Elend – Les Tenebres Du Dehors – 4/5
So I continue my journey of musical discovery into ambient darkwave with a well established French band, performing a highly neo-classical variation of the style. Now, unlike the ‘Malmsteem’ variety of neo-classical, this form takes far more literal view of the term ‘new classical,’ and indeed would feel right at home amongst the likes of Bach and Brahms. With the soft melodic instrumental backing, the power comes across through the range of vocals, utilised in a manner that feels more instrumental than the conventional lyrics. Through soprano choral work comes much of the powerful emotions and imagery they convey, gothic and religiously toned without ever feeling condescending or ‘preachy’ in any way.
The first thing that should be noted is that – despite what I’ve seen mentioned – this is not a metal band and expecting such will lead to disappointment. In fact, there are no drums – through a machine or otherwise – nor are there any guitars. The backing is constructed through very simple and slow violin and keyboard synths, often again overlayed by organs or piano to tremendous effect. It is a simple but powerful formula that proves effective, if perhaps at times feeling overused and lacking in diversity. The soprano vocals are well utilised as another instrument, from the subtle whispers to the powerful shrieks they harmonise with the backing and often work as the top layer. Where the music really begins to shine – particularly in the latter tracks – is when the male vocals kick in; not just a deep tenor vocals but a blackened shrieking providing the perfect contrast to the angelic soprano work, the crashing of despair against the holy background proving a rather simple but incredibly effective combination.
The tracks vary nicely in tempo, from their most chaotic black shrieking to the gentle whispers from one of the four lead vocalists here. The keys are lavishly used but softly fade in and out so as to maintain a gentle wave-like flow to the proceedings. Looking over the lyrics, their nature soon becomes apparent, a real ‘Heaven vs Hell” battle with Lucifer as a central theme, filled with Latin, French and English passages that are carefully written to tell a story, there is detail in this far beyond the music itself.
From that opening choral line it succeeds in enchanting you, but its hour long running time feels excessive for what is on offer. Despite being incredibly well performed and composed, it is relatively simple music and its impact begins to fade – particularly during the two lengthier tracks, one clocking at 14 mins the other at 10 – and it begins to feel monotonous. Without hearing the lyrics this still magically conjures up religious imagery to my mind but at no point ceases being anything but beautiful in its nature. This is grandiose music rich in its enchanting atmosphere that still proves possible to lend a sinister tone when it needs to; fans of classical and atmospheric music may do well with this.
Highlights: Nocturne, Dancing Under the Closed Eyes of Paradise