Stream Cantique Lépreux Cendres Célestes (Stereogum Premiere)

I’ve argued before that Quebec is home to the best black metal scene in the world right now, and Cantique Lepreux’s debut album, Cendres Célestes, reinforces my conviction.

There’s already Forteresse, there’s Monarque, there’s Ephemer, there’s Grimoire … and the list goes on. To these ears, the high-flying, raw, and icy atmosphere is gold. And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so; the German label Eisenwald has picked up all of these bands and given them release treatments.

But why Quebec? A lot of Quebec’s best bands say they draw inspiration from the unforgiving winters that wrap Montreal, Quebec City, and the surrounding Northern lands in a frigid cold for a cruelly long period of time every year. It’s freezing up there, and one better be prepared if choosing to venture into that profound landscape. It’s vast and unforgiving, but a place of incredible beauty, too. And that contrast is made evident these songs.

Cantique Lépreux (which translates as “Leprous Hymn”) fall square into that Quebec tradition, and Cendres Célestes is gorgeous and dark, equal parts majestic nocturnal wonder and chaotic whirlwind, a wild tear of black metal that sears into the soul. They’re firing the Quebec black metal formula on all cylinders — melodic leads that trill in time with the full-speed-ahead drums, deep and powerful vocals, a stripped-down and raw style. Solos or showmanship aren’t really what this is about, and the torrent of sound flows into a singular stream. And yes, like other Quebec luminaries, Cantique Lépreux can’t help but draw inspiration from the bewitching and bitter wilderness at their doorstep, with galloping drums and hurry-up mournful guitars that recall the headlong rush of whipping winds in a whiteout.

As closely tied to the land as the style may be, these bands aren’t popping up from the ground. Like some of the other great black metal scenes of the past, the sounds that come from it are often the work of a core group of practitioners. The names of the band members in Cantique Lépreux are shielded behind new monikers, but I expect if you were to look hard enough you might find that some of the members of Cantique do double, triple, and perhaps even quintuple duty in some of the other leading practitioners of the style. You can hear their influence all across the Quebec sound. There’s something wild going on up there, a rare confluence of talent and natural inspiration that has given rise to some special music. Listen.

Cendres Célestes is out 3/18 via Eisenwald Tonschmiede.