France’s Celeste is a band with an aesthetic that’s well defined and has remained intact since their debut album, Nihilste(s), in 2008. The Lyon-based metal band is a particularly artful and conceptual bunch, with album titles that invariably end with an (s), feature melancholy black and white photography on the cover, and dive deep into the abyss of devastating, emotionally charged sludge metal. When they perform, as witnessed at this year’s Psycho Las Vegas festival, they do so in complete blackness, their headlamps with red bulbs the only indication of actual human beings playing music onstage—well, that and the massive wall of guitars. It’s a mystique they cultivate well, and one that only grows deeper on fifth album Infidele(s).
Though Celeste hasn’t earned the widespread acclaim of fellow countrymen Blut Aus Nord or Alcest, their approach is every bit as compelling, if not quite as diverse. Infidele(s), much like the four albums that preceded it, rarely strays from an approach of unwavering intensity, harrowing bleakness and exhausting emotional exorcism. Yet to say that there’s not a lot of depth or versatility within this space would be erroneous; there’s a lot to explore within such an emotionally dark place, even one that’s hard to fully comprehend through vocals themselves, which are about as indecipherable as Deafheaven’s George Clarke’s, albeit with the added barrier of being in French. Yet vocalist Johan roars with a throaty, abrasive screech, the kind of delivery that’s going to leave a mark one way or another.
Following the double-length sprawl of 2013’s Animale(s), Infidele(s) scales back a little, its 48-minute runtime shaving off a good 20 minutes or so from its predecessor. Yet with music that cuts this deep and burns this white-hot, it’s best not to go overboard. For their part, Celeste by and large ease off on the atmospheric intros and interludes, instead getting straight to the bloodletting. The dense churn of “Cette Chute Brutale” is eerie and overwhelming, its wall of discordant guitars almost like an evil take on shoegaze. There’s more of a crust-punk chug to the pummeling “Comme des amants en reflet,” while “De l’ivresse au degout” is as turbulent as the band has ever sounded, twisting through a two-and-a-half-minute gauntlet of menace and terror.
That Celeste’s aesthetic, on a non-musical level, is so artful and mysterious seems to create a certain level of contrast against the visceral, uncompromising nature of their songwriting. The atmosphere they create is unrelenting, a weighty and hostile force that feels as much claustrophobic as it does massive. This is sludgy black metal that’s difficult to define, sometimes willfully contradictory, but nonetheless always breathtaking.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.