Le Grande Guignol
The Great Maddening

It’s not too surprising that Luxembourg act Le Grand Guignol shares a label with Carach Angren – both play a melodramatic, heavily ornamented style of symphonic black metal that’s sure to send the troo and kvlt into paroxysms of bile-spewing rage. However, where Carach Angren is steeped in horror-movie theatrics – all furious strings and gothic pomp – Le Grand Guignol sounds like a tinkly black metal circus has set up camp in the middle of a Renaissance Faire. This album doesn’t twist, lunge, screech and swoop like most symphonic black metal acts – it scampers, cavorts, traipses and swoons.

Normally, I’m a sucker for any odd new flavor of black metal (or metal in general) – Frantic Bleep, Lunaris, Solefald and Ved Buens Ende among the more avant-garde acts – but even this was too much for me. It’s just too fey and affected to take seriously. Here’s a snapshot of Le Grand Guignol‘s sound: calliope processional horns, prancing strings, childish xylophones, neoclassical piano, maniacal laughter, acoustic folk, and a bizarre conga interlude that sounds like Cradle of Filth raping Miami Sound Machine. And that’s just the first track. Further tracks like “Madness and Her Thousand Young” or “The Healing Process” fold in even more elements – screechy opera divas, male choirs, fluid guitar solos, crinkly harpsichords and Goblinesque synths – although the overall Danny Elfman/dark carnival vibe continues to dominate.

Still, I will say that The Great Maddening is all very well done, with strong production values, tight musicianship and a convincingly deranged vocal performance. (The band also shares three members with folk/Viking act Falkenbach). The songs are sometimes overlong and overambitious, but at least they’re well-executed. And when Le Grand Guignol lays off the tinkly, annoying piano and xylophones and aims more for majesty and less for campy mischief, as in the regal closing minutes of “Finis Coronat Opus,” they’re quite good. In fact, I’d say The Great Maddening is better than other similar releases this year – the UK’s Imperial Vengeance, for instance.

So perhaps this is just a matter of mistaken classification and distorted expectations. Sure, it has raspy, scraping black metal vocals, but Le Grand Guignol may be better described as fantasy/symphonic metal than a symphonic black metal band. That said, I don’t want to play this when anyone’s in earshot. A leering jester in filthy corpse paint is an interesting image, but not when he’s dancing about like a drunken fairy. Had The Great Maddening been a little less fanciful and a little more ferocious, it might have fit nicely into my collection.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
November 2nd, 2009


  1. Commented by: gabaghoul

    funny, they’ve gone from a French name to a Spanish one

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