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Inevitably, most people with a notable interest in music will spend a bit of time considering their preferences and grouping them together to conceptualize a hypothetical album that is exactly perfect for them. It combines everything the listener loves into a perfect blend, and his or her face usually forms a shitfaced grin upon hearing it, at least mentally if not physically. While, sadly, some people will never find this album in an auditory form as opposed to a conceptual one, I believe, considering my musical tastes at the time of writing, I have found it. As you can guess, the album is Lykathea Aflame's Elvenefris.
Short-lived as their career was, Lykathea Aflame created a single album that in and of itself surpasses the quality of many bands' entire discographies. Elvenefris is an hour-long journey through epic soundscapes, uplifting and spiritual riffs, and crushingly momentous death metal passages. The attempt to even mix the elements contained on the album is audacious enough, but through either massive levels of skill or sheer dumb luck, Lykathea Aflame actually managed to turn their creation into a coherent musical work. Not only that, but the album reaches its ultimate potential given the structure and mood of the songs. Every now and then, I find an infinitesimal error in the playing, but after a couple listens I either forget about it or the error simply adds to the album's charm. It is a work that self-polishes with age.
The separate elements of Elvenefris are spectacular on their own, but the listening experience works just as well when the whole spectrum of musical elements are concentrated on as a single entity. When listening to the album from that perspective, the album bears a very strange feeling of flow, optimism, and daintiness. While some might think of those as negative qualities, I'd say they work for the album for what it is. To attempt to judge this as a death metal album is pointless, as a relatively small portion of it is actually death metal, and the death metal that does exist in Lykathea Aflame's music is extremely distorted from the normally dark themes death metal tends to embrace. As I've said, the music is very optimistic and fruity, and wholly embraces concepts that might be described as "gay" to fans of conventional death metal. The riffs, mostly played in major scales (which is quite odd for an extreme metal album), are so inherently exotic and foreign that it may as well be an affront to attempt to compare them to norms set by bands such as Morbid Angel and the like. The comparisons are so few and far between (besides the former incarnation of Lykathea Aflame, Appalling Spawn, the dissonant nature of the riffs echoes traces of Gorguts's Obscura, and the nature of the lightning-fast blast beats, in addition to the unintelligible, gravelly vocals, isn't too far off from the drumming style and vocals, respectively, of Lord Worm-era Cryptopsy) that one might as well judge Elvenefris as a New Age album and then tear it apart for containing passages where the singer "pretends to be Cookie Monster" and the riffs "are too heavy". It's a unique blend of material that's so disconnected from convention that it feels absurd to use any frame of reference other than the high points of the album itself.
I'd say even compared to themselves, the riffs are all more or less equal to each other on the album. Unlike most albums I've encountered, the songs don't seem to have that sense of waiting for an outstanding riff or atmospheric section - because all the riffs in any given song are equal in quality, they are simultaneously average and superb. The result: songs that feel personally crafted, fine-touched with a level of attention few people ever pay to anything, let alone music. It also reduces the unnatural tension that songs with these unusually good riffs tend to have, and as a result the listener hears Elvenefris just as its composer(s) most likely did: every riff just as good as the one preceding it.
The riffs themselves - the ones that can be called metal, anyways - are almost too exotic to describe in any great detail, but are generally very melodic death metal riffs played in a major scale. Despite the band's melodic tendencies, harsh dissonant sections are not out of the question; the same goes for abrupt tempo changes and tremolos, though generally the latter are quite rare. Every now and then, the occasional riff will pop up that is unquestionably death metal, and oddly enough these riffs tend to have more in common with brutal death metal than any well-known big name DM band. Palm-muted chugs based around semitones make up the majority of these death metal passages, and the penultimate track "An Old Man and a Child" actually has a couple applications of a slow, diluted slam/breakdown very similar to the ones that would be used in the later career of technical death metal band Nile. Also similar to Nile are the Egyptian-influenced riffs the guitarists opt for when not playing actual death metal, though these riffs are undoubtedly more light and happy than anything Nile have created. Unlike Nile, however, who express their interests in Egypt alongside technical death metal, exuding the general feeling that ancient Egypt was a crude, evil time full of danger and unhappiness, Lykathea Aflame take a much more spiritual approach to their music, giving off less of a feeling of "evil pharaoh ruling harshly over his helpless slaves" and more of "slaves escaping from evil pharaoh and wandering into the desert to find a promised land".
The final style out of the trio used by Lykathea Aflame's guitarists, and probably the most unique, are the New Age passages which dot the borders of the musical landscape set up by the band. Effect-laden and relatively clean in terms of distortion, the New Age riffs appear to have been used wherever the band found holes in their songwriting - and they do a damn good job of patching it up. Most of these sections last about a minute on average, and are generally mid-paced and calming, as New Age music should be. The highest point of all of these riffs is the last 90 seconds or so of "A Step Closer", where a solo concludes, leaving the music suddenly barren. Then... a small whine in the distance, a glimmer of light... and a slower version of a riff previously used as an intro for the same song, a reassurance of eternal harmony. Many of the atmospheric New Age riffs provide this same warmth, but that one in particular is alone in how magical it is. Aside from actual guitar riffs, little symphonic passages are almost always weaving in and out of the melodies, and they prevent the guitarwork from feeling like an empty, bare-bones concept.
