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Holy shit. Holy, holy shit.
Had "Elvenefris" been released this year, I would declare it "album of the year" without batting an eyelash. However, the disillusion comes right after: this album dates back to the year 2000.
2000! In other words, I've dragged out over four years of my pathetic existence without having as much as heard of this masterpiece!
I feel a great desire to loudly and exhaustingly begin praising this album and let you know, with several more or less creative metaphors, just how little you are worth as human beings as long as you don't own "Elvenefris". Indeed, mere words can hardly do justice to this work (which single-handedly proves there is a god who cares for our metal well-being), but I shall try regardless.
Lykathea Aflame, as they were called back then, is a band from which one can draw many comparisons to the sound and musical creations of other bands and yet still not do them justice. I could, for example, tell you that the drumming is essentially on the level of Cryptopsy, or that the bellowing of vocalist Ptoe sounds like a cross between Lord Worm and Behemoth main man Nergal, or that on "Elvenefris" one can find themes and influences of an exotic nature that might as well be from Nile, for example. Now all this may be quite correct, but it doesn't really allow to you get an idea of what it's all about. Or, at least, nothing that would live up the actual album.
"Elvenefris" is one of these albums of which I can in good conscience say that there probably hasn't been anything like this, and neither will there be anytime soon. Of course there have been albums that made the listener's jaw drop due to their sheer brutality and the musicians' technical skill. Of course there have been albums that enchant you with magical melodies and turn minutes into seconds. However, I can't remember any album that combined these two elements as seamlessly as "Elvenefris" does. For over one hour, fans of the heavy, of the technical and of the melodical aspects all get their money's worth.
"72 minutes for a tech/prog Death Metal album", some will think now, "won't that become boring?" Absolutely not. On the contrary, "Elvenefris" is one of the comparatively few albums I can listen to all the way through in one sitting. These Czechs have created something which, on the one hand, continually surprises the listener anew, but on the other hand is absolutely harmonious and, musically and thematically, consistently executed from beginning to end.
Thematically, "Elvenefris" is highly unusual and interesting, for it deals with spiritual themes that, in a broader sense, also involve the existence of a godlike being. This may not be everybody's cup of tea, at least not for those who care for Death Metal lyrics at all, but you have to give these guys credit for their creativity and, frankly, also a certain daringness.
Not that you could guess at these themes purely from listening; as mentioned before, singer and guitarist Ptoe's got a very mean set of vocal chords which do, at first, indeed remind you of one Mr Worm from the cryptic Canadians – with both vocalists you shouldn't expect to understand a single word (although the lyrics of both are very much worth reading), even though Ptoe neither wants to sound "sick", nor does he, like Worm, occasionally scream or shriek: he's simply got this wonderful, deep, incomprehensible, somewhat belching growl and knows how to use it. In some places there are spoken words and clear vocals after all, and often he limits himself to his guitar duties and leaves the field to the rest of the band.
Oh yeah, the rest of the band. It would only be fair to give the same kind of attention to said rest as I've just given to their singer and guitarist. Another drawing quality of "Elvenefris" is that the whole bunch, without exception, plays really damn well, and it would be very difficult to set any single musician apart. The drumming has been mentioned – along with Ptoe, drummer Tomás Corn probably is the most reminiscent of Cryptopsy. Shit, that guy's fast. And skilled. Like Flo he, too, is a very versatile drummer who can play blast beats till the cows come home, but isn't limited to them. Besides the snare, which he plays at an incredible speed, he appears highly creative with the various cymbals and thus accentuates the music in a major way.
Then there's the guitar section. The guitar playing on "Elvenefris" is technical without resorting to incoherent arpeggio wankery solos. Indeed there are no solos in the usual sense whatsoever; Ptoe and Ondra do not claim any special status, but substantially shape the music with their technical or melodical playing, which sometimes is both at once. Just listen to "To Become Shelter And Salvation" or "A Step Closer": fantastic melodies are interwoven with biting, technical riffs. This standard is observed over the course of the entire album, with the balance between calm, moderate and heavy parts flawlessly held.
That leaves us with bassist Andy. Sadly, he is hit rather hard by the only true flaw of this album, the production – you hardly hear this man's bass playing. This is, in my opinion, a problem many metal albums share, but on "Elvenefris" it's particularly detrimental, as whenever you do happen to hear Andy play something, you want to hear more.
That was a lot of words about the band and few about the album itself. As said it's nearly impossible to adequately describe "Elvenefris". Lykathea Aflame display a fireworks of creativity and musical skill – purely in a technical sense as well as concerning the songwriting. If you can generally take to this style of music, you'll be utterly captivated right from the first second. Only the last track may rub some metalheads the wrong way: True to its title "Walking In The Garden Of Ma'at" (interesting fact as an aside: Ma'at ist the Egyptian goddess of truth and justice), this track is an eleven minute long keyboard instrumental with birds chirping in the background that gently releases the listener into the real world with its soft, spherical synth sounds. Purely musically speaking, including "Walking In..." is a daring move, but considering the album's concept (remember: amongst other things, the album is about finding and making peace within and with oneself) the CD could not end on a better note.
If I had to criticise something about "Elvenefris", it would be – as alluded to – the production. Although it isn't bad and sounds decent overall, the low end really got the short end of the stick, so to speak. The result is that most of the time, the equally impressive bass lines of Andy and Tomás' double bass just are lost in the mud way down there. Too bad. Something that won't float everyone's boat either is the "clang" sound of the snare (again something one may be familiar with from Cryptopsy), the polar opposite of the infamous oil drum "boing", so to speak. But that really is a matter of taste, and considering the overwhelming genius of the album I'm not going to let the production affect the final rating in a negative way, especially as it's not really bad.
"Technical and occasionally Progressive Death Metal with light Grind touches" is what you'd have to call this music, but you know what? Fuck such labels; what's in a name after all? This album simply is "Elvenefris", something that dooms any attempts to adequately describe it to failure, by a band named Lykathea Aflame which, sadly, already is a thing of the past, while dozens of bands that should've been retired long ago still flood the market with crap. But, after all, the world is an unjust place.
Last but not least I would like to expressly point out the MP3 linked to on the label's website (Obscene Productions) to anybody who might even potentially be interested in this album. An actual song is worth a thousand words!
Originally written for The Metal Observer.