Elis – Griefshire (2007) Album Review

On a role today? Well I have to recover the time lost yesterday because of my tardiness and commodity. Yeah, if you were wondering why I did not post anything yesterday was because of my like of appropriate mood, even though I had material ready, my mind was lost into space longing for a change. Anyway, this is a special review made which will honor the band Elis. The band just disbanded yesterday to my surprise and I want to send my thanks to this impressive group that managed to pull out some pretty memorable records and splendid live performances in their almost 10 years of existence, marked with sorrowful events and a lot of turmoil. I am now wondering if the gothic metal scene is somehow cursed, Xandria wasting 5 years because of constant line-up instability, Elis coming to a depressive end because of the loss of one of its creators and the constant instability among the band members, Type O Negative a pioneer band that of this genre that has lost its mastermind, Peter Steele, one of the greatest and most overwhelming losses for the gothic metal community, the disbandment of another icon for the gothic metal scene, Theatre of Tragedy, a band that helped shape “The Beauty and The Beast” concept as a aesthetic of this genre, an aspect mostly governed by a combination between male and female vocals and the departure of Vibeke Stene in 2007 for Tristania, ending an era for the gothic metal scene.

Basically, the gothic metal scene is not like it used to be in its inception period back in the 90s. At that time, the support and the number of bands pioneering this genre was much larger than it is now. We had Lacuna Coil in their old gothic metal days, we had The Gathering with an amazing album, Mandylion (1995), we had After Forever, The Sins of Thy Beloved, Theatre of Tragedy with another reference album, Aegis (1998), Theatres des Vampires, a band that would take vampire themes as their main focus in their records or Moonspell which developed a much extreme side of gothic metal combining it with elements of black metal and several others, however these are the ones that dominated the gothic metal scene in the 90s.

The gothic metal genre rose in Europe and remained popular in Europe, reaching mainstream popularity status maintained even today. Elis is just one name among many that helped shape this genre. Founded in 2003 by Pete Streit and Sabine Dunser both being former members of another gothic band called Erben der Schöpfung. What made them special was the fact that this band was born in a tiny country with small population named Lichtenstein. You could think that the world is small, a thing that would be a subject of laughter for many, but for a country like Lichtenstein, the world is really small, considering that such a band was born there. I imagine how difficult would’ve been for them to search for member replacements in their own native country, since human resources there might’ve been a pretty serious obstacle, but they somehow managed to pull this through.

We find Elis in a period of turmoil caused by the death of one of its creators. Sabine Dunser died unfortunately on rehearsals because of cerebral hemorhage in 2006. When I think back, the band members stated when they released this album that she considered it her own baby, much to my relief was that she was able to rest for eternity after she gave birth to it. This could be considered her testament and the end of the legacy that she wanted to show to this world before ascending spiritually to another one. The name already tells what we will encounter in this record, the feeling of grief bestowed upon a shire (village). This is a concept album, unlike the previous ones, Sabine wanted to approach this album with a compelling and intriguing story. Basically she did all the work in this album, coming up with the concept and story, writing the lyrics and composing one song (track 10), so when the album was released one year after her death, the band members chose to release it in her memory.

This album depicts the sorrowful story of a family confronted with greed, power and misfortune, a story of manipulation and filled with ambition and lust for power. The atmosphere in this album is sober, sorrowful, depicting a funeral atmosphere much like the events that occurred not so long ago in the band, an album that predicted an unfortunate event. It is permanently dark, from the beginning until the end especially in the slow-paced ballads which are engulfed with feelings of sorrow.

The album features 6 protagonists: The Narrator which is a younger brother who suffers from a handicap since birth, a man that was bestowed with extraordinary intelligence but also has a weakness, he lacks confidence and faces problems with his inner struggles, The Narrator’s Mother, a wise woman with the voice of a witch that dedicated her life to guide people towards redemption, The Narrator’s Older Brother, bestowed with leadership talent but also being a pretty manipulative man that lusts for power and control over the village, corrupting the villagers to follow him as a sect leader, The Narrator’s Daughter, a young woman that inherited the traits of her grandmother and was raised by her father to serve only the good and, The Brother’s Wife, the wife of the older brother and the younger brother secret love and a collective protagonist, The Sect, the villagers corrupted by the older brother and the ones that follow him as a sect leader.

The album begins with the song Tales From Heaven or Hell which talks about the narrator’s daughter immediately after his death. She decides to fulfill his last wish to read his secret diary to discover the truth about her origin, and to shed his ashes over a small unknown town. However, governed by lack of confidence in her father’s words she is reluctant in doing what he last wished. The second track Die Stadt describes the town as it is after the death of the narrator and how it used to be when he was alive. Show Me The Way depicts the narrator’s mother and the formula that was bestowed upon him, the 3×3 notion which was said to cure every illness. It also reveals that some other people are seeking the secrets that are currently in her hands.

