Well folks, I’m back in the saddle again and I’m finally reviewing again. What better way to ease back into things than an album review? This review already starts off interesting, or at least interesting to me.
Elantris, formerly Blackthorn, is a symphonic metal band out of Ohio that formed in 2014. One of their noteworthy points is how they recently toured with Lacuna Coil. The band’s new name is possibly taken from a novel of the same name, but that’s speculation on my part. What I can confirm is “This Sacrifice” is their debut album released sometime recently. I can’t seem to find anything else about them. I actually came across them in a Facebook group and they were looking for reviews to post. Naturally I’m drawn to bands with bits of mystery and thought I’d bite.
Here’s something that was interesting for me about buying this album. I searched for this album to purchase on iTunes (yes, I know you’re judging, and it’s OK. I am disappointed in myself too) and review only to find it wasn’t under their current name. It was still listed under their old name. If I recall you can find it under Elantris on Spotify and other platforms. Despite a minor incident, though, I finally got the album and gave it a listen.
The album kicks off with “Ellie”, and it barrages the listener with rhapsody of heavy tones tempered with a smooth synthesizer. One thing I really appreciated about the intro is how is gradually changes into a more complex time signature and gradually brings the listener into a battle march. I’ve come to expect many things to happen in symphonic metal, which includes complex meter, lots of bravado, but I didn’t expect other things from this song. The female vocalist was one of them. I’ll admit I’m pretty sheltered when it comes to symphonic metal but I’d grown accustomed to hearing vocalists with operatic or at least classical vocal training. The female vocalist has more of a pop star style. It is certainly different and while it jarred me at first I see how the style pairs well with the lyrics. The lyrical content was another aspect I didn’t expect. It felt like lots of angst came out with lines like “you don’t know me, you don’t know anything about me”, but again I see how it all comes together to something that foreshadows how the dark tones of the song are completely alluding to a dark nature. This dissonance carries throughout the album and adds elements that invoke doubt about the genuine nature of what’s presented without fully jeopardizing the composition of the songs.
Next up is “Ascension”, and it’s interesting to me in how it creates dissonance that’s ultimately cacophonous. It opens up with some black and heavy metal aesthetics of blast beats (though sometimes it slightly throws off the tempo), extreme vocals, and some shredding, but at times it seems to hearken back to the symphonic metal elements. At times it’s problematic as clearly the symphonic elements feel a little carelessly thrown in, though it’s clearly meant to bring a calming element to the song and allude to the lyrics about moving past terrible things. One moment where it’s problematic is when the transition from black metal to symphonic –or vice versa –prove slightly awkward as the blast beats either are a hare off or they drown out the vocals. When the same rhythm is transferred to other instruments it makes the other chord progressions awkward and feel thrown in to display skill rather than add to the song itself. Regardless of the problems I feel anyone can appreciate the powerful build ups and the earthy, aggressive tones of the instruments that pair with an airy, dolce voice. It’s as if the idea of whether the speaker can rise above the past is brought into question due to the speaker’s integrity.
Speaking of integrity I felt some parts of “Denied” may have lacked some of that. Each particular movement provides something powerful and provocative, but when placed together lacks anything cohesive to tie it together. One movement will have a powerful breakdowns paired with raw vocals and blastbeats, but other times it tries to take a legato turn with bittersweet tones. Sometimes there’s an attempt to transition between these movements with blast beats or with the synthesizer or arpeggios, but it ends up feeling out of place. I definitely see these things matching the lyrics where they sing about being broken or living moment to moment, but instead of fully conveying these ideas it feels like an awkward juxtaposition of things that were awesome that should make a song with no real agreement how to bring it together.
This disjointed composition seems to continue with other songs. Throughout “Forgotten” there are lots of things that, while cool, don’t cohesively mesh. I feel the lyrics, while superficially dark (and given the theme of things forgotten fitting) demonstrate why I personally don’t like end rhyming. Most people tend to place the end rhyming at the end of a line, and paired with the tendency for native English speakers to speak in an iambic rhythm, end up often with rhythm structure of “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum-ba-dum baaaaah”. I personally feel that particular rhythm is generic and a go-to when writing on the fly. It doesn’t add anything to the song other than leave me grasping at straws to justify the composition. I feel, however, there is a lot of potential with this song as I do notice an attempt to tie things together. The spoken part meant to bridge back into the vocals, while falling into the trappings of end rhyming, allude the most lyrically to the feelings conveyed about forgetfulness and being forgotten. The synthesizer seems to be arbitrarily thrown in, but that’s because while there is a theme and variation with the rhythm it’s marred by the lyrics and the barrage of blastbeats. Everything feels like it’s built around them, though I’m guessing it was intentional as the things pointed out are overdone and make a song forgettable.
