REGARD EXTREME: Ars Veterum
Release year: 2021
Label: Steinklang Records
French Regard Extreme – or Regard Extrême if we’re being pedantic, but it’s spelled in the former way on the cover and spine of the album – could be called “grand old men” of anything related to the martial, neoclassical strains of post-industrial music. Having started out in the early 90’s, the project itself is older than some of it’s audience.
I suppose you could label the French act as one of those hard to pin bands, as well: apart from the rather vague tag of “neoclassical”, they’ve always been hard to put into any particular niché. I’ve seen them being called martial industrial, ambient, darkwave and a lot of other genres – all more or less fitting, at least to some part of their discography, but hardly defining for Regard Extreme overall.
And Ars Veterum, their newest album, will only make it harder to pin Regard Extreme’s style.
As the cover art implies, there is a very strong medieval element to Ars Veterum. The name itself translates to “ancient art” (at least according to the Google Translator), and that certainly rings true. Whilst the compositions themselves aren’t necessarily examples of medieval minstrel or troubadour music, the instrumentation leans heavily in that direction. In other words, you won’t be hearing typical neoclassical “grand orchestra” instrumentation and arrangements here.
However, the compositions themselves stem from a far more modern-feeling, post-industrial tradition. It creates a weird, at the best of times even titillating contrast between form and content. To put it somewhat provocatively, on occasion Ars Veterum feels like a medieval take on Derniere Volonte. And it’s not just provocation: there are more than passing moments when I sense a certain subterranean kinship between the two. Of course, in form, especially latter-day Derniere Volonte with their post-punk/synthpop elements is very different. But in some of the melodies, the looping percussions, I think it can be heard.
Ars Veterum is in other ways too an album that leaves the listener feel a bit conflicted. Musically, there is a lot to like on the album: the arrangements are very adept and the songwriting solid, resulting in many a moment of beauty. However, sometimes the vocals of main man Fabien Nicault can be a bit trying: I don’t know if he is going for a touch of the medieval in his vocal approach – he sounds a bit like a priest chanting – but it gets grating. In truth, his is not the strongest voice there is. In smaller doses, it’s entirely bearable, but when the vocals are in such a central role on many tracks, it can become too much.
This is a bit of a shame, as quite naturally the vocals are a focal point on the album. And that might mean people will be too haughty to dismiss the album based just on them, when the music underneath has quite a lot to give.
Even within the context of neoclassical, post-industrial and martial music, Ars Veterum might be a bit of a challenging or even acquired taste. It certainly isn’t a sound you come across every day on albums in this field. Whilst it does take some time to dig into, it’s ultimately worth it. Despite its shortcomings, Ars Veterum is a good album. It’s not my favourite Regard Extreme release, but it’s a solid enough addition to their discography.
Summary: Fine album, despite the grating vocals.