French black metal rarely disappoints, and Maïeutiste's self-titled debut is no exception. This is a massive record both in terms of length as well as musical scope. Clocking in at over 1 hour and 16 minutes, this record is comprised of 11 tracks of adventurous metal that does not hesitate to explore within established metal genres as well as clearly outside of well-defined borders of metal in general.
Maïeutiste is a black metal band at their core that at times remind of the glorious single note melodies of Agibor and the bleak stylings and menacing vocal delivery of their fellow countrymen Deathspell Omega. In the end, however, Maïeutiste is very difficult to pigeonhole due to their inherently chameleon-esque nature. The band employs elements of thrash and doom as well as rock, jazz and blues in their compositions with convincing execution. In fact, the musicianship on this record is exceptional, which is all the more impressive given the broad range of styles on display here. The band is especially effective at blending acoustic guitars into distorted passages, achieving some potent and nuanced atmospheres. Some of the most memorable material on the record is acoustic; the interlude "Purgatoire", for example, features haunting ritualistic chanting that gives way to an interplay of hypnotic acoustic arpeggios and brooding cello.
The mood of the record is also well complimented by a clear and organic production. The mix, however, features the guitars and vocals prominently and as a result, the low end suffers to an extent. The drums especially have a somewhat flimsy quality and at times I found myself wishing for meatier kick drum and more audible bass that would have enhanced some of the more aggressive and pummeling sections.
My initial reactions to the record were not entirely positive. I was impressed by the execution and the bold experimentation. However, I was left feeling overwhelmed by the sheer length and seemingly scatter-brained approach. Although I gravitate toward the unique and avant-garde side of black metal, I felt that this material lacked cohesion and ultimately came off as using a "kitchen sink" approach. Case in point, the track "Absolution" features a jazzy section, complete with walking bass line (played on an upright bass, as far as I could tell), and an eerie rising saxophone line. "Lifeless Visions" is, for the most part, a fairly textbook death/doom track featuring growled vocals and droning melancholic riffing. "Annonciation" is a somber and slow bluesy jam that builds to a full-blown wah-wah pedal solo. Again, the quality of execution is not the problem here. Rather, the jumping in and out of such widely different styles resulted in a confused aesthetic and left me unclear as to the band's intention. Further, the non-metal influences often felt a bit too "on the nose" to serve a good purpose. The jazz section, though eerie and memorable, evoked cliché film noir imagery while the blues jam conjured up a vision of Stevie Ray Vaughan decked out in corpse paint.
I am still not clear as to what exactly this band is intending. Initially, I believed that Maïeutiste was a young band still struggling to find its voice and that this record showcases the difficult and imperfect process of incorporating their varied influences. I planned on ending my review with an expression of hope that future efforts would more subtly incorporate the non-metal elements into the core black metal framework. This record is, however, a grower and with subsequent listens the approach began making more and more sense to me. I am left with a feeling that Maïeutiste may just be one of those bands that simply does not give a fuck and does what they want. I hope that this is the case, because, in the end, what is more, metal than that? Black metal purists will hate this, and even fans of the left-field black metal variety may find it difficult to digest. My guess is Maïeutiste don't care either way.