Here’s a question for you: what have cheese production, cycle race administration, wine consumption, technical death metal, revolutions, nuclear testing in the South Pacific and a propensity for military surrender all got in common? They are all things at which the French seem to, for some reason, excel.
There are Carcariass, Suffereign, Trepalium and Gojira to name but a few of the ground-breaking French exponents of this craft. But for me, when I think of French TDM, there is one name that jumps head and shoulders above the rest: Gorod.
Formed in Toulouse in 1997 with the moniker Gorgasm, even releasing an album under that name before changing it to the more family friendly Gorod (Russian for city) in 2005. Founded by Jazz-Funk experimentalist Mathieu Pascal along with friends Benoit Claus (bass), Arnaud Pontaco (guitar), Guillaume Martinot (vox) and Sandrine (drums).
With that first album, Neurotripsicks (Deadsun/Willowtip/Earache-2005. 6.5/10), Gorod established themselves with a blend of distinctively intricate yet contagiously head-banging riffs. Tight dual guitars entwined with a mellifluous multi-fingered undulating bass and enthusiastic platform building drums which displayed a real jazz-punk sensibility towards TDM from the only female drummer in tech-death at the time.
The vocals are of the guttural, larynx frying kind, with the brutality of their approach unmitigated by intelligibility of any kind. They are matched with lyrics that seem to be searching for a theme yet never quite find one, so instead settle for presenting us with the hidden degrading horrors of everyday life. The stand out track being the marauding Earth Pus.
The very next year they brought forth their second full length Leading Visions (Willowtip/Candlelight-2006. 7.5/10). The music on this disk is much more focused. The sound of a group of musicians really finding their feet, relishing the freedom to experiment and, inversely, the rewards of directness which TDM can offer.
The songs have increased in their complexity and yet there are more melodic hooks; compelled forward by faster, more precise playing. Their blend of jazz influences and metallic muscle is gradually becoming a glinting alloy; vibrant, melodic and exciting. Compact song lengths – rarely over 4 minutes – restrain any outlandish tendencies that can become commonplace within TDM, but yet there is still left a degree of unrealized potential.
Two songs from Leading Visions are still in their live set to this day, of which Chronicle of the Stone Age is a real fan favourite.
3 years of extensive touring followed, including an appearance at the Maryland Deahfest in the US, before the release of their next Album, A Process of a New Decline (Listenable Records, 2009. 8.5/10). Thematically the record is a retelling of the overly-complex Alien propagation/en-slavery of humanity tale, which had concocted for the previous record.
The story of the album may be overwrought but the music with which it is told glows with a refined beauty. Complex guitars and bass brought into amazing relief by the drumming of new sticks-man Sam Santiago (ex-Zubrowska). The sinewy proficiency of his technique and unique ownership of highly developed, muscular rhythms mark this album as head and shoulders above their previous output.
His relatively unknown status, belying his skill at creating formidable drum patterns, with true and unerring variance of tempo displaying his prescient ear and adaptive ability to scintillate the listener with both structure, flourish and accent. Granting the flower of Gorods potential genius, the soil in which to flower.
Songs like Disavow Your God, which latches onto the listener with a beautifully soloed melody and then forces deeper into the attentive senses; jouously neck-tapping its way into your permanent memory. It has a intricate-simplicity marking a style that is almost solely Gorods.
The song is a clarion call to fans of this kind of music, as can be seen in the YouTube video of them performing it at the 2010 HellFest, where they opened the festival. Hoards of young men run at full pelt towards the stage, propelled by the desire to get closer to the sound being generated by a band they didn’t know of but were compelled to experience.
In the period between Process… and the release of their most recent LP, A Perfect Absolution, (Listenable Records, 2012, 9.5/10) Gorod went through a short period of flux. Both Guillaume and Arnaud decided to leave the band to commit to a more settled family and work life. Into this breach stepped guitar prodigy Nicolas Albany and the second Zubrowska alumnus to bolster their ranks, vocalist Julien ‘Nutz’ Deyres.
This album, both musically and thematically, is as forceful a testament to the ability of metal to captivate and enthral as I have heard.
It is the tale of the first Slavic women to achieve Sainthood, Olga Varangian. Who after her husband’s murder, uses all of her intelligence and cunning to: destroy the city of a Prince who sought to control her (Birds of Sulphur), obtain the respect and protection of the Byzantine Emperor (Elements and Spirit) and have the army of a potential suitor -her husband’s murderer- steamed to death as they prepared for a feast (Varangian Paradise). If ever a woman deserved a Death Metal album dedicated to her, this was she.
The musical telling of this deliciously gory story is a paragon of metallic possibility, each song memorable and distinct, melodic and rousing. The scrupulously technical playing present on previous records is, if anything intensified here. But the facile application of a rigid song structure allows roaring choruses to come tearing through the mix.
Deyres’ less guttural, bellowed vocal style is a boost for its accessibility; allowing lyrics to be heard in semi-clarity. This will not satisfy all of my fellow metal-heads. Some of whom a preference for beastliness is a mainstay of every Death Metal form.
However in my opinion, A Perfect Absolution smashes down many barriers of proscription in metal; of what can and cannot be done in this music we love. Doing this with an utterly French sense of melody and the opposing forces of disdain and respect which flow through their national character.
It truly is an album that cannot be recommended highly enough. But don’t take my word for it, check it out today.
Gorod are currently writing and recording their new, as yet untitled Record. I am quite excited about this news, as you can probably tell.
– John Whitmore