ENEMY INSIDE – SEVEN
Label: ROAR! Rock Of Angels Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
03. Release Me
04. Break Through
05. In My Blood
08. Black Butterfly
09. Black And Gold
11. Crush (Jennifer Paige Cover)
Nastassja Giulia – Vocals
Evan K – Lead Guitar
David Hadarik – Rhythm Guitar
Dominik Stotzem – Bass
Feli Keith – Drums
Ever since the Bible first put them forth, they’ve fascinated writers, including ones like Chaucer – the idea of the “seven deadly sins” of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, pride and wrath. They’re themes that are by nature perfectly suited to a metal context and the German modern metal band ENEMY INSIDE has taken their shot at the idea with their appropriately-titled sophomore album “Seven”, the follow-up to their 2018 debut “Phoenix.”
The album was, as the bio says, “deeply influenced by the seven deadly sins”, although “not about the Christian tradition, but more about calling today’s society into question and interpreting them in a more contemporary way”. The band – singer Nastassja Giulia, guitarists Evan K and Dave Hadarik, bassist Dominik Stotzem and drummer Feli Keith – has released powerful, imagery-laden videos for several tracks, including “Crystallize”, “Alien”, “Release Me” and the latest ,“Black Butterfly”. Nastassja and Evan wrote all the tracks ; Nastassja is also responsible for those album and video concepts.
Not all the songs seem to be about a sin, but there are many that fit, like the opener “Crystallize”, which might possibly be representing sloth – that is, inactivity, mental laziness, inertia – and yearning for deliverance from it. The recurring mentions of cold things serve as metaphors for this idea: “Icicles raining down” and “My lips turn blue” ; the whole chorus “Breathe me back to life / I’m cold as ice / I’m crystalized” ; and especially the second prechorus “An icy chill runs down my spine / I’m watching my days passing by / I want to move but I’m stuck on the ice”. This first single has all the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect from the band, the sound that has sharpened and coalesced to become completely theirs – big resonant bassy groove ; punchy, catchy choruses with a consistent sonic and emotional feel throughout ; heaviness tempered by a Europop sheen, a clean, crisp brilliance ; and of course, Nastassja’s liquidy, full, fluid burble of a soprano voice.
The dense, thudding crunch that starts “Alien” surrenders to a slower verse that adds air and buoyancy, but it returns in force in the choruses. This is pride, in both senses, negative and positive – those who look upon “aliens” (the different, the unusual, the alternate lifestyles) as “other”, that destructive, self-centered pride (“The same mud runs in our veins / You’re just too proud to see”, a great line, and “You can hate me / Defame me / Til you’re choking on your pride”) and those “aliens” who are fiercely and rightly proud of who they are (“And I won’t try to fit in to your sick society” and “You can fear me, mistreat me / But you will not defeat me”). Nastassja’s voice rises in intensity in the bridge, ending in a shriek as Evan’s blistering solo adds further fierce commentary.Layered, dark, and insistent, “Release Me” also has a hip-hop feel in the treatment of some of Nastassja’s vocals in the verses. Feli’s lilting, propulsive drumming and her voice spiraling up and up makes the chorus hypnotic and sticky. Loosely speaking, this could be gluttony, maybe for someone’s attention no matter how much it harms, like you keep coming back for more (“Your words, they hurt / Cutting deep into my heart / Never enough / You’re the shade when there’s light, always on my mind” and “No one haunts me like you haunt me / No one hurts me like you hurt me”). The idea of “release” is just as she says – “I need a remedy to save myself from me” and “I’m the disease and the casualty” – that is, I need to break this cycle for myself, no matter how much I blame you for it.
