Desillusion - Esprit maudit 4/5

Reviewed: 12-5-08


1. Intro
2. Esprit maudit
3. Prisonnier des tenebres
4. Dernier combat
5. Fin d'une vie
6. Loin de notre temps
7. Jack I'Eventreur
8. Des illusions
9. Precarite
10. Rock'n'roll secours
11. Rock'n'roll (bonus track)

As a general proposition, France gets a bad rap in underground traditional/power metal circles. I vividly remember seeing a prominent German band at the Elysee Montmartre venue in Paris in 2002. Upon talking with the band after the show, one of the members complained that French audiences are usually tepid and don't seem to have their hearts in this style of music. It was a stinging indictment, to be sure, and seemed valid given the decidedly lukewarm crowd response to that amazing evening of top-flight German metal. But there are exceptions to this stereotype. French acts such as Lonewolf and Nightmare keep the denim'n'leather spirit alive with fine English-language CDs. And the Brennus Music label remains a haven for quality French-language metal. In fact, Brennus is responsible for a pair of my favorite European metal releases of 2008. One is the superb Killers 'A l'ombre des vautours' CD, a turbocharged shot of inspired adrenalin that was featured on these pages a few months ago. (I know the Killers CD was technically released in 2007, but I didn't track it down until mid-2008, so cut me some slack.) The other is this Desillusion 'Esprit maudit' CD.

Although I was not familiar with Desillusion before now, they are veterans of the metal wars, having formed in 1999 in Lower Normandy and having self-released a debut CD entitled 'Vision d'apocalypse' in 2005. I wasn't sure what to expect, given the vaguely extreme metal logo, the CD title (which is French for "cursed spirit"), the haunted house imagery on the cover, and the Children of Bodom t-shirt sported by songwriter/guitarist Felix Limmeroth in the booklet photographs. In fact, Desillusion's style is heavily steeped in the classic French metal sound pioneered by the likes of Sortilege, H-Bomb, ADX, Killers and others in the 80s. The guitars have a classic NWOBHM feel to them, with a pinch of thrash, and there are multiple times that Limmeroth's guitar lines and bassist Yvon's bottom-end thunder remind me of something Davey Murray and Steve Harris of Iron Maiden might play. There's plenty of speed, twin guitar melodies galore, and all kinds of cool twists and turns in the songs, with most of the tracks clocking in at more than 5 1/2 minutes while maintaining strong, readily identifiable choruses and hooks. Vocalist Jimmy possesses a strong, clear, melodic set of pipes, enunciating the French lyrics clearly and with obvious passion and enthusiasm. In short, Desillusion have all the ingredients that die-hard fans of traditional metal along the lines of Iron Maiden and Sortilege would want. If you need convincing, check out the 8-minute epic "Loin de notre temps", the captivating title track, or the Killers-inflected "Precarite" for a lesson in French classic metal of the highest order.

My only criticism of 'Esprit maudit' is that the CD ends with a whimper, rather than a bang, thanks to 2 ill-chosen cover versions that do not fit the rest of the material. I understand the band's desire to pay tribute to cult 80s French act Vulcain by recording a version of "Rock'n'roll secours". While the song's not bad, it frankly pales in excitement to the Desillusion originals that precede it. And the final, semi-hidden track is a rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Rock'n'roll". If it were up to me, Led Zeppelin covers would be banned from all metal CDs for all time. Sure, I realize that Plant, Page & Co. were highly influential and groundbreaking back in the 70s, but that doesn't change the fact that I find their songs uninteresting to an extreme degree. I'd rather listen to the 10,000th paint-by-numbers metal cover of "Paranoid" or "Breaking the law" than any Zep covers. But I understand that's a personal bias, and some people may actually like hearing excellent metal bands of today have a go at boring old Led Zeppelin tunes. I'm just not one of them.

For fans of the classic 80s French brand of heavy metal, 'Esprit maudit' should be a mandatory purchase. Those who may not be familiar with the likes of Sortilege, ADX, H-Bomb, early Nightmare and the rest, but who are interested in checking out some French-language classic metal, might find Desillusion to be an ideal "gateway" band to the style. And those who love keyboards and are weary of old-school heavy metal can just move along, because there's nothing for you here. For my part, I'll continue to rejoice in Desillusion's fine 'Esprit maudit' effort, and will pray to the metal gods for even better things from Felix Limmeroth and his merry band of Frenchmen in 2009. Finally, here's hoping Brennus can develop distribution channels in the United States to enable metal fiends on these shores to get their paws on such fantastic stuff as recent Killers and Desillusion output, which cry out for worldwide availability.




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