CHROMB! - Le Livre des Merveilles

Chromb! - Le Livre des Merveilles

4 songs
33:10 minutes
***** ***
Dur et Doux


France is currently really all about reinventing progressive rock, mostly when it comes to the record label Dur et Doux who has signed all those fantastic bands that show that there is more to the often reviled genre than symphonic grandstanding and instrumental overindulgence. Just think of PoiL, Ni, their collaborative project PinioL or Le Grand Sbam who also share some musicians with the aforementioned acts, or Ultra Zook which are signed to a different label but are just as exciting. And then there is of course Chromb! whose career I have been following since their first album in 2012, followed by a second one two years later, and then again two years later their sublime 1000 which was an unparalleled exercise in Canterburyan fusion jazz prog.

Since then four years have passed, and now this strange, guitar-less quartet is back with its fourth longplayer Le Livre des Merveilles, an sort-of concept album about 13th century cleric and knight Gervais de Tilbury, who wrote a book called Le Livre des Merveilles, full of medieval folk tales that have inspired Chromb!ís latest venture.

Gone are the days of progressive structures where the musicians often added as many notes as possible. Instead they have focused their energies on quieter structures that often take time to build up to infernal crescendos. The album only contains four songs, with only the opener and title track at four minutes having a regular length. This song starts quietly enough but is occasionally disrupted by an incredibly distorted (bass guitar?) sound. The fist chorus is rather subdued but prepares for the second one which then unfolds into a rousing finale with an atonal saxophone solo that will have you shudder with glee. This may not be the sound we are used to from the band but it shows incredible progress in songwriting prowess. The following Le fleuve Brison is at nine minutes a more generous track and my personal highlight not only of the album, but possibly of this year. The song starts with a whining synth, with tribal drums soon joining in. The multiple vocals are high yet soft, reminding me somewhat of French cult band Chagrin díAmour (Chacun fait (c'qui lui plaÓt)). The synths have that warm texture that Robert Wyatt used on his landmark album Rock Bottom, and are distorted now and then to a trilling arpeggio. At the six minute mark, the melody is reprised with all kinds of synths creating a hybrid of medievalism and futurism, with goosebumps running all over my body. From there on, the album becomes even more experimental. Les chevaliers qui apparaissent is at twelve minutes the longest track, and not really a song in a pure sense. Instead itís more of an avantgarde composition that again takes some time to reach its explosive conclusion. Lots of distortion again, with the saxophone sounding like David Jackson on Van Der Graaf Generatorís lost recording from the Time Vaults compilation. There are also traces of the hypnotic recording that Terry Riley made during the late Sixties to early Seventies. The concluding La souvenance díAchille, nearly eight minutes long, feels like a minimalist dirge, with all of the energy depleted, and the band sounding as if marching to their own funeral.

Donít get me wrong: Le Livre des Merveilles is a fascinating album. The first two tracks by themselves would have deserved a maximum rating, and the final two tracks are also incredibly amazing pieces of art. And yet the short length of only thirty-three minutes leaves me wondering if two more tracks in the vein of the first two tracks would not only have made this a somewhat more appropriate record in terms of length, but would also have been a gesture of goodwill after four years of silence. Still, this is highly enjoyable and shows that Chromb! are not afraid to venture into new directions. Let us only hope that they wonít have us wait for so many years before they are back with another album.

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