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To me, this is a black metal album. It carries within it one of the deepest and most vital characteristics of that music, which is the torment and awe of the human soul in encounter with forces well beyond its power and understanding. It is perhaps the only album I know of that explores consistently such a limited and particular theme or "feeling" in such multifarious and complex manner, while attempting (and succeeding) to engage the listener personally into experiencing it firsthand.
Outwardly, one could lump the album in several categories according to specific elements of its sound. Cinematic, darkwave, modern classical, industrial, electroacoustic. These are all superficial categorisations that don't do much other than giving one a general impression of the sound or aesthetic, and, in this case, completely fail to intrude into the crux of the matter, the inner drive behind the making of the music. For the sake of a review that is also a bit informative though, I will break down these basic elements. There are three types of "instruments" used by Elend, one is a live orchestra, second are the voices of singers, third is "electroacoustic" sounds composed in a noisy or ambient/atmospheric style. Traditional harmony is abandoned for the most part in this record. There aren't lots of consonant chords or typical chord progressions, instead dissonance prevails. When melodies show up, they flow on ambivalent ground, without completion, drifting like uncertain souls. Most musical themes on this album can be better explained as a kind of auditory translation of events. There are extreme bursts of sound like explosions. Horns stutter madly between chromatic notes. Strings shriek a cloud of dissonant notes like the random voices of a panicked, fleeing crowd. Electronic instruments perform glissando cries; ascending and descending through the skies. Everything is delivered in exteme violence or otherwordly mystery. While the variety of expressive techniques is admirable, it is nothing new really. One accustomed with "modern" music can tell right away that most of these techniques are directly picked out from the vocabulary of composers like Penderewski, Scelsi, Schnittke. Out from the confines of metal/darkwave/industrial music this is nothing really "avant-garde", as separate elements at least. It is in the synthesis of it whole that lies the singularity of Elend, in their almost blasphemic boldness and consistency of their vision.
The success of this album lies in the complexity and merticulous crafting of the music in two levels, micro and macro. The instrumentation and the mixing of the album are spectacular. All the individual sounds are "glued" together in such a way that the tedious image of musicians performing their parts never occurs; the sounds are like actors in a huge, apocalyptic stage that Elend have set up. The underlying logic is very visual; many themes sound more like movements of objects and cosmic phenomenons, instead of just trying to make an emotional point. I get a lot of images in my head while listening to this album, dynamic and expanding. On the macro level, we have more like an external, story-driven progression of the music. It is the music that is subordinate to the vision, in other words, not the other way round. This is music to be experienced, to be listened from first to last second in seclusion, total darkness and in headphones (well, that's my favourite method of listening to such music, at least). It is also structured as not to give the impression of separate songs, but of one big composition, somewhat like an auditory film. Perhaps its greater merit is that it succeeds in creating a kind of continuum in which structure and progression, time in fact seems to vanish. Instead one is swept away by the darkness, living totally in the moment, in an alternation between outbursts of terror and fearful, silent expectance. This is actually the way that man responds to the condition of fear; and this is perhaps the only album (along by some works of Scelsi and Schnittke) I know of that can actually evoke the primordial, gut feeling of fear into me. Take "Ondes De Sang" as the prime example. What is it in these dissonances, in these timbres that makes them sound like the conjoined cries of an instrument of terror? That these seemingly intellectual musicians go for such a brutal, visceral response, is another perhaps superficial but interesting contradiction.
Perhaps a difference that seperates this music from black/death metal is that is descriptive of, rather than embodying the horror. In other words, I feel that what you hear is the voices of the tormented, not of the tormentors. If one reads the lyrics, the poem Iskandar Hasnawi has written for the album, it is actually a pretty humane terror that they describe (from what I've been able to extract), the fear of de-humanization in a future of constant war, murder and destruction. It is valid to think that this is probably far more frightening though (remember that some of the best horror movies prefer to show the face of the victims rather than that of the killers when the latter enter the scene). It is ironic really how rare in extreme metal darkness and (for a lack of a better word) evil are taken seriously. I think they are viewed more like a temporary deliquency, an expulsion of energy that brings one back to balance like watching a C- horror flick, listening to a black metal album and so on. I don't often see in metal this willingless to create a world out of this darkness and dive in it fully. And I'm just talking about basic psychic drive, no reason to compare the scope and immensity of Elend's endavour to that of any metal band. What is the meaning of it all, for Elend though? I cannot answer for themselves, but for me, it is both catharsis (in a psychological and educational manner, to get accustomed with a negative/destructive force for knowledge and experience) and visceral, sensual pleasure. Darkness is alluring although it is basically, deathlike. A paradox we have perhaps yet to resolve as a human species.