Brother the 4th track depicts the relationship between the two brothers, the narrator and his older brother. The lyrics tell that although the narrator was handicapped since birth, his older brother never gave up on him, deciding to not abandon him. In this song the older brother is described as a person with exceptional leading skills that everyone follows. It also features an “eternal vow” made by the two brother in front of the grave of their mother, swearing that the will always be together no matter what obstacles they will encounter in life. The next part of the story is included in the mini-CD Show Me The Way, released separately. The track Salvation shows the younger brother facing a delicate problem that he feared the most, his older brother becoming a sect leader and the townspeople blindly following him, promising redemption as a reward, thus claiming to be a God. In the song, Seit Dem Anbeginn Der Zeit the narrator tries to find ways in order to stop him, reminding him countless times about the promise they made in front of their mother’s grave.

 

Remember The Promise depicts a heated discussion between the two brothers. The narrator urges his older brother to stop what he is doing before it is too late, trying to convince him that he could not keep his promise to the townspeople, that fact that he could not bring them redemption as he pretends. Phoenix From the Ashes stands as the firm response made by the older brother and frustration and negativism showed towards the younger brother. How Long is the track where the wife of the older brother comes to know the secret behind her husband’s work and wonder for how much longer this act will unfold. A feeling of insecurity governs her, fearing that she will be hurt if her husband won’t stop. Because of these fears, she is unable to leave him, thinking that she might be able to persuade him to stop if she is near him rather than apart from him. However it is unknown if this is her own decision or an influenced one (she had a little daughter after all who might’ve been used as a persuade subject in order to keep her around him). Innocent Hearts talks about the decision that the wife made, however she is still not sure if the decision was correct hoping that her husband will remember the happy times they spent in the past. These Days Are Gone depicts the wife clinging to the days long gone, hoping that those times will once again come back.

Forgotten Love takes place one year after the crucial decision. The narrator decided to leave his older brother. It is a time when the narrator thinks about his first love (his older brother’s wife) and wondering how the situation developed in the town. He is covered in nostalgia, remembering his lost dreams and the joyful moments spent in the village together with his brother. The Burning is the climax of the story featuring the narrator, who witnesses the town hall engulfed in flames. He rushes to town and manages to save the older brother’s daughter who he will raise her as his own. Later he found out that the flames were set by his older brother, because of being unable to bestow redemption upon the villagers. The villagers also realized that he was nothing more than a perpetrator, that he wasn’t the redeemer that he claimed to be, and that nobody actually could be a redeemer (reference to the birth of atheism). The narrator decided to raise her by himself in order to teach her to only serve the good so that his brother’s mistakes will not repeat.

Ten years after the unfortunate incident in the town, the daughter, after reading the entire diary left behind by her father (the younger brother, aka the narrator) realized why her father was so vehement about teaching her to server the good. In the end, she respected her father’s decision and spread his ashes in the ruined town. The phrase “Ashes to Ashes” has a special meaning, representing the calling of the lost souls that died in the town ten years ago, calling the last two souls that were able to survive. The girl realizes that one day, her ashes will also have to be spread among the ruins of this town, in order to bring peace for the souls of the dead people. The  track, A New Decade shows that the story did not end, with the lyrics “This is not the end of this story / This is just the beginning of a new decade of solutions”. The last track (actually featured on the Show Me The Way mini-CD), In Einem Verlassenen Zimmer talks about the place where that young woman discovered all the truth about her origin, and specially what was about to happen after that. The song is taken from a poem of the same name by Georg Trakle.

Musically speaking, I think that this band was suited to sing in their native language the most since the best tracks of this album are the ones sung in German, rather than in English. Sabine Dunser proved to be different than other vocalist, with a fairy like voice. Phoenix From The Ashes is the heaviest and darkest track featured on this record, The Burning the most aggressive, an adjective that fits the climax song of this album and several outstanding ballads that might be an obstacle for the average gothic metal fan, How Long and Forgotten Love, these are though pretty memorable songs. The list is completed with other splendid performances in songs such as Brothers, Show Me The Way, Tales From Heaven and Hell or Innocent Hearts. Elis fans might be reluctant when listening this album because it is slightly different than the previous works. However, those that loved the voice of Sabine Dunser and her performances will no doubt enjoy this record. Unfortunately, her death stole the chance to see a sequel to this beautiful story.

Overall Impression: 96/100

Xandria – Neverworld’s End (2012) Album Review

Good old Xandria, how long has it been since I’ve seen this band releasing a new record. We speak about 5 fucking long years, 5 fucking long years filled only with break ups and recording halts. A time when the band pretty much toured and toured and toured some more, endlessly, waiting for a chance for stability within the band. Born in 1997 (at the same time with Nightwish) the band released a demo but soon disbanded only to reunite in 1999 with new members, new approach and ready to have a word to say in the symphonic metal realm, alongside other important bands such as After Forever, Nightwish, Tristania or Within Temptation.

Marco Heubaum is the sole remaining original member from the 1997 Xandira line-up, and the man that managed to rise Xandria from the ashes in 1999 by hiring new artists. He began with a vocalist, Lisa Middelhauve in 1999, a pretty talented woman with a tender, calm and sorrowful voice that would fit more into a gothic metal band. So it was the case, Xandria at the beginning was a gothic metal act and it remained a gothic metal band until Lisa’s departure. Until 2001 Marco hired three more members, Gerit Lamm responsible for drums, Philip Restermeier responsible for guitars and Nils Middelhauve at bass guitar. Everything went well for a couple of years and until 2007, Xandria released 4 full length albums, each surpassing its predecessor.

