Very, VERY rarely do I commenting on band pics, especially at the beginning of an article. However, in this instance I can’t help it because the picture included with the promo materials for Louisiana-based progressive death metal duo A Novelist‘s second album Foile reminds me so much of of a pair of paintings by French Surrealist painter Réne Magritte from his Les Amants (The Lovers) series that I have a hard time believing that it’s simply a coincidence. It’s also very reminiscent of the cover to The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute, which I’ve long been convinced was inspired by Magritte’s paintings as well:
Now, even though our loyal Vault Hunters are used to this sort of thing from me, I’m sure some readers are wondering why the hell I’d be talking about a surrealist painter in a track premiere. So let me get to something resembling a point. Surrealist artists and writers strove to find ways to tap into the unconscious mind when creating their work – thus things like automatic drawing in art, the cut-up technique that writers like William S. Burroughs used in literature, and automatistic methods that composers like Kurt Weill and Igor Stravinsky used to create unexpected juxtapositions in their music. Or to put it more directly: Surrealism was/is an attempt to recreate dreamlike states in the waking world.
I’m not sure I’d go quite so far as to call A Novelist’s songwriting approach on Foile ‘surreal.’ One doesn’t need to spend very long with the album, though, to notice that drummer Alex Babineaux and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Ben Nugent’s music may be grounded in death metal, but they have no real use for genre conventions or constraints. In fact, the cover art isn’t the only thing that reminds me of The Mars Volta – there’s a similar sense of daring in their music as well in the way that they draw from all points on the musical spectrum from jazz to post-hardcore to tech-death. Alaska or Colors-era Between the Buried and Me – which (perhaps not coincidentally) were both produced by Jamie King, who also handled the recording on Foile – also make for good points of comparison regarding their approach.
Setting all that aside, though, most of our readers are probably wondering the same thing: as the kids say, does it ‘slap’? To those readers I say…yes, it does indeed slap. For example, consider “His Kingdom is Vast,” which we’re premiering here today at the Vault. If you wanted to, you could pick apart the song’s structure and marvel at the way they move so effortlessly and effectively from super-techy, 500-notes-a-minute sections to melodic, mid-tempo back metal riffing to atmospheric post-hardcore passages with soaring vocals. Or you could turn your brain off, pop in your earbuds, and just enjoy the ride. Regardless of which approach you prefer, the end results are going to be the same: the realization that A Novelist is the shit, coupled with an overwhelming need to listen to “His Kingdom is Vast” again ASAP.
When asked for their thoughts about the record, A Novelist responded:
With this album, we really tried to go to places that neither of us were comfortable going during the writing of the first album. The first album was actually written about four years prior to its release and some of the material is actually much older. I think that at that time we were young and both focused on extremity more than songwriting. We had fallen in love with the intensity and technical prowess that was so fresh and at times mesmerizing to us with the bands that we were into when we were having our sort of coming of age on our instruments. With Folie, it is obvious that we still share that same affection for extreme music, but also make an earnest effort at really incorporating songwriting and dynamics. Folie is French for madness.
Concerning the concepts of the album, it discusses relationship dynamics, trust, loyalty, community, the growing lack of empathy seen in modern society, aging, and death. The album is based around the life and particularly the last four years of someone very close to the band. We use allegory and allusions to the Inquisition and the story of Hiram Abiff. The album is based around a protagonist named the Pope of Hell. This is a title bestowed to those of only the most kind and benevolent disposition that knowingly sacrifice themselves for no self-gain, specifically with the intent of reaching greater truths for the betterment of humanity. The name is derived from the idea that the person deemed eligible for this title was so kind and selfless that even Lucifer would feel compassion and spare this person of the potential for perdition. The end result of this position always leads to the Pope of Hell being deemed impenitent by the public. Historically, the impenitent were the people during the Inquisition that would refuse to recant their beliefs or values for a lesser punishment, ultimately causing them to be burned at the stake.
Folie will be available digitally on February 8 via A Novelist’s Bandcamp. Preorder your copy here, and then enjoy “His Kingdom is Vast” below.