The Lazarus Pit: Sortilège’s ‘Métamorphose’

Welcome back to The Lazarus Pit, a look back at should-be classic records that don’t get nearly enough love. Today we’re looking at Sortilège’s 1984 debut Métamorphose, or, Metamorphosis, if you’ve got the English version. Yup, take that, Opeth: the France-based Sortilège recorded a version of this album in their own French tongue and then another one in English. (The band, admirably, did the same thing for their second album, released two years later, Larmes de Héros/Hero’s Tears.)

This album (these albums, whatever) is (are) a fantastic piece of forward-thinking trad metal, with just enough twists and turns musically to keep things interesting, the swords-and-axes vibe clashing with a regal, melodic classic metal bent. In short, it rocks, and it should be talked about far more than it is today, so we’re doing our small part to change that right now.

Join us as we slay the Cyclops of the lake, as we go through a metamorphosis… er, whatever, just read on and turn up the tunes and revisit this unsung classic with us.

“D’ailleurs” starts things off with a fast trad metal burst of melodic yet biting street-level Priest, the grime of poverty metal glossed over with a slightly regal sheen, the swords and sorcery and monster slaying dominating over the bad-mustache-getting-beer-on-it-in-the-parking lot vibe, but just barely. In other words: hell yes to this shoulda-been near-NWOBHM classic.

“Majeste” slows things down a bit after that opening attack as the band settles into a more comfortable upper-mid pace, some great razor-wire riffing, some cool open spaces, just enough melody, an energetic vocal performance delivering a very memorable vocal line come chorus time. Really, another solid piece of glorious trad metal, melodies flying high, the piercing vocals at the end punctuated by one second of guitar noodling just hammering it all home. Fantastic.

“Hymne à la mort” is incredible: the song starts off as a classy kinda-ballad, but then when the heavier-than-Crowbar riff kicks in at 1:15, good god man, this is proto-NOLA sludge all of a sudden, the vocalist not really knowing what to do over a riff like THAT, but managing admirably anyway. When it ends and the band picks it up to double-time and a slightly less heavy riff, it’s a great turn, and when THE riff returns a minute later, ugh, this is too good.

“Légende” showcases a bit of time-signature finesse as the band manages with ease to drop a solid metal track here as song four of five on side A, Sortilège just laying down the law song after song, as they also do on side A closer “Nuit des Limbes,” a relatively brief 2:24 instrumental that alternates between mood and shred and is a pretty interesting way to close out the first half of this killer record.

“Civilisation perdue” starts off side B with a bang, the band just not even considering losing steam at any point, apparently. Love the chorus, huge, memorable, smart songwriting all over the place here. The riffing is great, the vocals, while they aren’t of top-tier quality, are enthusiastic and get the job done with just the right amount of gruffness. Love that this one is over and done in 2:12, no messing around. Totally killer.

“Délire d’un fou” slows things down for real, and, well, I’m not completely sold on Christian Augustin’s ability to croon his way through the real quiet parts, but, hey, he’s trying, and the end result is a cold gothic slam, like the best of Sad Wings of Destiny-era Priest, moody, atmospheric, but not cheeseball ballad in any way. And Augustin wails like a motherfucker in the song’s killer climax. This, again, is totally killer.

“Cyclope de l’étang” is a rager, the band taking us through the labyrinth of regal trad, slaying a Cyclops at the lake along the way, and then leading us to the majesty of the next song, getting ready to close the album out with style.

The title track is how it all ends, the band slowing things down a bit for the intro but then picking it up to that huge, unforgettable chorus, the ending build just total perfection. The main chorus riff is the best on the album, the band stutter-stepping it through what, in lesser hands, could be a clumsy time signature but just making it sound slippery smooth, melodic and classy, before launching into the verse riff, which is simpler and totally rules. And that vocal line is one for the ages. They’ve saved their best song for last here, and it’s an absolutely stunning way to end off the record, the song ending frantically, epically, perfectly.

Now, a quick word about the two different versions of the record: all the above applied to the French version; the English version is just as damn good, nothing feeling awkward at all about the vocals, oddly, even the phrasing sounding just fine. I mean, the sort of weird truth here is you could listen to both and barely even notice a difference, which means Augustin pulled this off very well, and also is testament to the strong musicianship on display here. So, sure, spin the English version if you want to understand a few more words, spin the French version if you want to hear Augustin in his element a bit more, but both are fantastic.

All told, Sortilège got absolutely everything right on this debut, the band tapping into much of what makes classic heavy metal so great, the triumphs unbelievably perfect, the glory taken to levels that few attain. The Cyclops was slayed, and Sortilège, even if they never hit this level of peak metal again, were the slayers, riding high long after the final notes on this album faded away into an unjust void.