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xx Xx : Rvrt

Much of xx Xx' debut is built around thematic switches and evolutions which are fast, loud and raucously stirring.

Here's some good news for everyone who feels that, since Magma completed their Kobaan cycle, there has been a global shortage of slightly bonkers French bands creating music in made-up extraterrestrial languages: xx Xx have bravely stepped up to fill that void. Demonstrating true space-cadet panache and dedication, the band name is a representation of "69" in binary, replacing "1"s with "x"s, and the album title 'Rvrt' means "Revolt Of The Heart" in the language of x.

To quote from the band's own mission statement (kindly translated by Bertrand from the French): "It represents duality...It is the will to reconnect with the great spirit of life within us while being profoundly anti-religious...We are very sensible to the cause of animals and their ecology...It is avant-garde Doom, with grand organs, harpsichords, string ensembles, opera, with Metal and Electronic music...On stage, we have costumes in black, taking the appearance of plants and bright stones, with sculptures and animated sequences synchronised to our music...Art will save the world..."

Whilst that may sound disturbingly like a recipe for setting the controls straight for the heart of the topographic ocean, this is no clinical exercise in virtuoso musicianship: rather, it is a passionately anarchic exploration of the subject, wilfully crossing and merging genre boundaries as it goes. The musicianship, as it happens, is exemplary - but far from the whole point of the music. Avant-garde it certainly is, whether it is Doom or not is a more loaded question. Perhaps. Given the experimentalism involved, it is not altogether meaningful to draw comparisons. There are similarities in approach to the likes of Long Winter's Stare, some Funeral Doom elements in the keyboard sound and a certain downtune to some of the instruments; equally, one could point towards any number of Gothic, Progressive or Experimental non-Doom bands. To me, more than anything else, though, it calls to mind a more chaotic Saviour Machine.

In large part that is down to the intense and emotional vocals of Laurent Lunoir, the main figure behind xx Xx: he projects the same raw conviction and honesty as Saviour Machine's Eric Clayton, in a similar clean, theatrical, tunefully bellowing style. Augmented by the more delicate, feminine tones of Laure Le Prunenec, the vocal drive of the album is both astonishing and noteworthy.

Behind that lie all manner of instrumental layers, credited to Laurent (all instruments) and Gautier Serre (programming and studio). These are seldom brought fully into the foreground as solo instruments, but the various keyboard voices, guitars and drums form a dense, satisfying tapestry with plenty of flourishes and subtextual explorations to keep the music as interesting as the vocal lead. The drumming stands out, whether programmed or real, as inspired and inventive: so too is the willingness to draw in both organ and harpsichord to carry the main theme at any given point. As with pretty much all Avant-garde ventures, each composition is a fairly lengthy experiment in changes of melody and tempo, as does the overall texture of the album: meaning description, like comparison, becomes a difficult affair.

Broadly, though - for all the quieter, more thoughtful interludes and link pieces - much of 'Rvrt' is built around thematic switches and evolutions which are fast, loud and raucously stirring. 'grth' (Agony of the earth) rises from gentle beginnings to surging, massively percussive finale while 'Tr' (Earthling) maintains a more measured pace, with a quirky, staccato time signature, but keeps the volume high. 'm' (Love) veers between melancholic ambience and wild crescendo, 'Ctnphr' (Comb jellies) largely slows down in favour of moody atmospherics before 'Ym' (Human) opts for a heavier, stately vibe. That is chased by the part-lilting, part-choral 'Nc S' (Sombre sea) and the sharper, pacier 'Ln' (Tree of life). Finally, 'Dr' (Golden beauty) is a sparse instrumental leading into the quite mournful 'Sl' (Luminous shadows). Translations from the bandcamp site, where the entire x-French lexicon is thoughtfully provided.

As noted above, there is more than enough going on here musically to make a case for several different parent rock genres to stake a claim, but as this is a Doom site I'll stick to saying that there's enough Doom influence for it to qualify, albeit at the spacier, uptempo end of the niche. It's also distinctive, mad and self-willed enough to stand entirely and defiantly on its own merits. Personally, I think it's a fantastic album - in all senses of the word - that more than fulfils the mission statement of its makers and will be staying on my playlists long after this review is done and forgotten. As highly recommended as can be for anyone who wants to venture a little off the beaten track.

Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. grth
2. Tr
3. m
4. Ctnphr
5. Ym
6. Nc S
7. Ln
8. Dr
9. Sl

Duration : Approx. 77 minutes

Visit the xx Xx bandpage.

Reviewed on 2012-04-11 by Mike Liassides
A Dream Of Poe - The Wraith Uncrowned
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