest than the other and although, after initial inspections, ‘Quintessence’ may seem easier to enjoy given its typically dark portrayal, ‘Royaume De Glace’ is more experimental with how it chooses to come across and in doing so, becomes more accessible due to a simple change in production. ‘Quintessence’ isn’t without its shining moments of intense glory, oh no, but it lacks the same amount of style as ‘Royaume De Glace’ in strange ways. In many ways, these records could be considered shocking, especially in comparison because they’re just so similar in sound and yet so far apart in appeal. The oddity that is ‘Quintessence’ isn’t a match for the challenging ‘Royaume De Glace’, which complies the best elements of the debut and uses them far more frequently than initially expected. Annatar, both as a vocalist and musician, has grow a lot since the early days of this band. As a one man act, he was always good at being able to manipulate the soundscapes to his advantage, but on ‘Royaume De Glace’, he took his abilities to another level and with the arrival of a collaborative band with Icare of Gris, things are about to get even better as he stretches his legs into the water, instead of dipping his toe as he did with this record in terms of creativity.

Many people see this Canadian band as a depressive black metal band, but I think the influences derail from this sub-genre and also take on board influences from the ambient and atmospheric sub-genres of black metal. The approach here is far more varied than just being able to lump it into one category. The distortion of the guitars, and the highly repetitious nature of them, suggests a depressive inspiration, like Burzum, as shown on songs like ‘Vents Des Désespoirs’, but the keyboards change the direction of the music, which was previously flowing towards a depressive end. Though it doesn’t entirely lack the best elements of the sophomore record, ‘Quintessence’ doesn’t choose to employ the elements that made the sophomore such a hit as much as the latter record does. The acoustics, for instance, are sparse here and Annatar leans heavily towards a distorted preference. Though the material, in its distorted form, is very well crafted, the experimental nature of the cleaner instrumentation on the more suitable clean base of ‘Royaume De Glace’ is more pleasing than what occurs here. Even Annatar’s vocals improve as he becomes more equipped to deal with the emotional strains of black metal. Though, oddly, this record is closely related to the sophomore, it still isn’t as gracious or inspiring. Still, it is very good for what it is. ‘Le Royaume’ is the highlight.

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92%
eiskristall on March 26th, 2008

Vents des désespoirs...

I don't think the term "suicidal" very appropriate. Sombres Forêts is of course an ode to depression, but also to the great mother nature too. It is also a synthesis of great Black Metal bands, in a perfect way. There is nothing in "Quintessence" that hasn't been heard before, but the conviction and the talent of Annatar can be felt all throughout the listening.

Concerning the influences, I would like to say Forgotten Woods (the lead on "Le Royaume", the arpeggios), early Satyricon (acoustic parts), Sterbend (even if it is very recent, probably not really an "influence", but a style very close in the epic and depressive approach), Burzum (for the keyboards parts), last-era Graveland and a touch of Xasthur (the mix/mastering).

The only bad thing are Annatar's vocals, which are too repetitive. A little bit more of clean voice would have been better (there's also a wonderful example on the final part of "Vents des désespoirs"). But, for all epic, nature-oriented BM fan, " Quintessence" is a perfect (and orthodox) album.

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75%
NausikaDalazBlindaz on March 19th, 2007

Debut album is interesting in parts

Not the most original album of its kind (depressed suicidal BM) but this is quite an interesting release in parts. Like many BM albums, "Quintessence" opens (but does not close) with a cold shivering blast of frosty wind from the icy northern regions of ... Quebec in Canada, actually, and from this western Hyperborean breath arises melancholy and melodic funereal BM with some Odinpop tendencies.

After the intro title piece comes "Le Royaume" ("The Kingdom") which has a slow majestic pace, a rich keyboard sound and distant agonised vocals touched with reverb. The guitar riffing isn't very remarkable until about halfway through when the riffs change to something a lot more memorable and lead guitar pushes in. We soon end up with a very solid and varied song full of grand but tragic dignity, comparable to the Australian funereal doom BM act Elysian Blaze but with a clearer and sharper sound.

"Vent Des desespoirs" ("Winds of despair") is appropriately desolate with more howling vocals and a pointillist guitar-playing approach very like that of Burzum on the "Filosofem" album. (Ain't hardly a BM act around these days not influenced in one way or another by Burzum.) Varied pace and catchy repetitive guitar riffs invite further comparison with Burzum's pop moments (think of the first three tracks on "Filosofem") but ponderous drumming, a clear production and echoing vocals add depth to the music and a forlorn kind of mood.

