Welcome yet again to another conversational review. This time, me and JP will be talking about one of the more sought-after metal releases of this year, which apparently delivered on its promises entirely. That would be the Canadian death metallers from First Fragment, which bring us their first batch of new material in five years. So, without further ado, we dive into the contents of Gloire Éternelle.
R: Hey JP, what’s cracking?
JP: Ah, just got home from work and I’m itching to get started on this.
R: Hahaha, is that so?
JP: Yes, where do we start?
R: Alright, so, at least for us, this has to be one of the most anticipated releases of this year. I was really excited with the single(s) and now that I’ve spent some time sinking my teeth in the meat of the record, I declare myself satisfied. I think this is the first time in a very long time when my expectations are met down to the most minute detail. Not even the smallest pinch above or under. I was promised tons of shredding in a progressive death metal setting and I got exactly that. Although, there’s a fair few things that I’ll want to pull apart, as much as I enjoyed the tunes.
JP: Yeah, most definitely. Since it has been five years since the release of Dasein, I’ve been foaming at the mouth in hopes for a new First Fragment record, and we got exactly that with Gloire Éternelle. It was really everything that I personally wanted and expected from a First Fragment record. I wholeheartedly feel the same as you with having my expectations met, although there is a part of me that wishes that they went above and beyond those expectations.
R: I’m not going to lie, after having listened to it a dozen or so times by now, I also feel like it could’ve been a fair deal more than what it is.
Although, honestly, I think we can cut the lads a bit of slack in that sense, as it is their second release and there’s plenty of time to see them deliver the goods in the future.
I think what Gloire Éternelle appealed to most for me, was the nostalgic factor. I grew up with a lot of neo-classical metal and shred stuff and it turned out to be an interesting revisitation of my ‘roots’, through the lens of my death metal penchant.
It’s a record that’s a lot of fun to listen to, bristling with a shimmering kind of power. Although, in the grand scheme of things, I can’t praise it beyond that. It doesn’t ascend beyond a certain set bar and it doesn’t seem to challenge anything, even though it’s a fresh and neat take on the whole technically proficient kind of death metal.
JP: I can see where you’re coming from there. These guys really do excel in their unique brand of neo-classical tech-death, as no one does it quite like them. This album sounds absolutely pristine and pushes the boundaries when it comes to instrumental technicality, but that’s about it for me. When you hint at it being more than what it ended up being, I’d imagine that you mean wanting the album to be more than just a shred-fest, as I felt that way at times too. It just feels like too much going on at any given moment a lot of the time, but sensory overload coupled with that inhuman technical ability is why people listen to bands like First Fragment and Archspire, for example – two bands on different ends of the tech-death spectrum. This doesn’t apply to First Fragment alone, but sometimes less is more and tech death isn’t the subgenre that I’d ever go to for music that resonates with me on a deeper level.
R: I totally agree and I mean, you don’t go to tech-death for emotive depth, you go there to be totally and utterly demolished by a swirling avalanche of notes. My point was rather how the songwriting, beyond the shredding, feels somehow redundant when taking the record as a whole. I mean, tell me you can honestly distinguish between the first four songs if someone asked you to. I’m not sure I could, even having the record fresh in my memory.
We’re obviously nitpicking, because I doubt the band intended, at least for now, to go as far as we’re hinting.
Also, I never thought I’d ever say this in any situation, but man, some of the songs are just too long. Also, in that same breath, “In’el” could’ve been easily split into, like, two or three songs. It feels very weird to say this because I usually like to complain that an album wasn’t made as one single track.
JP: Well, the opening track, “Gloire Éternelle”, definitely stood out, with about half of it being a flamenco-styled mind-fuck, which I absolutely adored; First Fragment sprinkle a lot of acoustic/flamenco elements that take away from how mind-numbing the rest of the music can be. Once they shifted into their brand of tech-death after the flamenco musical bliss, it did get pretty homogenous, rendering it somewhat indistinguishable from the other tracks as you mentioned. It takes many listens to be able to remember all the dizzying passages and melodies across all the songs for it to all stick in your head.
As much as I loved “In’el” as an epic, it really would’ve been better had it been split up into several tracks. as you said. and I say that being a sucker for long songs. I totally get what the band is trying to achieve on that track, as they have so many niche styles blended into the song to give it variety. Despite that, it’s difficult to even notice these various musical flavors with how much is going on at any given moment; it sadly isn’t a sum of its parts in this case. There isn’t much room provided for you to breathe with the exception of the brief, doomy passages, causing it to be more exhausting than it should be as a whole.
