Present lite? Those familiar with the dark and ominous -- even relentless -- Belgian avant-proggers might scoff at that notion, but the sophomore album by Roger Trigaux's quartet does loosen the reins at least slightly in comparison to the protracted assault of the band's debut, Triskaïdékaphobie. Yes, Le Poison Qui Rend Fou's two-part title track (inspired by one of the stories in cartoonist Hergé's Les Aventures de Tintin comic book series) has its share of tense arpeggios, emphatic keyboard chord stabs, astringent harmonics, and Fripp-ish "Prince Rupert's Lament"-style guitar sustain across its 25-minute duration. But overall, Le Poison is more diverse and sometimes lighter -- if no less rigorous -- than Present's debut. The quartet of guitarist Trigaux (who also plays Fender Rhodes), keyboardist Alain Rochette, drummer Daniel Denis, and bassist Ferdinand Philippot (replacing Triskaïdékaphobie's Christian Genet) still churns out arpeggiated structures of steadily building and retreating intensity, and Denis is an endlessly inventive nonstop propulsion machine. But there are also left turns reflecting a nimble quality, with the bandmembers a bit less locked into a post-minimalist aesthetic: an unusual touch is provided by the wide interval-leaping, classical/art song-flavored soprano vocal by guest Marie-Anne Polaris on "Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Pt. 1"; later in the track Rochette imbues a solo piano break with a beautiful jazzy quality, continuing that thread even after the other bandmembers enter and transform the music into a metal-tinged dirge; and "Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, Pt. 2" commences with a demented circusy waltz.
With Rochette having a larger role here than on the debut, he is most responsible for giving Le Poison Qui Rend Fou a less severe aspect, while classical and jazz-trained bassist Philippot is limber as well as forceful. "Ersatz" suggests an electric jazz quartet gone fully mechanistic, while the closing nine-minute "Samana," penned by Rochette, is certainly playful by Present standards, its interludes strung together by an overall sense of mood rather than steady forward momentum. The tune is even a bit Canterbury-esque, with elements not unlike a composition Alan Gowen might have penned for National Health. From the album's start to finish, however, bandleader Trigaux is firmly in control, guiding his band with precision and dark fervor, suggesting the Fripp playbook extended by Trigaux's inimitable touch into the uncompromising world of Rock in Opposition avant-prog. [In 2014 Cuneiform released an expanded two-disc edition of Le Poison Qui Rend Fou featuring five bonus tracks and two Quicktime video clips capturing Present performing live at a 1982 show in France, with Christian Genet on bass. The live recording quality doesn't match the studio tracks, but the forceful performance includes the two principal compositions from Triskaïdékaphobie, making this a great place to hear nearly all the material from Present's early years in one package, with all tracks digitally restored and remastered by Udi Koomran, and a CD booklet including vintage photographs and historical liner notes written by Aymeric Leroy and Renato de Moraes.]