I love France and all things French…which is just as well as it presents a healthy chunk of my genetic make up. Beyond my historical familial connections I am a big fan of French culture but also a big fan of the French’s uncompromising stance and fierce protection of their culture, to the point that French radio is required, by law, to play a certain proportion of music by French artists…in French. It is perhaps this level of secularity that pervades French rock music keeping most bands bound within their own borders and rarely making a splash outside of France. That’s not to say that French bands all sound the same, or even have an identifying theme that runs through them in the same way as Bay Area Thrash did or Swedish Death Metal…or the current run of Scandinavian bands mining the rock ore of the 70’s for inspiration. No, with French bands it’s more of a vibe, something indefinable yet gives them a certain…well, vibe is the only word I have!
So, my guess is you won’t have ever heard of Last Barons right. Well, in their homeland they are now on their second album, the first “Elephantyasis” having been released in 2010. Their current offering, “Cheval De Troie” (which I believe translates as “Trojan Horse”) is a complex and lavish affair that is, like many French rock bands, hard to categorise and demanding to listen to.
Despite French music’s cultural pride and heritage, its rock bands are obviously not immune to influence from the traditional rock strongholds of the USA and the UK and Last Barons are no exception. A quick look through the internet, even armed with some rudimentary French language will see them occasionally classed as a stoner band. It seems even the French don’t know how to categorise their own bands and Last Barons in particular. If I were to pluck the two most obvious reference points it would have to be Faith No More and Alice In Chains as the band pepper their metal with lush keyboards, offbeat grooves and twisting, grinding riffs that play with rhythms in anything but a traditional rock and roll manner. Vocally things switch from a Mike Patton infused croon to a soaring, Layne Staley-esque wail that showcase a great deal of control and strength from vocalist Julien Soler.
Musically this is heavy stuff but instilled with a huge range of light and shade from sinister, brooding passages to mighty riff driven choruses and even throws in touches of Funk, Jazz, Krautrock and Avant-Garde amongst the fattest of riffs. The sense of musical freedom felt by these guys is evident as they frequently aim to mess with the listeners’ minds, not in the sense to showboat and display their instrumental prowess, simply to do whatever the hell they want because it’s fun and because they don’t want their song writing to become one dimensional and predictable.
Throughout, the playing is exceptional, each member assuming his role with consummate skill and obvious relish. Likewise the production is full and powerful, particularly in the guitars which have a weight and tone that is enviable as a guitarist and vocally in the way in which the vocals have been layered and harmonised in a rich manner, not unlike the aforementioned Alice In Chains.
I will admit that this album did not immediately strike me, particularly as opening track “Shaman’s Warning Song” (not, I suspect a tribute to this site!) is something of a sombre, industrial edged piece, something I’m not a fan of by any means. However, as the album progresses and with repeated listens it does become apparent that this is a remarkable piece of work from a band with an almost supernatural level of talent and ability.
Despite my initial reservations I have been finding this to be an album that I have been drawn back to on numerous occasions as a single sitting does not reveal the full story. Let’s face it, this is the case with some of the greatest and most enduring albums in rock history…I thought “Dark Side Of the Moon” was shit when I first listened to it!!! Last Barons are not out to play mass appeal, throwaway mindless dross, they’re in it for the long haul, for themselves and for the people who demand something more cerebral, evocative and challenging in their music and for that they demand respect and, moreover, they demand your attention.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall