Thursday, September 27, 2007

Elysian Blaze - Beneath Silent Faces

Beneath Silent Faces is the second demo released by Australian black/funeral doom metal act Elysian Blaze, before the band kicked off with the full-lengths Cold Walls and Apparitions and the brilliant Levitating the Carnal. This demo showcases Elysian Blaze minus the focus and polish found on later releases, most notably the aforementioned Levitating the Carnal.

As far as I can discern, there are no funeral doom elements whatsoever, just depressive black metal. The music on here lacks the aged, majestic atmosphere that the band later succeeds in producing. This is because the demo is basically the sum of it's parts; all it is are the instruments that make the music up. This is mainly due to production (or lack thereof). Compared to Levitating the Carnal, this album is pretty clear and reverb free, and just a little too 'clean'; there isn't that murkiness aided by the reverb that gave the following albums that flow and cohesion between instruments and vocals. For instance, whenever one of the mechanical, tinny blast-beat sections start, the vocals don't fit, they just tend to float over the drums and sound completely out of time with the prominent percussion work.

My main problem with the demo is that it is a little too repetitive. So was LTC, but the repetition was a lot more smoothly done and endurable. And when the songs vary to a different section, they do so in awkward jumps rather than smooth transitions. As usual, the guitars are ambient backdrops, though there are a lot more coherent riffs that on LTC (for example the main riff on the title track) and synths aren't usually as prominent. There are some decent riffs, but due to poor recording/production, a lot of the time they just sound very synth-like and tend to bounce up and down pointlessly. Drums are pretty much composed of cymbals and snares. this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Take for example, 'Anvil Chorus': the song begins with some thundery guitars, then the ominous synths kick in with the cymbals being in a very hypnotic CRASH-tap-tap-tap pattern, followed by the simple piano tinkling which, like in LTC, are very useful in conveying the atmosphere intended by the band. The blast beats, which are quite common in black metal, sound out of place with the aesthetic of the music; kind of like an oncoming train or a washing machine. Vocals are quite terrible. They are far too high pitched and distant, and due to a crappy mic, usually crack and clip whenever the vocals build up to a loud howl or shriek. Most songs just seem to be written for the sake of writing a song. As I've mentioned before, the repetitiveness still present on later albums used here is far too noticeable. I can see that a kind of hypnotic atmosphere was intended, but again, the terrible clarity and poorness of the production really screw that up. The best and most thought-through songs here are 'Anvil Chorus' and the title track. The former uses sweeping synths and clean, ambient guitar work and the previously mentioned hypnotic cymbal-snare pattern throughout the song, really creating the hypnotic atmosphere initially intended. The latter builds up with a slow, almost bluesy riff, followed by a drum pattern similar to 'Anvil Chorus', then after a short ambient interlude the drums go into a more lively version of the pattern mentioned on the opening track, varying between vocals and drum patterns/speeds. Both tracks make the demo worthwhile and have enough variation to redeem the rest of the demo, thankfully.

Don't be put off Elysian Blaze because of this review; this is Elysian Blaze trying to find it's sound, and the formula used on this demo is used more effectively in the albums to follow. I've been mentioning Levitating the Carnal a lot throughout this review, because of the contrast between them. The repetitiveness is pretty much the same, but the improvement concerning everything, from the songwriting to the production, is amazing considering it's only been two years between the release of this demo and the excellent 2006 full-length. If anything, this demo is worth a listen just to hear the contrast, differences and similarities between it and Levitating the Carnal.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Elysian Blaze - Levitating the Carnal

Elysian Blaze is a one-man black/funeral doom metal band hailing from Victoria. When you hear funeral doom in a genre description, you generally expect slow, trudging tempos with very little emphasis on technical song-writing and more on 'atmosphere'. While Elysian Blaze is a very atmospheric band, the song writing is well thought out and the music is quite up tempo, bordering straight out black metal in speed in places, making Elysian Blaze not a blackened funeral doom band but a black metal band with funeral doom elements.

The atmosphere is what really gets me into this. The reverb used makes the albums sound cavernous, especially when used on the vocals and drums. The imagery and aesthetic, combined with the music, creates dark, majestic atmosphere, conjuring up mental images of ancient cathedrals and halls. It's very soothing and beautiful, once you're into the album. Repetition is very frequently used throughout the album. I never find this boring or tedious, I just feel very mind-numbed, and don't notice how good the album is until I've finished listening and find myself thinking, 'wow, that album fucking ruled'. The entire album is very ambiental in the way guitars and synths work equally together. Production, though nowhere near professional studio quality, is good, murky but still clear enough to allow you distinguish all the instruments at work.

The guitars and synths form the backbone of the music here. Rather than the guitar being drowned out by the synths or visca-versa, they are used equally, effectively making both instruments and ambient backdrop as much as the focus of the music, blurring the line between guitar and synth. This leaves little room for any memorable riffs. The only riff that stood out was the opening riff for 'Macabre be thy Blood', a slow, menacing riff complemented by simple tinkling on the piano, which, by the way, is used quite effectively and to compliment riffs and drumming. The piano is used pretty much throughout all the songs, particularly on the track 'Eclipse', filling in spaces between cymbal hits to form the flow of the song. The vocals are excellent, a really raspy growl-scream, not annoyingly high pitched. In quite a few of the songs, the vocals are often sparsely used, resulting in brilliant instrumental work and creating a hypnotic mood. Drums are pushed back quite a bit in the mix, and the kit itslef is rather minimalistic, with only the various cymbals, snare and bass. Cymbals make up the rhythm of the music and drumming, with snares thrown in the slower to mid-paced sections, and bass drum rolls used excessively in the faster parts, and plodding along in the slower parts. There are a lot of ambient interludes played on synths and pianos/keys, like the droning pulse before the demonic vocals kick in on 'Macabre be thy Blood', as well as intros and outros, like the leads up to 'Beyond the Shape of Mortality' very dark, subtle and slow shifting, to the majestic choir from the outro of the title track. They get rather tedious during a casual listen, but if you put this on in the background or are really relaxed, they are very soothing and provide some respite and variation from the guitar/synth duo.

To be honest, at a casual listen the band seems like a generic depressive BM band; ambient interludes, excessive synths, even ambient intro and outro songs. But give it a chance, it's a cut above the rest of all the other suicidal BM bands out there, with subtly unique imagery, if not a slightly typical aesthetic dealing with death, nature, suicide and the like. A very promising release from an upcoming Australian band. If you completety detest any kind of 'depressive' black metal, then stay away, but if you can get past the typical suicidal BM elements, there's a brilliant album to be found here.