Regarde les Hommes Tomber are the kind of band for which the parking-lot drinking session before going in to watch the headliner was invented: post-hardcore screamo with a djent tone on their self-titled debut, then incorporating more drone on the sequel Exile, and now, on Ascension, mostly ditching hardcore pretensions for a modern take on black metal, i.e. a combination of orthodox dissonance, DSBM, and what is known in some quarters as “Cascadian” black metal, all lush overtures and sweeping melodies. Constant through this strange trajectory has been a kind of mewling self-pity and impotent railing at a world that doesn’t quite give a fuck for private mishaps. Self-pity, however lamentable, can be excused in adolescence, but it is a distinctly unattractive sight to behold in an individual grown in years. Worse, self-pity is self-defeating; nothing good comes of it, it begets no real improvement of one’s circumstance except for cultivating a fatuous dichotomy of “us” against “them” under which aegis assorted malcontents then band together to hone an even more vicious sense of entitlement.
The difference between musician and technician is the same as that between artist and artisan. One partakes in a creative and internalized process speaking to the higher qualities of the human spirit, the other makes a product, of craft and persistence undoubtedly, but a product nevertheless, fit to specifications and missing the seed of inspiration. Often, as it turns out, the subject of these labels fancies himself the one when he’s been the other all along; and in the creative arts, such being the hubris they breed, being thought an artisan without the art is nothing less than a delegitimizing of your life’s work. And so it should be! Nothing kills creativity more than self-doubt, but the proof lies in the pudding, to be judged after it has been eaten, digested, and defecated. Regarde les Hommes Tomber are technicians, not musicians, assembling various disparate influences into what they assume represents a unique vision but which in reality only serves to emphasize the astounding lack of tact and awareness at the center of their sound.
On the eponymous debut, high-accented beats in the manner of hardcore and other “manufactured” modes of musical aggression are supplemented with amelodic chugging on the low-string like Meshuggah; together, these twin aspects act as dog-whistle, leading the listener by the leash, reducing him to a puppet that should bob its head on command. It is a contemptible maneuver; or, rather, it is an approach to songwriting that reeks of contempt for the listener’s powers of agency, making of him a lowest common denominator pliable to the coarsest emotional manipulation. Far too many bands get a free pass in this regard; most bands and their listeners probably don’t spend enough time thinking on such matters; to them, a breakdown is a breakdown is a breakdown, little more than another letter in the musical alphabet, and a reason for a good time; not the volition-sapping, pride-breaking, intellectually stultifying dead-end it really is.
On Exile, the band dials down the dunderheaded attributes of the debut and focuses on writing actual songs. The lyrics talk of boilerplate like the fall from grace, original sin, and the wiles of organized religion, subject matter that should theoretically set the stage for greater, more epic narrative development than before. Regarde les Hommes Tomber take a stab at it; song movement here is articulated through vaguely distinguished ambient drone and feedback, punctured occasionally by the tremulous single note voicings beloved of “post” bands. However, as opposed to metal with its riff-as-virus philosophy, these are songs of tonal insinuation, carved from large blocks that shamble forth with no head or tail or indeed a viable destination in mind. The tone and the mood they create, here being one of misery without respite, become the album’s sole reason to be, and in so much they can be construed to be successful as much or as little as any other modern post-punk band you care to name. Exile certainly isn’t metal, though, much less black metal, lacking the categorical and metaphorical qualities that exemplify the genre(s).
As icing on the cake of cognitive dissonance that is this band’s career, Ascension arrives almost as if to make penance for erstwhile shortcomings. Gone are the bouncy djent and the unmitigated woebegone demeanor, replaced with a little more impetuosity and techniques more in line with what passes for black metal today. Not exactly a glowing endorsement that, but an improvement by degrees still. Unfortunately, one hand gives while the other takes away; Ascension suffers from the same existential crisis that has beset the rest of the black metal scene. In general, good black metal straddles the line between musical expression and theater, preferably with the theatrical element at one with the musical. In the variety found on Ascension, however, the two stand separated like oil and water; consonant melodies rest uneasily alongside ruptures in narrative, most often expressed by tribal percussive patterns, groove, and ringing dissonance. This does not make for a unified musical experience and frequently asks the listener to reacquaint himself with the song’s shifting goalposts. More power to those willing to be strung along in such fashion and able to derive something of worth from their troubles, but for others of a more discerning bent, there is precious little recompense to be had for the effort invested.