Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Elferya - The Straight And Narrow (2012)

With all of the new music available to us at any given moment, we have become spoiled, and dismiss bands all too easily without ever giving them a proper chance. And with the boat loads of symphonic, female fronted bands that have flooded the American radio waves over the last few years, it would be easy to forget about the genre as a whole. But for every mediocre attempt at stardom, there is a great band who deserves not only the listen, but the respect. Elferya, a five piece band from the French speaking part of Switzerland, might be exactly what the doctor ordered. With some of the most deep, rich symphonic pieces the genre has to offer, a drummer that might induce dizziness with every swing of the stick, and a frontwoman that takes you from your seat to cloud nine with every voice, "The Straight And Narrow" might be a place all of us walk from here on out.

Don't let the majestic, if not slightly dainty, intro to "Once Upon A Time" fool you. As the orchestral elements build up, something far more bold awaits you. Strings and horns subtly pull you to a fro, with a drum beat coming in to guide it all along. As the track builds to its climax, the entire mix elevates, crashing cymbals and snares exploding through your speakers while choirs of voices float above it all. Pairs of kick drums lead to the end here, and right into the beginning of "Fairy Tale," where the guitars come into the fold. While the double kick drums may hold the key to the sound, it is the distorted riffs that complete the set. With her first entrance, Claire-Lyse von Dach will raise your eyebrows. Her voice hits all the right notes, high and low, with a grace and beauty that immediately grabs you. Layered atop a rich layer of keyboards, her voice transcends the music itself. Rather than rely solely on von Dach's voice, the band erupts on "Deep Water Traveler," laying down a healthy dose of chugging guitars and a battery of drums. With keyboardist Lionel Blanc also handling the violin duties, you get an added layer of beautiful live strings. A whisper in the outro is enough to leaving you wanting so much more.

It is in the calming opening to "Luna" that you may find more than you bargained for. After being lulled to sleep with a set of synthesized sounds, an explosive throws you backwards. It had been lurking for the better part of the three tracks, but finally bursts through the curtain to your ears, leaving behind it the punch of great snare work and a rolling set of double kicks. It is here that von Dach's beauty is fully revealed, her voice complementing not only the reserved, heavenly instrumentals, but also the heavier ones. One part operatic, one part accessible, there is a perfect balance in her tone. The breakdown proves that it isn't a one woman show, bending and slamming strings in a dazzling show of instrumental strength. In keeping with its title, "Master Of death" sees the band take a much more aggressive approach, or so it would seem at first. A jazzy bass groove inhabits the verse section, where von Dach croons lightly. It is in the blaring guitar work and drumming that the heaviness lies, as well as the occasional screaming male vocal. Throw in a flurry of violin and piano action, this duel to the death is a complete masterpiece.

There are two pieces of "Burning Desire" that may cement it as an album favorite. It boasts some of the best percussion work on the album, a constant flow between blast beats and thumping rolls. The precision with which it is played is almost unreal, thanks to Greg Turini. It is only rivaled here by von Dach and her mesmerizing voice, in both lead and backup capacity. Haunting and beautiful, "Mystic Land" is a dog among sheep, hiding unnoticed until you stumbled onto it. High energy and well executed, there are elements at play here that will make you want to jump to your feet and dance along to the pounding drum beat. The violin melody is akin to something Elvenking would craft, uptempo and intoxicating. Some of that whimsy carries over into the lightly spoken intro to "Butterfly," before erupting into a screaming madness. The chugging guitars are denser here than before, spring loaded with more distortion, more rousing blast beats, and a more assertive symphonic element. The ever present double kick drums keep the tempo high and the vocal strength even higher. Minus the vocals, the instrumental shines in the outro before rolling into "Afterlife." It might not have dawned on you until now just how cohesive the album is, moving from song to song as if each one is an extension of the last. Easily the most accessible track on the album, von Dach's voice  reaches new levels of enchanting here, while guitarist Valery Veings flexes his muscle to the highest degree, laying down a massive solo.

Not to be forgotten in all of the vocal majesty and guitar wizardry, though, is the stellar keyboard work that has helped to carry the album thus far. By implementing multiple sounds - from piano, to synthesizers, to strings and horns - Blanc gives the entire mix an added depth of sound that would otherwise be impossible. And rather than settle for typical, basic drum beats in the chorus, the band opts for a more heavy handed approach, with blasting snares and toms rolling through every open window. The perfect example comes at the 3:40 mark, as Veings is completing another wild solo. rather than the normal kick kick snare formula, a set of daring fills ties the solo to the chorus again, and keeps the track moving at a fevered pace. After such a furious and powerful ride, you may find yourself exhausted by the time the closing track, "Awakening," lightly fades in. But as the track progresses, you find yourself in the middle of a beautiful symphonic masterpiece, one that brings the album full circle. detailed layers of strings and horns form the foundation for the entire piece, while von Dach gives you hope for a new day. While it may not be a summation of the album as a whole, it is the perfect end.

With so much music at our fingertips, it would be safe to say we've gotten too dismissive, too cynical. We look at a band bio, and simply toss the album to the side thinking we've heard it all before. but the beauty of music is that there are always new paths to explore, and new bands to discover. Elferya might not be a band you've heard, or even heard of, but they should be. Any fan of female fronted metal can appreciate what is printed on this disc, and any fan of classically inspired symphonic metal would be delighted with what they hear; if only they give it a chance. If you feel that those two subgenres have grown stale and crowded, don't remove them from your radar. Instead, look farther, look wider, and you will find a band that can reignite that fire. If there is one album that might do just that, "The Straight And Narrow" is it.


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