Review in Chronicles of Chaos
A new Elend album, so soon? Having had to wait for five years to hear a breath of life from Elend after their "Office des Ténèbres" trilogy, this new five(!) album series that started with last year's Winds Devouring Men seems off to a flying start. As a result, many pessimists would probably expect Sunwar the Dead to be a rushed job, where half-baked ideas are strung together to form a disappointing follow-up to the excellent Winds Devouring Men. They would be wrong.
Sunwar the Dead is an extremely refined album from one of the most talented groups of individuals in extreme music, merging together a myriad of eclectic, subtle influences. Their neoclassical (the term is employed loosely here) music continues to evolve: there is more percussion, some of which you are unlikely to have quite heard before; there is more experimentation with subtle noise, without it becoming overbearing; and this time there is a massive choir and string ensemble (over 50 people in all) to further enhance the sheer vibrancy of Elend's work, more so than even before. This is an altogether darker album, more brooding and violent than its predecessor: much of it is downright unnerving, shifting the focus from the often beautiful and delicate introspection of Winds Devouring Men onto its darkest reaches. (The blackened shrieking hasn't returned, however.) More importantly however, the way in which Elend explore this darkness has again been partially reinvented; threads of what they did before are taken and woven into something new, mysterious and gripping. The interplay of strings, voices and electronics (in the best possible sense) is seamless in its dark voyage, transcending the common studio feel of an album and becoming something much closer to the ethereal. This may all sound abstract, but in a way so is the music: it has to be heard, carefully heard, in order to be appreciated.
So, is Sunwar the Dead the ultimate Elend masterpiece? Well, even if we exclude the "Office des Ténèbres" trilogy based on the fact that its context is quite different, it's still hard to tell what heights they might reach next. I cannot even say for sure that they have topped Winds Devouring Men; or rather, I think they have topped it in a number of ways, but the two are considerably different albums. Sunwar the Dead is perhaps a more difficult album than Winds Devouring Men, one you may not play as often; but it features a number of superb passages and an overall atmosphere that is perhaps unparalleled. Given what they set out to do here, this may well be Elend's greatest achievement so far -- but I hope they may still be able to improve on it one day. One can always hope.
(c) Pedro Azevedo (9.5 out of 10)