There is this weird concept across the pond that if you want to sing in a metal band, you must sing in English. If you try to do anything heavy-adjacent in any other language than Shakespeare’s, it won’t work. Yet, history proved this theory wrong over and over again; in fact, there is a big history with rock and metal bands singing in French.
It’s been going on for decades and one of the most famous ones, Antisocial, has been covered a dozen times by half of the hardcore/thrash scene. It’s because of bands like Trust, Sacrilège and Killers back in the ‘80s that France got a proper seat at the heavy metal table. A few decades later, the French doom scene grew exponentially, mainly because most bands would sing in English, however Barabbas – hailing from my beloved hometown of Paris – decided that it is possible to do something doomy, in Molière’s language.
This proved to be particularly intriguing when I was kindly asked to review Barabbas’ second full-length album, La Mort Appelle Tous Les Vivants. Because not every reader is fluent in French and because I’m a nice person, I will translate some of the lyrics and titles for you. Pronunciation-wise, you’re on your own.
To give you a little bit of context, Barabbas has been active for over fifteen years, appearing on some compilations and self-releasing their own material until their recent signing to Sleeping Church Records. The production of this new album (Death Calls All The Living) is one of the things that shook me the first, it really sounds good, clean and ambitious. You can tell how elaborate their sound is by the quality of their intros, especially in the second track, Je Suis Mort Depuis Bien Longtemps (I Have Been Dead For Far Too Long).
Then, the second thing that shook me was, well, understanding the lyrics right away. I might speak several languages fluently and am learning a few more, I must admit that I’m not hearing as much French as I used to with living in the UK, so yeah having the vocalist, Saint Rodolphe, going on like Messiah Marcolin in my native language was a bit of a shock. The shock didn’t last very long as my focus turned into the lyrics.
an abundance of great riffs reminiscent of Cathedral and Trouble…
I like how it incorporates religious metaphors and historic ambiances, as if I entered a telephone box by accident and got sent in the midst of 1871’s Commune of Paris on purpose. One thing that really deserves to be noted here, the lyrics are in-cre-dible. From the nihilist cynicism of De La Viande (Meat) to the celebratory Le Saint Riff Rédempteur (The Holy Redemptive Riff), these guys know which strings to pull to tell a story, a particularly grim story but very well told nonetheless.
Saint Rodolphe’s charisma shines through the album, thanks to the impressive theatricality of his vocal prowess. It did create, at times, slightly cringey moments, like the spoken-word bits on Sous Le Signe du Néant (Under the Sign of Nothingness) and Mon Crâne Est Une Crypte Et J’y Suis Emmuré (My Skull Is A Crypt And I Am Walled In), but again, it might be just me taking it a little too literally, I’m sure that any fan of traditional doom will enjoy it for what it is: a creative build-up to something heavy mid-riff.
Speaking of riffs, Saint Stephane and Saint Thomas are providing us with an abundance of great riffs reminiscent of Cathedral and Trouble. The best example would be on La Valse Funèbre (The Funeral Waltz), which sent my chromesthesia into overdrive thanks to really cool arpeggios. Other comparisons I kept making to myself whilst listening to this album was to Igorrr, mainly due to the similar baroque atmosphere they implement in their music and also because they also sing all their songs in French.
Overall, this is a very good effort, although I would have probably skipped a few tracks to make it more straightforward, but if this album taught me anything, is that doom à la française is definitely a thing, and we should all embrace it, even if it’s in smaller doses.
Scribed by: Nessie Spencer