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.

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