Year Of No Light occupy profound existential terrain. The Bordeaux band’s intense instrumental metal is as awe-inspiring as it is troubling, plumbing dark philosophical depths while ascending peaks of tension-fraught musical majesty. Their work is organised around an intriguing telos – one that’s gifted the band as strong a sense of creative freedom as it has spiritual enlightenment.
Consolamentum, the six-piece’s newest full-length, sees Year Of No Light further expanding on this heady worldview. The sound that they’ve developed over the course of twenty years, four studio albums, live soundtrack re-recordings and countless splits and EPs is taken to its furthest extremes on Consolamentum. It’s an intoxicating, often dark and yet always wondrous musical landscape. But what kind of physical landscape birthed the music of Year Of No Light?
“Bordeaux was a rough town,” explains guitarist Pierre Anouilh. “However it was also stimulating and energising. There was also an underground, we could party all night.”
“Forty years ago it was all black,” adds bassist Johan Sébenne. “Nothing was clean, there were a lot of drugs. But there was also a lot of nightlife.” Bands of Year Of No Light’s ilk, playing a similar style of sprawling, ‘post’ metal, often seem to absorb the qualities of the homelands – think of Cult Of Luna’s chilly Swedish majesty, or A Storm Of Light’s concrete-thick urban brutality.
“When I first arrived in Bordeaux, what struck me was the grey and the rain,” elaborates Pierre. Year Of No Light’s music, particularly Consolamentum, possesses a similarly murky, washed-out quality. The terrifying atmospherics of opening track ‘Objuration’ or the ominous trudge of ‘Came’ reflect a world defined by great opacity and decay. Through these quotes and this imagery, there’s a clear parallel to be drawn from Year Of No Light’s worldview to that of the gnostics.
To clarify – gnosticism is an early branch of Christian mysticism, one that prioritised spiritual knowledge over traditional orthodoxy. In the gnostic cosmogony, there are two Gods – the supreme, unknowable Monad and the malevolent Demiurge. The Demiurge created our material Earth, which is defined by a great murkiness and oppressive weightiness. It is a mire inhabited by corrupt forms far removed from the distant light of the Monad.
Year Of No Light’s sonic aesthetic seems to share much with this worldview. “Sometimes people ask us if there’s a trend in the way we conceive our albums,” explains Pierre. “Consciously no, but unconsciously you can find a logic, even if we didn’t strictly intend it. We’re not strictly Gnostics, or Cathars (a brand of Gnostic thinking) but we are inspired by certain theological stuff like this.” Are Year Of No Light themselves spiritual people? “I mean, yes,” laughs Pierre. “We believe we are not just here to work, sleep and die. Perhaps we are already dead.”
Consolamentum’s title is taken from a Catharian ritual, which is performed usually at the end of a follower’s life, with the intention of freeing the angelic spirits that are supposedly trapped within the bodies of corrupt human forms. Like this ritual, Consolamentum the album seems to also reach towards some greater state of being. Its explosive ending, the blastbeat-strewn final stretch of closing track ‘Came’, is so profoundly intense that it seems to emulate the journey from this world to the next.
It’s enough to make you wonder whether Year Of No Light’s music reaches towards something transcendent. “What is interesting is when, in life as well as the band, you surpass yourself,” answers Pierre. “With music – there’s the noise, the huge volume, the rhythm, it’s about destroying your ego. You become a collective entity, in an orbital state. For me it’s a praxis. You feel clean, it’s about cleaning the soul.”
Year Of No Light’s soul-cleansing journey has seen them forge a somewhat singular career path. They’ve released four conventional full-length albums, but have also spent a lot of time working on numerous collaborative projects. In 2012 alone they released three split EPs with Altar Of Plagues, Thisquietarmy and Mars Red Sky. A 2009 collaborative piece with Fear Falls Burning is an especially strong highlight, rife with lush, physical soundscapes and dense drones.
“Each project was different,” says Johan. “With [the Fear Falls Burning collab] we had known [Belgian composer] Vidna Obmana for some years. The creation of that track marked a kind of transition for the band, from our old lineup to the new one.” Guitarist Jérôme Alban adds: “Working on a split is cool because it allows for experimentation, you can find other ways to compose. Although we might have made more albums if it weren’t for all the splits!”
Year Of No Light have kept up this level of idiosyncratic creativity and, like numerous other instrumental rock bands (Explosions In The Sky, 65daysofstatic, to name just a couple), they’ve also turned their hand to creating original film soundtracks, most notably their rescore of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror classic Vampyr. Vampyr’s viscous, doom-laden, dreamlike tone is a perfect match for the band’s aesthetic, and their soundtrack (officially released in 2013) also works as a compelling, standalone Year Of No Light album.
Pierre speaks highly of the project: “It holds a special place in our hearts, especially in the way that the band was to evolve after it. It was a big challenge, but we found our way.” In terms of specific cinematic influences, Pierre cites Dreyer, Bresson and Tarkowski, while Jérôme mentions David Lynch and the expressionist era. Pierre also cites a surprise influence: “I’m in love with the original soundtrack of Conan by Basil Poledouris,” he laughs. “It didn’t have an influence on us, just to clarify, but I really, really love that score.”
Year Of No Light’s relentless creativity is a thing to be admired. Through expanding their palette in ways beyond the conventional album/tour/album/tour cycle, they’ve carved out a unique space, one that seems to exist free of conventional time, membership or artistic form. Like their music, and the effect Pierre claims it has on them while they play – there’s a genuine air of the transcendent about Year Of No Light.
Consolamentum is out now on Pelagic Records. Order here.
Words: Tom Morgan