"Au Solstice De L'Hiver" ("At the Winter Solstice") starts off with a very powerful guitar riff that makes me think of the UK band Pink Floyd at their most early-seventies gloomy, and then the song goes into a very solemn doomy minimalist juggernaut trundle. Sole SF member Annatar's singing is really outstanding here: even though his harsh guttural howls are distant, they are very despairing and hopeless. The music is highly intense and emotional, and overwhelming in its sadness. The intro repeats later in the song, Graveland-style, in a devastating way that leads into the song's coda.

The next three tracks don't quite compare with the earlier pieces and are a bit same-ish. "Automne" has a Burzum-y feel in the driving rhythm which alternates with a more ponderous plodding beat; at this point you wonder whether SF man Annatar can offer anything different in the way of percussion and unfortunately he doesn't. He does bring in some acoustic guitar melodies which continue for some time before he chucks us back into a maelstrom of cascading noise guitar storms.

"L'Abime" ("The Abyss") features yet more tortured singing, bleedingly raw buzz guitars and doomy drumming. The keyboards which are of the choral angel washes kind are not very remarkable. As with "Automne" there is another section of acoustic guitar melody, quite repetitive and sounding a bit heavy-handed here, probably because the style of production used is bringing all the instruments to the fore. The last piece "L'Enchantment Des Forests" ("The Enchantment of the Forests") is an all-instrumental piece where the keyboards take centre stage for a change, and again there is a passage with acoustic guitar.

As you can see from the foregoing, the first half of the album is better than the second half even though one of the songs in that part of the album does sound like it could have come from Burzum's "Filosofem". I get the impression that as the recording progresses it's running a bit out of creative steam and the later songs are getting a bit boring. The acoustic guitar passages are a bit too loud and I think Annatar intended for them to be lighter and more delicate than they actually appear. (I confess I was playing the album fairly loudly while reviewing it.) The drumming can get a bit elephantine at times and I wonder whether faster drumming could have drawn out the aggression in the music more.

The really outstanding aspect of "Quintessence" is Annatar's anguished singing and I would've liked to hear it more upfront in the music rather than pushed into the background all the way through the album. But this is a debut full-length recording all the same, so it will be interesting to see how SF develop on future recordings, the project will find its own style and no doubt Annatar will improve his recording skills.

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90%
solitarywolf on January 28th, 2007

Sombres Forêts-Quintessence

It’s been a long time since Sepulchral Productions the record label of Frozen Shadows front man Myrkhaal released anything. With the label having been formed back in 1999 this release and three others released back on December 19th of last year are the first since the labels inaugural release with the Frozen Shadows album ‘Dans les Bras des Immortels’ in 1999. So, obviously the labels been stagnant for awhile, but if the three releases I recently received are any indication of what’s to come then I truly believe Sepulchral is destined to be one of the best underground black metal labels to look forward to.

As for this release from Sombres Forêts, the band was formed back in 2005 as the solo project of one Annatar from Quebec, Canada. Quickly he produced a demo in early 2006 and at the end of the year this debut album ‘Quintessence’ was released. Sombres Forêts music is a cunning mixture of raw black metal with depressive funeral doom characteristics. Probably the closest thing you could compare this to would be bands like Burzum, Nargaroth, Abyssic Hate, and Xasthur, though I believe Sombres Forêts stands there ground as a unique entity in the black metal underground.

When listening to this album the listener is driven downward in a misanthropic assault through slow creepy raw guitar riffs, poignant synths, and acoustic guitars as Annatar’s bloodcurdling cold screams guide you on a path through misanthropy and melancholy. As I listen to this album I can hear a soul that’s truly tortured by his own existence and one that longs for salvation from this wretched world and perhaps a cleansing of the human race. The album carries such a chilly hypnotic pace to it and with all the riffs sharing a rather dark character this really makes for some excellent music to listen to during the dark months of winter.

I am undeniably thoroughly overwhelmed by ‘Quintessence’ and look forward to future releases from this admirable newcomer.

January 26, 2007

By JJM

9 of 10

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Quintessence track list

1Quintessence03:21
2Le Royaume10:13
3Vents des désespoirs08:33
4Au solstice de l'hiver08:50
5Automne09:33
6L'Abîme07:44
7L'Enchantement des forêts03:44

Quintessence lineup

AnnatarAll instruments, Vocals, Songwriting, Arrangements