Many bands these days, particularly of the folk and/or metal persuasion, draw inspiration from medieval music. But most don’t hold a torch to Menace Ruine. Not that the Montreal-based duo comes off in any way traditional; on albums such as 2012’s Alight in Ashes, singer/keyboardist Geneviève Beaulieu soaks her ancient-reaching plainsong in vats of boiling noise and a thickened black-metal reduction. Recently, her voice has taken on varying shades of mysticism in her side project Preterite, as well as her chilling appearance on James Blackshaw’s 2012 album Love Is the Plan, the Plan Is Death. Aided by instrumentalist/producer S. de La Moth, Beaulieu has delivered the sixth and latest Menace Ruine album, Venus Armata—and while it doesn’t vastly expand the band’s mist-shrouded domain, it’s a potent elixir of Dark Ages alchemy and modern experimentalism.
Venus Armata’s seven songs are split almost evenly between somewhat prettier and slightly more horrifying. Any overt gestures toward metal, black or otherwise, have been jettisoned on “Red Sulphur”, in which Beaulieu’s sacrificial chants coil around gulping organ drones like serpents around a scepter. The percussion is synthetic and martial, but it’s draped in enough mid-fi gauze to make it seem half alive. That liminal state of being is more eerily evoked in “Soothing but Cruel”. Where “Red Sulphur” carries a sylvan, romanticized folk air, “Soothing but Cruel” is grinding, oscillatory, and proto-industrial—shards of distortion splinter and stab as Beaulieu trills in a lilting tongue that sounds simultaneously ancestral and alien. That paradox seeps into every fiber of Venus Armata, from Beaulieu’s rickety, looped-calliope keys to the modal circularity and sonorous portent of her melodies. If Nostradamus had spoken through Nico, the result might have resembled “Venus Armata,” the album’s 16-minute, grimoire-worthy title track.
Whatever occult undertones Venus Armata may possess, they’re sliced open and laid bare across “Soften Our Evil Hearts” and “Belly of the Closed House”. Both are saga-length, incantatory meditations, but their shrillness is distilled into an icy shimmer that’s more visceral than spiritual. Beaulieu’s stained-glass voice is layered on top of its own ghost on “Soften Our Evil Hearts”, forming an unholy fugue, although that echoed distance isn’t as riveting as her intimate performance on “Marriage in Death”. Amid slow-motion bursts of dissonance and space, her voice wanders like a lost soul. At 9 barely modulated minutes, in never seems to end, and that purgatorial stasis says more about marriage and death as ritualistic constructs than it does about their everyday reality. Not that Menace Ruine would ever stoop to the mundane. On Venus Armata’s most spine-tingling song, “Torture of Fire”, Beaulieu bleats beatifically, while a plodding, ominous beat throbs behind her like an onrushing apocalypse. When she pauses, there’s no mercy to it. It’s just a chance for the bleak, acidic static to foam up to the forefront.
In an interview in 2008, Beaulieu spoke expectantly of a planned collaboration with Merzbow that has yet to surface. Strangely enough, each Menace Ruine album since that time has inched closer to imagining what exactly such a collaboration might look like. That’s not to say Venus Armata is anywhere near as skull-rattling or hermetically exacting as Merzbow; if anything, the album’s closest alignment is with Beaulieu’s fellow-traveling singer/keyboardist, Jarboe. But Beaulieu’s narrow scope—in essence, hurdy-gurdy-like hymns manifested as post-industrial ambience—is blown out to cosmological proportions. There are universes bottled inside Venus Armata, or at least Beaulieu and de La Moth play as if there are, and the reverence with which they funnel their awe is downright liturgical. Venus Armata doesn’t stand on ceremony; it drowns itself in it.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1s66urr