The drums are certainly a very interesting force in the music. As mentioned earlier, the drummer tends to use extremely fast blast beats rather often, quite similar to the ones used by Cryptopsy. However, the similarities between the two bands' drumming styles end there. Lykathea Aflame's drummer boasts not only evident technical skill, but a very crappy drumkit. The snare, in particular, clanks left and donks right. It's also not very resonant - its sound is thin and abrupt. However, it serves as the main provider of the band's technicality. Being frank, the riffs in and of themselves are mostly very easy to play. I, a teenager with no formal training or devotion to learning, can play many of them. But the drum patterns keep the music from going stale or predictable - during several of the faster parts of the album, the drummer will forgo the gravity blasts and instead play a very interesting rhythm with the snare and the china cymbal. They cause the riffs to flitter and dance - it gives them a sense of life and mobility, an organic touch of liveliness. Oddly enough, the kick drum is hardly emphasized at all save for a few sections in Elvenefris, but the prancing snare rhythms more than make up for its absence, and the music hardly needs it anyways - kick drums provide momentum, but Lykathea Aflame's riffs are inherently floaty and carry themselves along with melody, eliminating the need for extra momentum.
Possibly the oddest element in the album when juxtaposed to everything else, the vocals are relatively harsh when compared to the cheesiness of the melodies. The growls are deep, gravelly, and very forceful. Upon first listen, they sound as if they could be applied to any death metal band, but a closer listen reveals that, whether intentional or not, the growls are fine-tuned for Lykathea Aflame's music. For one, they don't sound aggressive: although the growls are generally a low, dry, slurred mess, there is very little anger behind the words; they actually sound more like chants or musings than angry roars. And as weird of a descriptor as it may be, the growls sound very wise. The occasional cracks in the vocalist's voice add to the atmosphere presented by the music, giving the listener the feeling that the vocals are emanating from a weary and weathered man, a man who has lived a full lifetime of pain and suffering. This effect is demonstrated to its fullest extent at around 1:55 in "Bringer of Elvenefris Flame", when the vocalist attempts to growl and a broken shriek comes out instead. That's not a death growl - that is the helpless cry of a broken man. The clean vocals are very nice as well, though for melodic reasons rather than atmospheric ones. (It also becomes quite evident during these clean vocals that the vocalist has a very heavy accent, which simply differentiates the band even further from any others currently in existence.) There are several instances of chanting vocals throughout the album, but where Elvenefris really shines in terms of clean vocals are the reverb-soaked singing sections (yes, there is singing). From the slow, swooning cries at the end of "Flowering Entities" to the beautiful chorus of "A Step Closer", the singing never disappoints when it is used, giving the Egyptian-tinged riffs that much more power and emotion.
While all elements of the music play a moderate role in building Elvenefris into an ethereal monster, the guitars act as the base for the other elements. They are not necessarily the best, but the rest of the instruments and elements build off of the guitars, shaping and fine-tuning the music in order to add a few extra touches of emotion to the end result. Giving credit where it's due, replacing the vocalist and changing the drumming style would revert Elvenefris to a mediocre work of art at best, but the riffs allow these parts of the music to exist harmoniously - not because these are the only sorts of vocals and drums that would suit the album, but rather because the style of those two musical elements seem to be hand-picked especially for Elvenefris. The value of the technical precision of the drum beats would be lost were they used on a Cannibal Corpse album, as would the cracks and imperfections in the vocalist's voice. As a whole, the album is stable and solid, with nothing feeling out of place.
Even in terms of their own unique amalgamation of styles, Lykathea Aflame show off quite a few different moods throughout the course of Elvenefris. "Land Where Sympathy Is Air" and "To Become Shelter and Salvation" epitomize the band and their modus operandi; "To Give", "On the Way Home" and "A Step Closer" are the more melodic songs on the album; "Sadness and Strength" and "An Old Man and a Child" represent the band demonstrating their heavier, more BDM-influenced moments; and "Flowering Entities" and "Shine of Consolation" find a happy medium between melody and brutality. "Walking in the Garden of Ma'at" is in a class of its own; it's an 11-minute outro consisting of New Age material. Though I rarely find myself in the mood to listen to it, it is indeed very beautiful, and is probably the best way imaginable to bring Elvenefris to a close.
Despite the Egyptian tinges, the lyrics appear to mostly be influenced by New Age philosophy. There are many references throughout the album to "going home", weeping, the heart and eyes, "beautiful energy", and other strange concepts. I was never made for literary analysis and I know nothing about New Age beliefs, so I'll save myself some dignity and not attempt to extract any meaning from the lyrics. I will say, however, that the lyrics fit the tone of the music very well, even when being growled and grunted by a gravelly-voiced spiritual teacher. The album has a sense of general progression - the listener can detect that the album is filled with a certain sort of inner dissatisfaction around the first two tracks, and by "Bringer of Elvenefris Flame", the album begins to turn its rage into positive energy. The songs progress to become generally longer by the end of the album, and eventually, by "An Old Man and a Child", the exhausted protagonist in the narrative comes to a rest. I like to think of the outro representing the afterlife found by the protagonist - that the listener is hearing his thoughts of final inner peace. It would certainly be a nice way to end such an emotional album.
I cannot guarantee that I'll continue to think so highly of Elvenefris in the years to come, but I hope that even then, when I look back at this review, I'll agree with most of what I've said about it today. This is an example of opposite forces that somehow mesh together to create a mystical, unique, and frankly amazing experience. Chaos versus order, melody versus dissonance, and anger versus acceptance. It's arguably more spiritual than any ritual ambient or gospel music you'll ever hear, with its magical and heart-warming melodies. So listen to it. Yes, just listen to it. Honestly, the album is so great you might as well buy it on CD and cassette 20 times each, fly to the Czech Republic to get them all signed, name your pet cat Lykathea in their honor, name your firstborn Elvenefris, and then set your cat and firstborn on fire in the woods while listening to "Bringer of Elvenefris Flame" being blasted from speakers playing your signed copy of the album. But I think it'd be an even greater tribute to simply hear the band's work and get something out of it. Even better if you're like me, and find an album that lifts your spirits, makes you a happier person, and changes your life... Even better if you're like me, and you find your dream band.