Frédéric D. Oberland – Labyrinth (Nahal Recordings, 2018)


What is Hell and where can it be found? More importantly, what does it look like when you get there? Dante’s construction of Hell, with its descending circles of punishment tailored to the sinner, is the classical impression. Oberland’s is the labyrinth, writ here in the music of his latest record. A place of confusion, of high walls and cul-de-sacs, dark corridors that harbour a lurking fear from which there is no escape.

Allusions to Dante are made from the off though, with “9éme Circle/4éme Zone” referring to the circle that rings the centre of Hell, a frozen wasteland reserved for traitors and betrayers. Piercing electronic disturbances stab through the icy drones, the faces of souls staring up from their frosty tombs the source of our malcontent, those that have built our internal labyrinth. “And Here Is The Place” follows it up, showing us the entrance to our misery as it despools deepening instrumentation. Guitar chords sizzle quietly, the drama developing to a noir height as the percussion slowly digs the walls of the maze up around us.

Some muse appears through the smokey darkness, whispering faint nothings. “Larmes De Minos” is hushed, muted, intimate, piano and voice reduced to a charcoal smudge and a sense of barely restrained misery. This is the nadir, the darkness so total and corridors so twisted that one falls into the ultimate fugue, succumbing to the torture of the uncertainty and confusion ahead. For there is uncertainty and confusion ahead, growing in the synth arpeggiations and escalating energy of “Abysse”. Textures fold over one themselves, mind and space melting across one another in synchronous wastage.

The true terror is unravelled on the way out, or upon the attempt of escape at least, in closing “E Quindi Uscimmo A Riveder Le Stelle”: And then we went out to see the stars again. Guitars thrum and pitch, synths weave and twinkle as though straining the fabric of reality, pushing out and stretching and tearing. Nature does what it can to resist and rebuff our efforts: a harsh drone wind blows, and as we push harder and faster towards deliverance it feels like the world itself is crumbling. Noise grinds and grates with such heady power, narrowly missed boulders evaded as the walls tumble down, a churning rockslide threatening at any instant to crash into us and send us pinwheeling back into nothing.

Hell is not an easy thing to escape from, whether it’s the dramatic underworld of Dante or the maze-like confines of one’s own mind and thoughts, once its walls close in there is little that one can do to resist. Theseus escaped the labyrinth by retracing his steps, rewinding his passage; Dante exited by climbing down Lucifer himself, turning the world upside down; Oberland’s approach is more dramatic, more destructive as he smashes and breaks out his way out forcefully. How will you leave yours?