Following such a cliché song is a more redeeming song:”Project 000”. The composition is more complex and more cohesive and more to what I’m accustomed with symphonic metal. Overall this is a song that provides the listener with more of everything. There is a more fluid transition between the blastbeats and breakdowns in the song and the chord progressions not only compliment these moments fantastically but really emphasize the mood of the song. The harmonies even help convey some sort of humanoid creature in more blended vocals than previous tracks. The synthesizer is more purposeful with its contribution to the song. While the lyrics are still lacking it feels like turning this into a disjointed duet emphasizes the internal conflict of promises from an unknown versus the promise granted, more so than other tracks. This is a song that, if I had to pick a song for radio play, would top the list.
If “Project 000” was a promise of a more complex turn in the album it wasn’t a good one when followed by “Odium”. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song, but it starts off deviating slightly from their other songs and eventually succumbing to their formula. As with the previous song, it starts of with a slow tempo, but doesn’t jump in with blast beats. However it does go into the usual pattern of having screaming vocals paired with faster rhythms and the clean vocals paired with more legato themes. It also fell back into lyrically bludgeoning the listener with end rhymes, albeit it didn’t always fall into iambic rhythm. The clean vocalist wasn’t hitting the hitting all the notes when she needed to jump up in pitch, and I suspect has to do with the fact much of the time it was lyrically when it needed a strong emphasis on the consonants at the start of the word. This is a common issue with singing, which is why many pieces tend to compose pieces where lyrically the high pitches coincide with an emphasis on vowel sounds. It provides an easier jump between high and low pitches because it’s easier to do with sounds that are more “open” and have less to push through.
The next song completely deviates from the rest of their album, let along symphonic metal, by invoking sea tunes and djent in “Seas of Torment” in the first few minutes. It does goes back into their trademark blastbeats and screams followed by melodic, clean vocals, leaving their venture into pirate metal short lived. I understand why they’d invoke those elements with a title like that but as I said with other songs it didn’t seem cohesive, even with their album. I feel like everything else with this song I’ve covered in other songs so I’ll move on…
The next few songs I feel actually go together in some fashion so I’ll deal with “Strings of Silk”, “Dawn”, and “Captivate” together. “Strings of Silk” seems to be the expected fanfare from the album with the violin setting on the synthesizer until I heard “Dawn”. The first song sets a theme that is carried into the second. The dolce voice paired with the piano really lets not only the vocalist, but the band shine. We see lyrics and composition noted of symphonic metal but also the strengths of the band as a whole. This, in turn, segues into “Captivate”. It opens up to deliver all the punches in the form of blastbeats, screaming vocals, driving tempos, and clean vocals that only warn of more to come. The lyrics talk about leaving this as a standard at one point, and I couldn’t agree more. This is the climax and standard for the album.
The album finishes with the eponymous title “This Sacrifice”. It delivers the grittiness that we saw in previous songs paired with oftentimes ballad-eque movements and a fitting conclusion lyrically and musically to the album. Rather than being disjointed and sacrificing cohesive composition it seems this was thoughtfully pieced together, knowing full well this was to end the album. The ending brings everything together in an epic piece fit of the genre and leaves me hoping that Elantris continues in this direction for other albums.
Overall Elantris promises symphonic metal but delivers something out of the norm for the genre, be it breaking from traditional vocalists or surprising elements from other genres. The big problem this serves, however, is the tendency to lean towards what sounds cool rather than bringing everything together to make the song contribute something new to the genre. Instead of sounding like symphonic metal with other elements at times it sounds like people from several metal backgrounds coming together to try out symphonic metal and creating a hodge podge of a song. Once the band does commit to being a symphonic metal band, though, the results are amazing.