Plebeian Grandstand – False Highs, True Lows

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Label: Throatruiner Records (vinyl, CD)/ Basement Apes (CD) / BLWBCK (cassette) / Tapes Of A Neon God (cassette)

There’s roughly thirty seconds gone by before False Highs, True Lows reveals just how inhospitable an album it is, and from that point on, there’s practically no let-up. The third album from French band Plebeian Grandstand ventures in to depths of darkness that few black metal bands dare to go, with a relentless 35 minutes of atonal, discordant black metal. It can hardly be said to be enjoyable in any typical sense of the word, but there is something about the album that keeps me coming back for more. As impressive as previous album Lowgazers was, False Highs, True Lows feels like a much stronger record, and should surely see the band considered alongside the best of modern French black metal.

The hardcore roots of Plebeian Grandstand’s origins are all but buried now, evident largely in the undiluted fury that propels much of the album, and especially vocalist Adrian’s raw, desperate vocals that range between the ominous and the nakedly emotional. Instead, discordant black metal is very much the focus of False Highs, True Lows, and is sure to invite comparisons to Deathspell Omega. As previously hinted though, this is a much angrier, more physical listening experience than anything that mighty band have produced. The more spacious elements of Deathspell Omega’s sound are largely stripped away, with tension being built instead through what often feels like seemingly endless intensity and pace; even when Plebeian Grandstand step back for a moment it is just for that – a moment – and the air of disquiet and malice is never absent. Longer, less high-tempo sections – such as the first half of “Volition”, or the long build-up of “Tame The Shapes” – don’t feel like a respite; rather, they are punishing in their own way, the promise of release so agonizingly close but always denied.

This is the kind of album where it feels like there’s little point in discussing individual tracks or moments, even if there are plenty that other bands would be proud of. Instead, False Highs, True Lows is the kind of record that should be taken as a whole, and to remove certain parts of it from their original context would do them an injustice. It is an unsteady, chaotic maelstrom, terrible and wondrous in equal measure, that often feels as if it is a moment away from total collapse. This is due in no small part to the hugely impressive drumming of Ivo, which fans of Ulcerate will appreciate – highly technical, but without ever being anything less than crushing. Similar can be said about the work of guitarist Simon and bassist Oliver – in the hands of lesser musicians, these songs would slip out of their control, but they keep the chaos under their command. The songs have a definite sense of danger and near-disorder, but they never sound out of control.

There’s a definite character and sense of personality that feels unique to False Highs, True Lows that means it never comes across as being trapped in thrall to its inspirations, even if there is no disguising them. Discordant and atonal metal may be hugely popular in underground circles, but it’s unusual to hear a band taking such elements and being able to project such a distinct sense of identity. Its 35 minute duration absolutely races by, each track giving way to the next to create an absolute beast of an album. There’s real depth to it too, with repeated listens revealing new elements that may have gone unnoticed previously. The hype about this album has been building for a little while now, and False Highs, True Lows more than justifies such talk.

False Highs, True Lows is set for release on April 29th, on 12″ vinyl by Throatruiner Records; on CD from Throatruiner Records and Basement Apes; and cassette via BLWBCK and Tapes Of A Neon God. It will also be available for stream and download via Bandcamp.

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