Review in Starvox (2)

Elend is a dark and eloquent French ensemble comprised of elaborately trained classical musicians. They made their debut in the underground with their 1994 opus Leçons de Ténèbres which was followed by Les Ténèbres du Dehors in 1996, Weeping Nights in 1997, and the bombastic masterpiece The Umbersun in 1998. All of these releases were thematically inspired by John Milton's Paradise Lost and taking a cue from the interpretations of 19th Century Romantic poets like Blake and Shelley, Elend's portrayal of Milton's epic offered a sympathetic glorification of Lucifer as an unsung hero-villain.

Musically speaking, Elend set the standard for Neo-Classical and Ethereal bands like Autumn Tears and the hosts of other experimental bands that have emerged over the past decade. Their compositions were shaded by early Dead Can Dance, and also revealed influences from composers such as Purcell, Bach, and Wagner. As the band progressed, their influences veered toward later and less orthodox 20th Century composers like Mahler, Pärt, Gorecki, and Penderecki. Their use of synthesizers was always one of the most impressive aspects of the group, because even though their music was synthesized, it truly resembled an authentic classical orchestra - it was loud, dynamic, complex, and overwhelming. What further set the band apart was the somewhat unlikely use of Death Metal vocals to represent the figure of Lucifer. Many of the lyrics came directly from Paradise Lost and perfectly suited the thunderous despair and jealous rage of the fallen angel. Alongside the growls were clean male vocals that bore a startling resemblance to Dead Can Dance's Brendan Perry, as well as confident soprano vocals and otherworldly choirs. With The Umbersun, the band's final release before slipping into a five-year obscurity, was a sonic triumph, consisting primarily of chilling symphonic carnage. Wagnerian in scope, the band unleashed whirlwinds of intensity, well-tempered by moments of lugubrious eeriness and stark melancholic beauty. With that album, their music seemed to reach its grand finale and Lucifer's songs seemed to have been sung.

The Umbersun was in fact an end of an era for Elend. Most of their fans never thought they would have released another album, as all was quiet regarding them. The reason I am giving such a lengthy intro to this review, is that at this point, the band is still relatively shrouded in mystery and obscurity. Several bands have ventured off into Neo-Classical directions. But few projects exhibit the power or present the quality of music that Elend is capable of. More confrontational than Sopor Aeternus and nightmares beyond Black Tape For A Blue Girl, they deserve just as much recognition, if not more so, for their unparalleled compositions.

To my pleasant surprise, and for the legions of Elend's scattered sect of devoted fans, Elend has returned with their most mature, powerful, and well-orchestrated release to date. Winds Devouring Men is an absolute masterpiece of darkness. The spectrum of emotions runs from tender yet seductively depressing serenades to sublime moments of sheer terror and jarring evil. Technically, the band has advanced several stages beyond their prior material, the result being as powerfully emotional as it is progressive and dynamic.

Thematically speaking, the band seems to have left the direct references to Milton and Lucifer behind, embarking on more personal and esoteric lyrical explorations. Additionally, the Death Metal growls have been entirely abandoned, leaving more room for the moody vocal croons to blossom. The strong resemblance to Brendan Perry remains, though his voice is not at all plagiarized, but comes across a fitting tribute. In many ways, Elend fills the void Dead Can Dance left when they abandoned the Classical structures of their Within The Realm Of The Dying Sun and Serpent's Egg albums to produce more New Age/World music inspired releases. So for those of you that enjoyed that era of Dead Can Dance, Elend will surely be a welcomed addition to your music collection.

At any rate, the Luciferian roaring, which less literary minded listeners might have found disruptive, has been left behind. But there is a remarkable growth in the arrangements of these tracks, featuring an even more organic sound that results from the predominant use of live violins and brass instruments instead of keyboards. Synths are still used for harpsichord, harps, pizzicato strings, and warm drones and strings to fill out the sound, but all of their synth voices still possess professional tones that are true to life and awe-inspiring in their authenticity.

Even still, Elend had a few more tricks up their sleeve for this release. They have also unexpectedly introduced perfectly suitable elements of noise and traditional Industrial sounds into their work. And I don't mean dancey electronic blippity beep bullshit - I mean REAL Industrial. Clangs, bangs, feedback, scrapes, rhythmic noise! The Test Dept / Throbbing Gristle / Neubauten kind of Industrial. Inspired equally by composers such as Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass and their prepared pianos and clanging tubular bell compositions, Elend crafts their most sinister and oppressive moments with the use of unsettling feedback and shrill noises, juxtaposed against polyphonic swells of strings or disharmonic choirs with the occasional rhythmic rumbling pulsing at the music's core. The band does an excellent job placing these sounds, and pairing them with the more lush and buoyant passages of traditional classical elements.

Winds Devouring Men is an epic piece of music, painstakingly woven together from start to finish. This is a transcendent record, that takes the listener on a journey, at first presenting an inviting sense of comfort with the gorgeous adagios of "Worn Out With Dreams" and "Charis" before the subtle cacophony of "Under War-Broken Trees" begins to unleash a sense of foreboding doom. The album then plunges into a deep and dark abyss, and it is here where the Industrial and noise elements begin to creep in on "Away From Barren Stars" and reach their suffocating peak at the album's title track. "Vision Is All That Matters" marks the point where the Industrial elements and the lush classical ideas seamlessly coalesce. The band uses a tasteful amount of restraint, fusing these elements together delicately and carefully, so as to create a unique and complimentary union of sound. The album then begins to crescendo and reach a grandiose climax, swinging like a pendulum from frigid greys to mercurial reds, and back again, leaving the listener breathless at the album's fulfilling and mournful finale.

Elend is a band that is long overdue for recognition as one of the leading Neo-Classical bands in existence. This is a faultless, intelligent, satisfying, and landmark album that should be devoured by fans of dark music. Fans of Dead Can Dance, Cold Meat Industries, Projekt, Classical, and Experimental music will surely find a treasure in this release, as well within the rest of the band's discography. Highly recommended and available from The End Records!

reviewed by Matthew Heilman 07/12/03