2016 was a particularly fruitful year for Belgium. Rheia by Oathbreaker, Forever and A Day by Syndrome, 10910 by CHVE and one of my personal favourites - a one-man project BARST produced The Western Lands. The very moment I start thinking I cannot be surprised by the Belgian scene any more, I am proved wrong. Another one-man project Empusae released a dark electronica ode titled Lueur (glow in French) on Consouling Sounds.
Lueur is the 17th record by maestro Nicolas Van Meirhaeghe. So if you haven’t heard about Empusae, it is about time to correct this huge mistake. For years this one-man-orchestra have been delivering dark ambient, noise, industrial, experimental to the finest palettes. Lueur in another brave step into unmapped territory of ambient/dark electronica featuring guest vocals of Colin H. Van Eeckhaut.
Unlike in his early works, in Lueur Nicolas extensively uses acoustic instruments and voice, processed with effects. The record consists of two tracks. In a way they are love songs. [Generally I’m not fond of songs about love. Political or abstract poetry was one of the reasons I was drawn to extreme music in the first place...] Yet, Lueur is a different kind of beast. ‘Love’ conveyed through Lueur is not about two love birds holding hands. It opens up the dark side, a Pandora’s box with its profound evils and aches - desolation, hopelessness, loss.
Guiding Light takes me to a mystical church, where the smell of myrrh permeates the cold. In their dark cloaks servants of gods are humming quietly… but firmly enough to shatter the stained glass of the church. Heavy synths build up suspense. Colin starts singing… Fans that have followed Church of Ra and are familiar with Amenra, CHVE, Absent in Body and other projects Colin has been involved, must be aware of the variety of soundscapes his vocals can create. Ghostly and soothing at CHVE, brutal hardcoresque at Amenra and crushing and ferocious at Absent In body. Guiding Light, on the other hand, is distinguished by clean vocals. As simple as it might appear at first sight (or listen), the track carries heavy weight. Piano passages backed by synth drones give a sense of urgency… to me Guiding Light is a metaphor for a prophet who is yet to accept his fate. Nailed to a cross, he screams out his anger and hopelessness at the indifferent universe. “…and you promised me forever more” - I can’t help but wonder, what did he lose?
Retinae Tenebrae (retinal darkness in Latin) sets a different scene. Water is flowing, Mother Nature gradually awakens from the winter sleep. Percussion is soft and fragile like insects cautiously crawling from their shelters. Birds are singing. Crescendo ambient atmospheres lend a spiritual feeling to the track. Trombone sounds triumphant, whereas piano is almost comforting… But just like spring weather, the track is hardly predictable. Suddenly, our dark passenger, the prophet of doomsday resurrects. Screaming his guts out, he ultimately learns to let go both aversion and craving: “you will always mean the world to me / now time has come to set you free.” Shrieks, beats and piano strings climax capturing a highly dramatic yet masculine way of confronting a crisis and reaching acceptance.
To sum up, Nicolas is a story teller who, in his sonic endeavour, captures the very best and worst of human nature. Deeply personal and overpowering, Lueur serves an evidence that guitars are not a prerequisite to heavy. More so, this electronic catalyst to healing rightfully deserves 10/10.
P.S. Looking forward to seeing Empusae and others live in Brussels, April 9th