There is a tendency for human beings to be pessimistic – to conveniently ignore good news or long-term positive trends and instead focus on bad news and disappointing current events. In recent years, this proclivity has been amplified by a news media that overreports bad news well as social media algorithms that feed us things to poke at our emotions. The result is a doom loop that does not help address underlying societal problems while having a negative impact on our mental health.*
On Dystopia, French progressive metal band Oïkoumen acknowledges the seemingly insurmountable problems we face – climate disaster, social injustice, overwork, pollution, and so on. While they end the album with a song of hope that marvels at the sheer improbability that we have a planetary home at all, the majority of the focus here is on sources of anxiety.
The band was formed just a few years ago by guitarist / composer Elie Veux and vocalist / lyricist Laura Mazard. Yael Febvray joined them on bass & synth programming, and session drummer Clément Denys appears on this album. Oïkoumen is admittedly in the same vein as female-lead symphonic and gothic outfits such as Nightwish and Within Temptation, though lacking the extended instrumentation of the former.
But what you get on Dystopia, aside from the aforementioned lyrical content, are unusually-timed riffs, complex passages, and plenty of crunch. The addition of synths provides another layer and makes the band seem like a five-piece. Mazard sings in a quasi-operatic style, but her phrasing is odd and strangely compelling. This may be a reach, but her vocals remind me of those on Alexander Noice’s wonderful self-titled avant-math album from 2019.
While catchy, this is not simple music nor is it conventional metal. Yet, on this full-length debut, Oïkoumen manages to break ground and address heady topics while remaining quite listenable. As a result, Dystopia is highly recommended for fans of socially-conscious and offbeat heavy music. Bravo.
* Hint: turn off the news and go on a social media blackout when you are feeling overwhelmed. It will help.