With a stubbornly stereotyped path of military insignia, rabid samples of mid-20th century dictators and the same tone of brooding pomp over and over, the world of Martial/neo-classical music deserves greater evolution than it currently enjoys. I can’t help thinking that a considerable volume of entities working in this area picked up on the Laibach genetic and mutated it without understanding it’s underlying intelligence. In the glut of it all, something truly original occasionally strikes a tangent and Café De L’Enfer’s obscure and enigmatic debut is a fine example. The title roughly translates as “Walking on all fours towards redemption”. Even the project name, referring to the late 19th century hell themed café in Pigalle, Paris, evokes a curious individuality. This originally appeared as a four track demo in 2010. Here, it is expanded into a fine eight track album and issued by Austrian industrial label Steinklang.
JE NE VEUX PLUS ETRE PIEUX (I Do Not Want To Be Pious) is an extravagant start with its undulating arrangement and séance-like chants of subdued horror. Comprised predominantly of synthesised orchestration and a rolling beat, this is an antique musical box gone wrong. LA FORET OBSCURE’s (The Dark Forest) signature melody slowly builds and advances around a disquieting French narration. It threatens to break into something majestic and huge, but opts for subtlety in a musical genre often severely lacking in that very quality. L’EVANESCENCE DE TOUTES LES POSSIBILITIES (The Evanescence Of All Possibilities) is similar but has the distinction of a creepy classical lead piano which deviates in several directions throughout the track’s eight and a half minutes, teasing out an opulence as the vocals develop a growl towards the end. The title track, MARCHANT A QUATRE PATTES AU-DENANT DE LA REDEMPTION, has a particularly militaristic quality about, progressing from a horror soundtrack into a march with baritone chorus vocals and industrial percussion. Sprawling and martial in every sense, this is sonically the most genre typical track here. L’AUTOMNE (Autumn) is baroque and neoclassical and like much else on the album, it recalls the play on pessimism captured perfectly in Elend’s WINDS CYCLE (just before they collapsed under the weight of continually financing a full orchestra!). Everything here is so firmly rooted in a 19th century central European sense of itself that I wasn’t expecting the English narration on MESSALINE. This transpires, somewhat unsurprisingly, to be an Aleister Crowley poem and is a moody gothic passage with a slow burning martial stomp and minor chord piano melody. Something that sounds like a harpsichord through a distortion pedal interjects the noisier moments and contributes effectively to the doom of it all. The sinister machinations, malignant growling whispers and misty backing vocals of LES TRISTES CIRCUITS (The Sad Circuits) play out over a ten minute tragedy and A SIX MILLE MILLES (Six Thousand Miles), the closing track is a creepy piano hook, again reminiscent of Elend’s later work. There’s a vocal interplay between and an innocent childlike voice and the same ominous one that inhabits previous tracks and this seems to be the focus of the finale, but as my knowledge of French has disintegrated to “pathetic” status, I cannot be subjective about the content.
There’s very little public information about this project anywhere: no official website, no real web presence at all and just a random scatter of reviews. Whether this is part of the macabre enigma or general disorganisation is presently unclear. Whatever the intention behind it, Café De L’Enfer’s blend of weird post romanticism and martial music is a revitalising step away from the bullish and totalitarian themes that plague this music and while it doesn’t make for particularly joyous listening, there’s no shortage of intrigue here. – BOZ