After over a decade of activity, Ysengrin, the project directed by Guido Saint Roch, released their final album: Initiatio. The musical trajectory of the band was always very interesting and it is therefore fitting to end the life of this musical project by an even more curious final album. The main constant of Ysengrin’s career is the aim to create a music that sounds obscure, even a bit mystical, by the means of mid-tempo blend of black and death metal. Until this very last album, every bigger release of Ysengrin could be, to make it simple but reductive, roughly compared to their contemporaries Necros Christos, but with a much stronger occult black metal influence, mainly Mortuary Drape.
With the latest splits with Black Grail, Stargazer and Sartegos, the band continued in that path but opted for a surprising choice of putting the bass as the main instrument on the forefront. On Initiatio, this is even more pronounced, there is nearly no electric guitar besides a few leads. The rest is done by a duo of basses, drums, a classical guitar, the characteristic voice of Guido and a few diverse keyboard sounds, be it bells or organs. Although the result does remind a lot of the classic albums of Necromantia, specifically because of the double bass usage, the effect achieved ends up being quite unique for this genre of metal. Initiatio sounds cavernous, strange, mystical and almost otherworldly at times evoking perfectly the hermetic aesthetics which Guido strives for.
The thematic of Hermeticism was always at the core of Ysengrin’s music. This late antiquity philosophical and religious movement focused on the idea of a transcendent god and propagating the search for wisdom, using for example alchemy or astrology. After the fall from grace of the movement, it was revived more openly in the late medieval era and especially in the renaissance by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, influencing tremendously the western esoteric traditions. Of course, metal was always drawing heavily from these aesthetics, one example is Goetia by Mystifier based on the idea of contacting demons. However, what Ysengrin does is to capture in the music the clandestine aspect of searching for these ancient hermetic truths. In this way, the album, as well as the discography of Ysengrin in general, provides a very compelling and diverse exploration of related topics.
The best illustration for this feeling is on the 8 minutes long track “Téménos”. The mid paced note progression sustained by the synth of the intro, that reminds of some tracks off of Varathron‘s Walpurgisnacht, lead into the raspy vocals with additional classical guitar chords and even more unnerving bass note progressions. The interplay between these few elements and the overall arrangement succeed at waking in the listener a mix of curiosity, meditative feeling but also danger.
These aspects are especially reinforced by the already mentioned double bass usage. On the one hand, a clean bass providing a more moody, almost calming constant line while, on the other hand, the distorted bass is adding the necessary disturbance to the songs, like on the first leg of “Momentum” when both instruments throw themselves in a Mortuary Drape like frenzy where this combination is particularly effective.
Through those arrangements, it isn’t even noticeable how half of the songs of the album are in fact old rearranged tracks from the very first demo of the band, showing how far Ysengrin has gone in their artistic pursuit since the inception of the project. There couldn’t have been a better last album for the group, not only cementing their legacy but also never losing the thirst for artistic adventuring, even on their very last album.
We had the opportunity to talk to Guido about Initiatio in detail, below you can read his track by track commentary on the album to take a deeper look behind the curtains, right into Ysengrin’s creation.
When Rhandgar contacted me for an interview, I told him that my very last one was for The Sinister Flame magazine, “Black Pilgrimage” issue. Then, I told him it could be interesting if I do a track-by-track commentary for “Initiatio“. So here we go. Here are some keys for this last album. And as written in the layout, listen with high volume in a proper isolated or sacred place.
Potencée d’Or. This first track is near the original version of the very first opus, but the addition of keyboards had an epic touch perfectly fitting to the crusade concept lyrics, dealing around the figure of the Leper King. Obviously like on all these first tracks of the album, the killer lead guitars Brungard recorded add a lot to the atmosphere.
Celui qui est au-dessus. The title of this instrumental is the French translation of the Greek “Huperíôn”. This is the first track we recorded live together with Frater Stéphane. I wanted to have a mountain heights feeling, and by the way, the under title of the album is “représentation de la dévotion verticale” ; I guess it does not need an English translation! The quest of the verticality, in total rejection of the atheism. Also, there is an interesting parallel, as there is poem entitled “Luceafarul” (=Lucifer) of Mihai Eminescu, with a reference as well to “Hyperion“…
Pass’Age. On this third track, the sacerdotal feeling is at his apex, under the sign of Hecate/Hermes and the psychopomp wolf. Sometimes, a short track can be a good and simple way to pass something…
Mémorables (G. de Nerval – extraits). This is my third homage to Gérard de Nerval after “Antéros” on the “Alchimëte” demo and also a clin d’oeil to him on “Hors du siècle” track on “Tragédies – liber hermetis“. The text is a selected part of the famous story “Aurélia“, in order to fit the hermetic opus. The riffs were mostly written to be harmonized to the text. The final clean vocals part I recorded were in a trance state.
Ode à l’Escarboucle. “L’escarboucle” is a symbol I use in every YSENGRIN release (you can see in the shield of the cover artwork of “Initiatio“). When I wrote the lyrics of this track back in the early times of the band, it was in a semi-automatic way. For this new version, I just added the four words “Umbra solis“, “Anima” and “Bab-Ilu” to the end. This is a central track in the opus, and the final part has a same energy as you can feel on the final part of “To Endotaton“.
Téménos. This new version of an old track is very much modified. Oh and what that might sound empty in opposition to the multi-layered guitars of “To Endotaton“, but I wanted this final album more primal, with just two basses recorded live, mostly in one take, to give a more instinctive touch. So this track is probably the more straight in this way of the album, and we can use the quote of Claude Monet to apply to the music instead of painting: “What I want to reproduce is what exists between the motif and me“, a good quote for the listener of this opus… The last part of this track is a tribute to one of my greatest influence in Black Metal: Austrian masters ABIGOR. Yes, they are still playing good music with soul and devotion after all these years, where others stopped or play shitty music. Remember that: in order to go back in time to find the beginning, the Eternity, the primordial Unity, you have to destroy the Cosmos. Against the time.
Mia Carne Sepolta. Second track we recorded live together with Frater Stéphane. This recording was a great communion and energy. I borrow (again) these Italian words from the “Divina Commedia” of Dante (if you have “To Endotaton” you see what I’m talking about…). And speaking of Italy, there is a strong MORTUARY DRAPE feeling on this track. Not a bad thing as they are a big influence in our sound.
By the way, these three last tracks of the album are totally without guitars (electric or acoustic).
Monumentum. It is pretty much the same construction as the demo version, but the original lead guitar was replaced by a short bass solo I played, plus the adding of keyboards, and a sample taken from the movie “La Chiesa” of Michele Soavi (produced by Dario Argento). I like very much the whole live sound of this particular track.
Pantaculum Mystagogia. You cannot separated “Initiatio” from the four splits with BLACK GRAIL, SARTEGOS, STARGAZER and the last one will be announced this year, because even if we have two different point of views, the ordeals and the quintessence are the same. Each riff of this final track is a reference to the splits, from nigredo to rubedo. Ars requirit totum hominem. Ite missa est.