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Think about death metal albums in general. They are usually filled with unusual riffing, fast-as-hell drums (characteristic which is accentuated in blackened death) and guttural vocals that are sometimes unintelligible. Well, Elvenefris is surely a successful death metal album (with some people calling it “the greatest album of all time” because of its lyrical content), but it is much more than that: it is filled with grindcore vocals, drumming passages that leave you astonished, lyrics that talk about the progression of life, happiness, loneliness and a bunch of other interesting subjects, passages that manage to mix calm riffing with ultra-fast blast beating and even an eleven minutes track that tries to sound like a garden (it is basically made of synthesizers with birds singing in the background). Summarizing, it is the weirdest album I have ever seen.
In a good way, that is: this band simply doesn’t run out of creativity, which makes each song an interesting experience. It is common to have an album where every song is different from the next one, but Lykathea Aflame takes it to a whole new level: the only pattern that is present in the whole recording is the traditional grindcore drum ostinato (should I call it a breakdown?) that consists of playing the snare drums at maximum speed for a bar or two while progressively lowering the strength with which you beat them. Take “The Land Where Sympathy is Air” and “To Become Shelter Snd Salvation” as examples. Despite the title, the first one is probably the most brutal song I have ever seen, and it is filled with baby-eating grindcore vocals and ultra-fast blast beats, yet it does have parts where the drums simply stop playing and leave us with either a heavily distorted lead guitar playing weird scales or happy-go-lucky riffs. To Become Shelter Snd Salvation, for instance, alternates slow riffs that sound epic and brutal death metal riffs frequently, but unlike in the aforementioned track, riffs don’t flow into each other extremely well. Actually, it is quite the opposite: every transition (except the one that introduces the clean vocals passage) generates at least some discomfort, sensation which is intensified by the massive inhales delivered by the vocalist.
Three elements definitely stand out from the rest in this masterpiece (should I call it a masterpiece yet? Well, I tried to make it clear that this album is VERY good…). The first one is the snare; it is much higher than your regular death metal snare drum, and while people who take a quick look at the album tend to recognize it as a flaw, after listening to it for a while and attending to a Mork concert (THEIR SNARES ARE F*CKING HIGH, MAN!) I am pretty sure that the high-as-hell tone is intentional. The point of making it high is to emphasize the blast beating and the aforementioned ostinato, present in all but one song. The second one is the lyrical content: it is far away from the usual content present in death metal lyrics, and with far away I mean ideologically opposite. Instead of lyrics based on misery, existentialism and death, Elvenefris’ subject seem to be life itself, as seen from the point of view of God itself – whatever god this band believes in. Instead of telling us how our lives are meaningless, the band seems to struggle to find a meaning to them, while making use of metaphors and stories. The third one is made of everything that includes human voice: this album includes growls, narration, clean vocals and inhales, which makes it one of the most diversified albums of all times in terms of voice. What is interesting about the vocals is that the best parts of the lyrics are delivered by using massive and unintelligible growls and inhales, which leaves you with the obligation to read in order to understand the songs and their meanings.
This album is not exactly flawless, but it comes close. The recurring snare drum pattern is interesting when the albums starts, but after the fifth song it is easy to become bored because of it. Some transitions are clearly non-intentionally lame, which might stop your headbanging or lyrical appreciation, but they don’t manage to harm the album in a way that makes anything unpleasant to listen to. The production hides the bass most of the time (which is certainly a flaw, since every time the bass really appears it impresses you) and sometimes makes you forget that there are bass drums and toms being played, but the amount of distortion on the guitars in simply perfect. The vocals are unintelligible most of the time, but it is hardly a flaw, since unintelligible vocals is common in death metal. Some people might complain about the last track, “Walking in The Gardens of Ma’at”, but honestly, if you find birds with synthesizers that boring, you can simply skip it.
Elvenefris is in fact one of the most interesting and creative albums that were ever recorded, but it is kind of overrated, mainly because of its creative lyrics and its impressive breakdowns. It is not "the best metal album ever" by far, but even if the production harms the finishing product a bit, it is certainly a masterpiece and should be owned by every metalhead.