R: I mean, yeah, I agree with basically all of that, but I’d say it’s rather the fact that there isn’t an organic dynamic (read: variety) embedded in the music and less the relentless delivery – which actually makes things fun, if you ask me.
The acoustic and the flamenco-influenced parts hit me hard as well. I’m a huge sucker for that kind of stuff and I really dig its addition.
You can only imagine how much I enjoyed “Sonata en Mi mineur” because of that, but not only. I actually feel like this is the most solid part of the album and, dare I say, the highest point of it. I think that only “De Chair et de Haine” and “Ataraxie” come close, as well as “Mort éphémère”, which is a great closer in a sense.
I think that my biggest gripe with the record is the production, which I also, somewhat ironically, think is pretty damn good. Although, I guess you could argue that it’s more a matter of composition than production – which I’m about to illustrate. The issue as I see it is that there just isn’t enough low end to complement all the trebly melodies and layers. The drums sort of fade into the background of the rhythmic layer, keeping things together there, and the bass sort of divides itself between playing its own rhythm line as well as its own thing in terms of melody. Not that in itself, that would be an issue, but there isn’t any supplement to bind things together. It all feels a tad shrill and loose in all the wrong ways.
What do you think about this?
JP: I can see what you’re saying. Having great production doesn’t mean it’s the saving grace for poorly-put-together songs by miraculously making them sound good – not saying at all that First Fragment writes bad songs, just generalizing here. The foundation of the song itself, compositionally and sonically, has to sound good and ‘make sense’ and production magic won’t change that if that foundation isn’t there to begin with.
More often than not, the beyond-impressive fretless bass performance (I cannot express how amazing Dominic Lapointe’s playing is) seems to be doing its own thing while the rest of the band is off in a different musical world. I love the bass work but it doesn’t always support what the rest of the band is doing, leading to that lack of low end that you’re referring to. It seems like the guitarists and bass are constantly fighting for the spotlight here on this album.
R: Totally, it’s like they decided to make it a duel. I also have mad respect for Lapointe’s playing, but I really am not feeling all that Les Claypool-styled funk slapping going around. It’s eclectic to the point where it really doesn’t make any sense in that context, no matter what kind of mental gymnastics you can pull off.
Another thing, and I guess the only other thing I had a qualm with, was the vocal performance and how the vocal lines were written. It’s by far the dullest point of the album and something that could’ve been scrapped entirely. You know, the band could’ve just gone for the Conquering Dystopia/Ophidius route. Alternatively, a much more varied and bombastic vocal take would’ve been needed to sit on par with the tunes. I guess it’s also the fact that, even for the genre, they’re quite drab and don’t really manage to stand out with basically anything. I guess the good part is that they blend so much in that I sort of tune them out and they just kind of disappear.
JP: I wasn’t particularly feeling the vocals either, but at least the rest of the music was so distracting that I forgot that they’re even there and it doesn’t bother me much. It is something I can easily overlook. The vocals at the end of “In’el” are especially grating and just sounds like static: not entirely sure if that was due to effects with how the track somewhat fades out, but it’s very jarring and unpleasant, and doesn’t really contribute much in my eyes (or ears). I don’t think any vocalist can match the same intensity that the rest of the band, notably the guitarists and bassist, radiate in this type of music, so the performance from any vocalist will pale in comparison to that of the rest of the band.
R: I didn’t pick up on any effects on the vocals at the end of that song, they are just grating I guess, haha. Although, I could go down this rabbit hole, because there are quite a fair deal of vocalists that are able to stand at the same level as the rest of the band, but it’s one of those hypotheticals that we should take on over beer, rather than here haha.
Anyway, I want to emphasize again that I really enjoyed this record in spite of the things I pointed out. I honestly wouldn’t have even bothered pointing any of this out if it were a band that didn’t show promise/potential at this level. I really hope they move on to making greater things, even if they will diverge from this shredtastic, neo-classical death metal thing.
JP: Fair enough, I will make a mental note of our tentative beer date then and put it on the schedule sometime.
I too really enjoyed the record, it truly is a lot of fun and everything I expected First Fragment to follow up Dasein with. Gloire Éternelle shows First Fragment continuing to be First Fragment and that is fantastic news for fans of the band; I am certain that you won’t be disappointed because I am not by any means. The tech-death crown, to me, still goes to Ophidian I’s Desolate, as despite being a monster of an album also guilty of musical masturbation, it is still incredibly digestible, cohesive, and infectious.
Meanwhile, First Fragment went ahead and did what First Fragment do best and that is melting your face off in every way possible, with lots of class.
R: Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with all of the above and I guess that sums it up for what people are to expect with the band and their new album. Even with its drawbacks, it still manages to stand high alongside the best in metal this year.