France’s Year of No Light roar back with dramatic, thunderous new adventure ‘Tocsin’

YONLIt’s been a great couple of months for instrumental metal, what with new music filling our ears from Pelican and Russian Circles, both of which got extensive coverage on this site the past couple weeks. And now we’re in for even more thunder as an old favorite has returned with a pulverizing new record.

France’s Year of No Light certainly have made an impact on the underground, but they haven’t quite graduated to the levels of the aforementioned bands. There’s no real good reason for that since they’ve put out strong record after strong record ever since their 2006 debut “Nord,” an album that did include vocals. They followed through with a bunch of split efforts, their excellent 2010 effort “Ausserwelt,” and now two full-length pieces that dropped this year. The first was a sonic interpretation of the 1932 film “Vampyr,” and now comes their second helping of music for 2013 in the form of “Tocsin,” that we’ll dissect today. This record is the most direct descendant from the line that last brought us “Ausserwelt,” if that makes sense, and it shows a band that’s got a strong grasp of what they want to accomplish musically and emotionally, and it’s the group’s finest moment in a slew of high points.

YONL coverYear of No Light have a pretty huge sound and a lot going on behind them, so it’s probably no surprise that they have six members. And all of them hold up their end and add to the band’s atmospheric, yet morbid texture that makes their music and this record so remarkable. The lineup consists of three guitarists including Jerome Alban, Pierre Anouilh, and Shiran Kaidine, bassist Johan Sebenne, and Bertrand Sebenne (drums, keyboards), and Mathieu Megemont (drums, electronics). These guys obviously have all of their hands in every bit of the band’s sound, and “Tocsin” sounds like the group really having a grasp on what they want to do with their music and what part of your psyche they want to stimulate.

The record opens with the title cut, a song that takes its time setting up shop, with keys being spread slowly, and drums entering in a calculated manner. Dark, foggy guitars enter the picture, then the bottom truly drops out with doom hammering, elegant melodies that add a sense of beauty and serenity, and then some punishing adventure that brings dark clouds back to the horizon. The 14-minute cut finally erupts one last time, as a noise haze and rushing stomping brings this opener to its conclusion. “Gehenne” is the shortest track on the record at 5:53, and it positively soars from a melody standpoint, potentially setting you up for one hell of a head rush. The song is like a million sunbeams crashing through the clouds and bathing everything beneath it in its brilliant light. “Desolation” opens with what sound like Armageddon horns, along with gazey, clean guitar. Eventually distortion slashes through the center, bringing in a storm and some slashing wind gusts, and the back end of the song plays more with noise and glowing, glimmering power that lights a flickering ember underneath this song.

“Stella Rectrix” sounds a bit like a Zombi song during its first few minutes, with murky, sci-fi-bent keyboards setting up a spooky, alien feel that could make you feel unsafe and a bit claustrophobic. The doom menace emerges, letting the song get a little ugly and threatening, and that carries through until about the eight-minute mark of the song, where the sounds begin to die down, and silence threatens to dominate. But then melodies return slowly, calculatingly, continually lapping the shore with increasingly larger waves, with chaos meeting with the noise hanging in the air to bring the song to a dramatic conclusion. Finale “Alamut” is the longest cut at 14:16, and it also has a gazey ambiance like many of the other cuts on the record, that gets broken apart by pulsating sounds that pierce the track’s belly, and killer melodic guitar work that picks the song up on its shoulders and carries it on its way. There is great drama to behold, power that rises and falls through the duration of the track, and a piercing conclusion that delivers the knockout punch you quietly hope is coming. And luckily it’s not painful and is instead cathartic.

Year of No Light continue to build a bigger, more dangerous machine as they travel along their path, and what you’ll hear on “Tocsin” should make you realize that these guys have might and grit like few other bands. They’re a band that’s gotten better and better with time, and they tell better, more compelling stories without words. This is the band’s best work to date, but the way they’re been building momentum, I won’t be surprised to hear them top this in a few years.

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