Clair Obscur is the debut solo release by French guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Gabriel Keller. With collaborations from a host of vocalists and musicians, he has created an album with a wide range of musical styles, reflecting his own musical influences. From the Beatles, through rock bands such as Pink Floyd and then on to progressive metal and his discovery of the likes of Porcupine Tree and Opeth, his musical palette is a broad one, with touches of classical, jazz and French pop adding further colour here and there.
Consisting of ten tracks, the album can be divided into two parts, as befits its title. Clair is a clear, bright first part, with a lighter pop and rock character. Obscur is darker, a more obscure and tortured second part with a much heavier feel. The result is a diverse and almost schizophrenic album that reflects the many sides of Gabriel’s musical background, with specific vocalists and instrumentalists used to enhance these. Progressive influences abound throughout.
Album opener Tumulte features Charlie Henry on lead guitar in an atmospheric and melodic instrumental that builds from its delicate acoustic beginning, with forceful drums and dark guitar riffing winding up the power until a stately conclusion, with a soaring guitar solo and backing harmonies. An impressive start that could easily have been extended further.
The next three tracks feature vocalist Emi B and have a more mainstream rock/pop style. Time is an accessible, tuneful composition which flows nicely, with acoustic and electric guitars interweaving with sweeping strings. Emi’s serene vocals convey the melancholic lyrics well:
Train to Resolution has almost a folk feel initially, with soothing backing vocals and Emi’s wistful, searching vocals, before a more powerful conclusion with sliding electric guitar motifs.
Open Arms maintains this groove, with Julien Mailand’s bass and Simon Rebuffat’s drums supporting the sleepy atmosphere, either side of an uplifting guitar solo. Melancholia features the lovely vocals of Charlotte Gagnor singing in French. More complementary backing vocals and subtle, but richer, ensemble playing by the musicians enhance the contemplative sadness of the track.
Sonate Au Clair Obscur is an impressive instrumental and provides the pivot point of the album. Soft piano (from Clément Barou) and strings are steadily joined by prog metal-style guitar and drums, creating a denser, more incessant darkness enhanced by an operatic vocal chorus and guitar excursions, before the simple piano phrasing returns.
The track signals the juxtaposition between light and dark that is fully revealed by the next three tracks. Nothing Human has a powerful symphonic prog metal feel, with Maïté Merlin taking over vocal duties and providing a theatrical Gothic character to the lyrics:
Dark, Opeth-style guitar riffs and pounding drums from Lucas Biguet-Mermet dominate the track and add to the unease.
Out of My Life retains the prog metal character and intensity with Maïté’s yearning and haunting vocals over Ayreon-style instrumentation, including brass, with elements of Within Temptation and Nightwish, amongst others.
The unsettling, demonic child-like vocals of Marine Poirier dominate much of Honey, backed by the driving symphonic metal of guitars, bass and drums, before some virtuoso guitar flurries towards the end. The haunting closing lyrics stay with you:
By contrast, Accalmie is a return to the gentler spirit of the first part of the album. A short instrumental with some lovely acoustic guitar over soothing harmonies before echoing electric guitar runs draw things to a close.
The musical invention, playing and compositional skills of Gabriel Keller are undoubted, but it is the split personality of the music and the breadth of your musical tastes which will play a part in whether you enjoy this album in its entirety or not. The lighter, more accessible and melodic earlier tracks have a cohesiveness which is a joy to listen to, but then the darker, haunting, metal-tinged later tracks have a powerful intensity and depth that draw you into their dark heart. Ultimately, it will be the mood you are in which will dictate which tracks to play at any particular time. However, if like Gabriel, you have a love of both prog metal and lighter more pop-orientated, song-driven songs, you will find much to enjoy in this diverse debut release… but maybe dip your toes in the waters beforehand. Are you a ‘Clair’ or ‘Obscur’ sort of person – or are you both!
01. Tumulte (3:27)
02. Time (5:01)
03. Train to Resolution (4:27)
04. Open Arms (5:13)
05. Melancholia (3:50)
06. Sonate Au Clair Obscur (6:42)
07. Nothing Human (5:35)
08. Out of My Life (6:51)
09. Honey (4:45)
10. Accalmie (2:59)
Total Time – 48:50
Gabriel Keller – Guitar, Percussions, Bass, Backing Vocals
Lucas Biguet-Mermet – Drums (tracks 1,6,7,8 & 9)
Simon Rebuffat – Drums (tracks 2,3,4 & 5)
Charlie Henry – Guitars
Clement Berthie – Guitars
Anthony Barbier – Guitar Solo (tracks 4)
Marius Marlin – Guitars (tracks 9)
Lucie Lacour – Cello, Backing Vocals
Emi B – Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Anne-Marguerite Solt – Backing Vocals
Charlotte Gagnor – Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Marine Poirier – Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Maïté Merlin – Lead Vocals
Juilen Mailliand – Bass
Clément Barou – Piano
Jean Charles Monibert – String Arrangements
Quatuor MajusculeS – Strings
Jéröme Auberon – Solo Violin (tracks 6)
Sos Section – Brass Section (tracks 8)
Pierre Lagache – Brass Arrangements (tracks 8)
Record Label: Quadrifonic Records
Country of Origin: France
Date of Release: 19th March 2022