French post-metal pioneers Year of no Light have returned with a new album… and they have a milestone anniversary to celebrate too. Rich Holmes met guitarist Pierre Anouilh and bassist Johan Sébenne to explore the band’s lengthy career – and get a glimpse into the future.
Year of no Light have come a long way since recording their first demo in Pierre Anouilh’s kitchen.
What started as a DIY side project blossomed into something astonishing: a band capable of bringing audiences to their knees through immense, transcendental soundscapes; an act revered worldwide for their recorded output and live shows; and a collective who have helped to redefine what we know as ‘heavy’ music.
Since forming in Bordeaux two decades ago, the sextet have enchanted fans with Nord, their 2006 debut, 2010’s Ausserwelt (their first album as an instrumental act) and their titanic third opus, Tocsin.
And they’ve become embedded into a boundary pushing, experimental scene centred on festivals such as Roadburn.
However, it has been eight years since Tocsin and Vampyr – an obituary-soundtrack for C. T. Dreyer’s 1932 film – were released.
That’s a long wait, by anyone’s standards.
According to Anouilh, a lengthy stint on road, plus a clutch of personal challenges and work difficulties, all contributed to that barren period.
But Year of no Light were never likely to disappoint on their return to the studio.
And the stellar Consolamentum, released in July, was one hell of a way to mark their 20th anniversary.
It’s a dark monolith of star-born sound, a record which stands tall in a remarkable discography.
The band turned to the team behind Tocsin – Cyrille Gachet at Cryogene and Alan Douches at West West Side – for recording, mixing and mastering, and the album’s five lengthy tracks were all recorded live. The result is a warm, organic record, where the Frenchmen’s shimmering melodies and volcanic crescendos permeate and very often, overwhelm.
Anouilh is proud of what Year of no Light have achieved.
“It is a significant evolution,” he says. “There are some moods which you can relate to the first album but also new territories. It gives us a lot of options for the future.
“And with the manner of production and the drumming, we are very happy with the way it sounds… and we are very lucky to have worked with the same team.”
Consolamentum, featuring widescreen epics such as Réalgar and Objuration, is certainly a significant moment in the band’s career.
But their history is peppered with landmarks: endeavours that have spurred further growth and development.
“Ausserwelt was a big milestone on our evolution because we got rid of the singer,” explains Anouilh. “At the beginning we were five people with a singer and then we became this kind of ‘circus’ with three guitars and two drummers!”
The guitarist continues: “Vampyr was also a very important experience for us, making a score for this huge movie forced us to explore new landscapes, to be more introspective and in terms of composition, to be more sensitive, so that was very important.”
Looking back, what have the band learned on their 20-year voyage?
“To master your instrument, improve your musicianship and really play together,” replies Anouilh. “And to try to deal with this kind of ‘sonic cathedral’ we are trying to build.
“Sometimes it can be very fragile, like a big old boat. When the wind is ok it is great, but sometimes it can be a catastrophe.
“And also, (we learned) not to count too much on the sound guy!
“The American DIY and crust bands we really loved when we were younger, they came into the squats, they plugged in and they played songs. They didn’t need hours and hours of soundchecks – they had this kind of efficiency.”
There are business considerations too, as bassist and keyboard player Johan Sébenne, explains…
“The most important thing we learned is to stay independent,” he asserts. “We are really proud of being the owners of the masters for all of the records we have made, 20 years after we started the band.”
Year of no Light get back on the road…
Understandably, Year of no Light are eager to return to the stage.
Plans for a European tour in April were curtailed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
But they’ll be hitting UK shores in November to play at Leeds’ Damnation Festival and have announced an extensive European jaunt for early 2022, as well as an appearance at Hellfest in their native France next summer.
And they’re itching to play at the kind of independent, open minded festivals that have served them so well in the past.
The band’s 2008 set at Roadburn was immortalised in an album/DVD package the following year, and remains one of the finest live records to emerge from the legendary Dutch event.
“It’s the best kind of audience we can have,” offers Sébenne. “Damnation in England, Roadburn in Holland, Hellfest in France… it’s always magical, always special.”
Anouilh may be hoping for a better experience of Damnation than his first show at the Leeds shindig, way back in 2013…
“For me it was an awful experience,” he reveals. “I got this kind of high fever and I was quite dead with it… though otherwise it was very cool!
“One advantage of playing a Year of no Light song is that you can play with a lot of fever!”
Fever or no fever, the guitarist admits he’s humbled by the rapturous response the group draw from their crowds…
“It’s very rewarding and it’s an honour that people enjoy the music, because when we compose music we compose music for us.
“It’s very special. For me it’s a real joy. It’s very encouraging and touching.”
The future of Year of no Light
Will we get a taste of new material at Damnation?
We’ll have to wait and see.
But the follow-up to Consolamentum is already being sculpted in the living rooms of Bordeaux.
“It’s very fresh,” says Anouilh. “But we have some very doomy, melodic, aquatic and celestial tracks, and we would like to try some orchestration with a real orchestra, and also try working with some contemporary music.
“We’re excited about it. It’s at the beginning but that’s what we want to do, there is new territory that we want to explore.”
And the answer to the most important question?
“Well, you won’t have to wait eight years until the next album!” laughs Anouilh. “We’ll be more active. The new cycle is launched.”
Consolamentum is out now on Pelagic Records. Check out our review here.
To mark the band’s 20th anniversary, Pelagic Records have also released Mnemophobia, a wooden box set containing Year of no Light’s entire discography of five studio albums, several split EPs, and the collaboration with Belgian composer Dirk Serries from the Live At Roadburn recordings, on 12 vinyl records.