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Let Your Steps Be Blessed and Guided By Light - 100%

Arjunthebeast, December 7th, 2012

(This review concerns the 2011 remaster)

Lykathea Aflame’s ‘Elvenefris’ is one of the ‘underground’ metal world’s most beloved albums. And it was re-released and remastered by the long dormant group on October 31st of last year (11 years after its first release). Upon hearing about this, I jumped at the chance to order it from cult Czech label Obscene Productions. The mail order package includes the original mix of the album, the remastered mix (plus the two demo versions of ‘To Give’ and ‘Shine of Consolation’ from 2002) as well as a t-shirt complete with the awesome album artwork. Along with last year’s reissuing of the Appalling Spawn (Lykathea Aflame’s first incarnation) demo and album, this ‘trilogy’ of legendary works now can find new life.

Any person familiar with Elvenefris is well aware of the near unanimous praise it receives. I agree with this sentiment, and in this respect, this little review is a little redundant. But in a time where a lot of the material from this genre is passable at best, widening the audience for truly exemplary work is the duty of this writer, no matter how small the readership is.

And to start things off, I will make this controversial statement:

I believe ‘Elevenfris’ takes the legacy of metal to its logical and artful conclusion, and quite frankly might be the greatest the genre will ever offer.

From the ridiculously brutal vocals and sublime blasting all the way to the incredibly sensitive melodies from the guitars and keys, this album builds a world of sharp contrasts. However, the most amazing of all is that these contrasts do not hinder one another, but instead build a transcendent whole for the listener to envelope themselves in. No other album gives me the feeling of flying through great storms and weathering the toll of living while treasuring the experience of being flawed. And unlike other similar works, it identifies with its audience in an empathetic way, not in a pandering or elitist manner. That is the key to this entity’s presence.

For the sake of brevity, I will forgo any more sort of pompous analysis that I might have had the ego to spray in the past and focus on the remastering. Just keep in mind that this thing is beautiful, in concept, formation, lyricism (my god, the lyrics!), execution and history. And if you are a new listener, it is likely that it will become an important part of your musical life. It is very, very special.

Bandleader and New Age (in this not, not a bad thing!) messiah Ptoe and his company have clearly spent some time analyzing how the original production should be twelve years after the fact. Thus, there are a number of explicit and more subtle tweeks to be found. The original production was of a VERY high standard for a recording of its obscurity. But, drummer Tomas Corn’s (whose performance is beyond transcendent) snare drum has always been at the heart of the critiques of the album. Its clanging sound seemed out of place to some (not to me), and it has been toned down here and given a more hardened off quality that integrates it more with the rest of the recording. This does not change the sheer speed and brilliance of the performance however, and serves itself well to a modern updating.

The clean vocals have been cleared up and brought forward into the mix. This is helpful in understanding them over rest of the channels, but due to Ptoe’s accent, they still remain somewhat unintelligible. That does not matter one bit however. The original clean sections possessed a more ethereal and submerged persona, and the newer version brings to mind the vocal gymnastics of Borknagar (who have a new album out!). I feel that the original version of ‘Shine of Consolation’ and its clean passage possessed Borknagar’s traits due to its relative sonic clarity in comparison to ‘Elvenefris’s similar moments. And in this way, the remastering has followed this route somewhat. This is great, because it adds to the consistency of work that was done on all parts of this production and builds a near new experience for the listener. As a side note, several harsh vocals seem to have been redubbed or altered. I will leave it to you to compare and find out which ones!

One of the biggest and best surprises is the inclusion of an ‘intro’ and an ‘outro’ to ‘Sadness and Strength.’ While only lasting a few moments, the alteration greatly changes the dynamic of a transition from an all out blaster like ‘Shine of Consolation’ into ‘Sadness.’ The fade in to ‘Old Man and a Child’ has been done away with as well.

In addition, the presence of the synths has been lessened, which in my view strengthens the aggressive and contemporary focus. They were very, very good in the original work, and they are altered tastefully here without loosing their purpose. The use of a keyboard is always a crapshoot in this genre, as a slight imbalance can ruin the effectiveness of the recording and send it into Bal Sagoth land. There were a couple moments in the original that were bizarre, such as the ‘organic’ passage in ‘Flowering Entities.’ The only botched alteration comes during the close of ‘On the Way Home,’ where Corn hits both bass pedals at once creating a heavy heartbeat or series of footsteps. In the remaster, this thrilling moment is changed to a silly electronica club pulse that is quite jarring and inferior to the original effect. This is a small gripe however, as everything else rules so hard.

The album closing keyboard instrumental ‘Walking in the Garden of Ma’at’ has always been somewhat baffling to me due to its heavily synthetic makeup. Addmittedly, it is a beautiful piece that achieves it objective of peace and melancholy. But, as it approached during my initial listening of the remaster, I had hoped that it would have been completely redone in a more modern and ‘realistic’ (for lack of a better word) fashion. It was not, but the clarity has been bumped up, making it somewhat more bombastic than before, which keeps it on par with the rest of the remastering. And to sum up, it is a fantastic work.

Again, I am skipping over how much this album has changed my life (and believe it or not, it has) and outlook on music in general. What is really important is how each of us is able to build a relationship with music and art in general. Granted, definitions and outlooks will vary, but sometimes something so wonderful exists that is seems impossible for it to not take on a sort of religious significance. When listening to ‘Elvenefris,’ I come close to what New Agers or Jesus Freaks feel when they are in concert with their beliefs. And perhaps you will too. A good thing?

As an end note, all this recent activity in the Lykathea Alfame (now known as Lykathé) camp has been stoking my hope that the long awaited follow up might eventually happen. It seems unlikely that it will be able to top this record, but in keeping with the nature of the theme of ‘Elvenefris,’ what is wrong with hoping that it will be better? Why can’t it be more amazing and save us all from the metal doldrums? That sounds something like a messianic plea, and you must forgive me. Perhaps a wizened hope will replace the naïve one that we humans invoke all too often in the name of something far removed. Hopefully that time draws near!

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