In the end, "A World in their Screams" stands on a somewhat uncertain, tragic ground. On the one hand, it is a perfect artistic achievement, sculped to last the passing of time. It is a "magnum opus", a culmination of vision and wisdom from a band that showed a brilliance that was somewhat fragmentary in its previous works. The problem with these works, especially such densely complex and demanding in physical and spiritual labor such as this, is that they (well, if one lets them) obliterate the future of the artist. It is to be expected perhaps that Elend (and even individually, Renaud Tschirner and Iskandar Hasnawi) since then have not released any new music to the public (to be more precise, Hasnaui has just released a personal demo track at the time of writing). On the other hand, where can you go from here? It is probably impossible, if not meaningless to do the exact same things and try to surpass them again and again. Bands, probably in the anguish of retaining their audience, attempt it all the time and fail. Artists need to urgently re-define themselves at this point; what they do, why they do it and how they will achieve it. Elend also have another side in their music, perhaps best represented by their "Winds devouring men" album, additionaly they are a kind of band that one would trust for honesty and innovation (even within the quite secluded field that they have marked for themselves). In any case, I would be very eager to listen to any new music from them, wherever it might stand in terms of style or vision. I also hope that this album eventually gets the recognition I feel it deserves. I do not believe it has found its audience yet - obviously too rough and nihilistic for the classical listener, too cerebral and multifarious for the metal one, too devoid of "easy" sentimentality for the darkwave/gothic one. It stands on its own, it does not reach out to anyone - you may reach out to it, but do so if only you honestly, deeply, dare. Otherwise it will just sound like noise. But real darkness comes from surrender.
Perhaps it's because I've heard basically no neoclassical dark ambient or whatever you call it. Maybe I'm just someone with the intellectual capacity of a flea. Either way though this a rather strange collection of ‘songs', with the overall impression being that it's a soundtrack to a movie with a lot of arty fight scenes in it, and it's not all that interesting.
Indeed, everything about this album suggests that it's actually a movie soundtrack; because while it's very well arranged and recorded it's just not really evocative or interesting enough on it's own. There's plenty of big dramatic horn sections, plenty of that huge Wagnerian string sound that's been done to death ever since the "Imperial March" first came along, and some subtle layering of voices, both spoken word and choral echoing throughout the mixes.
I dunno, you really do get the feeling that Elend know exactly what they're doing; unfortunately what they're doing and what I want to be hearing are two different things. Certainly there's been a lot of effort put into the composition of these tracks, "Stasis" is all big, bombastic horns and strings, "La Carriere D'Ombre" ticking along on a much lower key note before exploding with squealing violins and massive bee-swarm type strings. It's probably one of the better tracks here, and a lesson here for all those neoclassical dudes out there; you're not going to be louder or more impressive then the old masters, so you might as well try a different angle. Elend's mix of spoken French vocals with the music is a fairly good idea, but seeing as I have no idea what he's saying, the French language is gay and it's rarely integrated well it basically lets the songs down, as otherwise spooky, effective dark ambient pieces turn into narrations for arthouse movie previews.
"Urserpens" is a good enough example of why this album struggles to keep you interested. Things open with a minimalist spoken word section, with some sparse and eerie dark ambient backing. After a minute and a half or so strings kick in, strange synths echo throughout, ghostly vocals hover around. It's pretty cool at this point, until things fade out to some strange, subtle and unnerving dark ambient; a field recording from the screams of hell, perhaps. After that I assume something happens but I got bored and put Ride the Lightning on instead. I imagine most people will be sorely tested to listen to even more then half of this album interrupted.