However, every good thing needs to have an end as well, and this event occurred in 2008 when the band was touring in order to promote their newest record Salome – The Seventh Veil, released back in 2007 via Drakkar Entertainment. A rather solid and impressive record, one of the best they’ve made until then, with memorable tracks such as the intro Save My Life, Beware, Salome or Sisters of the Light however, I always had the feeling that Xandria lacks essence. These records always wandered in between gothic and symphonic metal styles, yet they never actually managed to harmonize these two style. Even though the tracks were good, listenable and memorable, something did not really work, how much I admired Lisa Middelhauve, I must admit that her voice did not really enchant me that much, it was rather too mellow and too forgettable. The band faced the first obstacle since they’re reunion once Lisa Middelhauve gave them a notice that she is leaving the band in 2008. Not quite a decision that would put the band into a perfect position in order to change something, especially since they were still not done with promoting the new record, and the most important chess piece has been taken.

The band went on one year hiatus concentrating on auditions for a new vocalist. They found one, and hired her immediately, a female vocalist named Kerstin Bischoff a rather unknown vocalist, credited with one contribution for the German band Axis in 2006 where she performed female vocals on the bands 2006 record Paradise In Flames. She did not stand for long, as 2010 came and she decided to leave the band as well. At that moment I lost my hopes in Xandria and I believed that it will not be long until they will announce the bands second disbandment. To my surprise, they decided to hire Lisa Middelhauve for several concerts only as a live performer and not as permanent member, until they will find a permanent vocalist. They did it in 2011, and her name is Manuela Kraller, a songstress that will bring a change into Xandria’s playing style given by her soprano high pitched voice.

Things went smoothly with this new singer, I even saw them live with her once, and the band clearly had the essence that I was looking for, the only thing that needed to be done was a new record, that would show the world how capable Xandria is and how talented the new songstress is as well. My expectations were met and in the autumn of 2011 the band confirmed that they were going to release a new record in early 2012 with Manuela Kraller as their front woman. Neverworld’s End, for me reflects the end of an era for a brilliant band, an episode similar with the one Nightwish faced in 2005 after Tarja Turunen‘s departure, a line-up change that affected their playing style too. Here the episode is reversed, Xandria changed into what Nightwish was when Tarja was still part of the band.

Those expecting another Salome kind of representation, they will be disappointed because we have a representation in this album similar with Nightwish’s older works featured on albums such as Oceanborn or Wishmaster. Manuela Kraller seems like a Tarja clone, however a very crafty one, a very talented with a hunger for singing and performing. On this record we witness a more symphonic operatic Xandria than ever, it represents a major change in their style, but also a new beginning, which in my opinion is a promising beginning. This disc is absolutely brilliant, I felt chills that I never felt before from other Xandria albums or even from Nightwish’s albums. The old Xandria was not completely erased, as some tracks still retain the old style, like Forevermore or The Dream Is Still Alive, though the way Manuela sings in them is much better and much more appealing to the ears than Lisa’s performance. Basically, the style that made Xandria unique has almost disappeared in this album, but I think this new approach suits them as well, especially with such a talented songstress. I mean come on, it’s not like they copy other bands, the members clearly placed their marks on this record and it is very different from Tuomas’s compositions.

The album beings with A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall the second longest track on this album, and the second longest track in their entire discography, a track that reveal the atmospheric potential that this record has to offer. It descends into the 2nd track Valentine, a track which features perfect instrument harmony bending all the sounds into a perfect track, no wonder that it was chosen as the track that will promote this album with a video. Other memorable songs are Euphoria, in my opinion the best track of this album and Soulcrusher along with The Lost Elysion, the heaviest tracks on this record. Call of The Wind has a lot of common elements with I Want My Tears Back from Nightwish’s latest album Imaginaerum. Blood On My Hands is yet another nicely done track given by the flawless performance displayed by Manuela while the last two tracks Cursed and The Nomad’s Crown depict celtic folk elements as well as oriental elements.

A splendid come back done by Xandria, with an album that proves to be a serious candidate this year for the best symphonic metal album considering the fact that there are other competitors awaiting to unleash their newest works like Diabulus In Musica, Delain or Epica. With Neverworld’s End, Xandria revived the old Nightwish age with Tarja as their vocalist but this time we have a much more dynamic and talented songstress, Manuela Kraller which also sings in the band Haggard, a band that constantly changes its line-up at every album, at every concert. One thing is for sure, if she wished for stability in order to unleash her potential, she might be able to find it in Xandria, seeing that this band was hardly struck by unfortunate departures and recording halts for quite a while so I believe that the other band members wish to keep the line-up intact for a long time. If you want to listen to a metal album this year, think no more, pick up Xandria’s Neverworld’s End and be prepared for a feast of audible pleasure.

Overall Impression: 100/100