Those looking for some challenging dark ambient or neoclassical could do worse then look here, yes. It's well arranged with effective use of classical instrumentation, stranger synth based sounds, unnerving vocal usage and dramatic -perhaps overly so- use of dynamics. However, while that's all well and good it doesn't keep me excited or interested for more then, say, 5 minutes or so. It's original and kind of good, but short of trying to pick up arty French girls (which isn't a bad idea, certainly) then you won't find yourself playing this record much, or at all.
All righty, first things first, I feel I need to clarify that the only thing that's keeping A World in Their Screams from receiving full points is the lyrics. They are un-mommy-fudging believable. They make anything ever written by pretty much any metal band (Agalloch included) look like words scripted by Barney the Purple Dinosaur, whose greatest hits include such wonderful tunes as 'I love you, you love me', as well as 'Bumping Up and Down (My Little Red Wagon)'. Seriously, this is stuff that would make *insert ye olde fashioned poet of choice here* blush. Unfortunately, they are exclusively in French. Yes, you can download the complete lyrics in English from Elend's website, but I still feel like I'm missing an important piece of the overall picture that Elend is painting here. So until I learn French, a 98% this will remain. Onwards.
Really, there are only an odd minute of this cd that you will need to hear before you will submit to it's awesomeness. It's the first minute of track 7, 'Stasis', and it is by far the best musical passage of the year, for those pansies who keep track of this sorta thing. I know I do. 2006's was the chorus of Katatonia's 'Journey Through Pressure', 2005's was the tribal section about a minute in a half into Opeth's 'Ghost of Perdition'. Yes. I am a massive pansy, but anyway...just give that Stasis song a listen. If you don't like it, we can ascertain three very important things. (One) - You are an even bigger pansy-girly-man than me, (Two) you have no soul, and (Three) You will likely not enjoy any other part of this cd.
Those with curiousity and souls may proceed.
As the informed already know and the uninformed will soon find out, A World in Their Screams is actually part thrix and final of Elend's 'Winds Cycle', which began with the supoib 'Winds Devouring Men', continued with the groovilicious but not quite as depressing 'Sunwar the Dead'. If you've only heard those two albums from this band, then 'A World...' will likely come as a surprise to you. It has far more in common with Elend's earlier work, in particular the (un)godly, haunting, downright evil nightmare ingredient, and incredibly rare (we're talkin' 200 bucks on Amazon rare) The Umbersun. Easily the most unsettling cd that I know exists (yeah, waaaay more unsettling and waaaaaaay less gay than anything Stallagh ever has and ever will put out. Gay-tush Stallagh fudge packers, says I). And while 'A World...' is overall not quite as difficult a listen, it comes dangerously close, and at some points even surpasses The Umbersun (you'll know it when you hear it, and feel the warm blood sloshing about in your ears).
But what of the music itself?
Well, atmospherically, it could best be described as mechanically despondent, but it's more than that, because at the same time it will often draw you in with unexpected softness and warmth, and then spit you out in a storm of razor blades and needles.
There are no geetars present here, it should definitely be noted. There aren't any traditional drums either. Just a whole lot of tribal and...unconventional percussion. Nothing that could be put together behind even Neil Peart's or Hellhammer's drumkit.
Instead of these usual suspects, we have, as sayeth the lyrics booklet, violins, violas, cellos, basses, clarinets, trumpets, french horns, a trombone, and a bass trombone, as well as 'orchestral percussion' and 'industrial devices'. As well as a poop load of synths that are so well done that there is no way you'd be able to tell they were synths unless you already knew otherwise (and now you do!).
It's a thing of beauty, and it's amazing how often these intruments are used to bring to mind French BM bands like Katharsis and Deathspell Omega (countrymen of Elend). It's more brilliant than diarrhea, and a whole lot less messy.
So, like, there's not really much else I can say...let's see...true to it's title, the album contains a whole lot of screaming...a whole lotta other assorted voices, doing various disturbing things....and uh...yeah, it doesn't rock, because that's not what this sort of music does, but it DOES kill...or at least, inspire one to kill oneself.
And there ya go. Buy it or die of deprivation. Buy it and die of depression. Win/win situation, eh?