“Break Through” might be a bit off-theme in describing a toxic relationship and ensuing breakup, but as it’s noted, that theme is not set in stone. The opening piano brands it as a ballad immediately, but it’s Nastassja’s humbled, resigned vocal that really conveys the storyline here – her dainty, skipping litany in the prechorus is delivered in an almost sing-song manner, like here we go again (“I’m sick and tired, too weak to fight… You built your walls, they’re mountain high”, etc.). Each time through the chorus, it’s bigger but it’s never overdone ; they favor seething intensity over bombast and that’s an admirable quality in a ballad. Cello accompanies her on the key line of this track, “I saved for myself”, the core of the phrase, “You stole the love I saved for myself” – you took everything, including my own self-love, my self-respect and that’s unforgivable.The initial crunch of “In My Blood” houses a great riff melody and while it builds at the end of the verses to lead into the choruses, those choruses never get histrionic – they’re always in check, making their point with a quiet thunder. The breakdown midway heavies up with the almost-chanted words of the title and they end the song in the same way. This one is definitely about greed, no doubt – the first verse mentioning “The hunger in our hearts / Like an addiction / The more we have the more we want… like an infection”. The chorus notes “Nothing is enough / An endless crave / Inside my guts”. And the second verse is one result of our greed, environmental catastrophe: “A mass extinction / Is happening before our eyes / A disgrace / And nothing ever seems to change / In a world our breed created”. There’s a nice progression, too, between the last lines of the first chorus (“I can’t be tamed / It’s in my blood”) and the last lines of the second (“Can I be tamed? / Is it in my blood?”) as if to say: Is there hope? Or is this final?
“Bulletproof” has a less dense, sinewy feel to it by way of the guitar effect and that carries throughout. And from the opening line “Envious minds are secretly held”, we get the theme. The verses are tense, depicting those who are jealous (“Breeding and spreading lies inside their heads / Some will hide in disguise / And denigrate to elevate themselves, but they will fail” and “Some will call you a friend / But as soon as you turn there’s a knife in your back” and the great imagery of “But I’ll never be gone / As long as my name leaves a taste on your tongue”). The chorus is responding to envy with defiance and the inevitability of karma (“What goes around / Will come around”). The last chorus strips down in the first few lines to put a laser focus on Nastassja’s voice ; they use this tactic several times to add emphasis. There’s also clever wordplay in the bridge, a well-done conciseness of theme, with the lines, “Might leave some bruises but you won’t get under my skin / Set me alight but I burn from within”.
In the sexy title track ”Seven” (fittingly, the seventh) we have lust, as it originated in the Garden of Eden, with plenty of lyrical references to the same (”Slithering and whispering lies / Tempting me to take a bite” and “Forbidden fruit got you so enticed… Holy water wash away my sins / ’Cause bad is all I’ve been / But if this is wrong I don’t want to be right”). The choruses are clever in that they come from each perspective, the tempted (“Poisoned is my mind”), the tempter (“Poisoned is thy mind”) and maybe the universal as well, that we can be both (“Poisoned are our minds”). Nastassja effectively role-plays in the bridge, where she helplessly describes her torment (“I can’t control this burning passion inside / Always craving for more, always long for a bite”, etc.), words tumbling over themselves until she finally says to that inner voice, “You need to shut up”.
Piano and keyboard start the midtempo, not-quite-ballad “Black Butterfly”, an intriguing track in that it’s kind of an encapsulation or commentary on the whole idea of sin and virtue and even religion (“Flashes of light… Inside the tower, but I am uninvited / I’m on earth and you are high up in the sky”, perhaps a reference to church, to God). This idea continues into the prechoruses: the first, “Locked yourself inside your shell / Afraid of all the tales they tell / They laid their eggs inside your mind / While the world revolves you’re paralyzed”, as if to say fear of a divine comeuppance has kept this character from living at all ; the second, “When you were crawling on your knees / Now you’re the one abandoning me / I am not the one who has changed / Not the one who needs to be saved”, as if to say religion or God has failed the character. The whole imagery of the “black butterfly” might be a metaphor for being stained with sin, but being beautiful and worthy nonetheless. Death is after all the final equalizer, as the character rationalizes, “Into eternity I will rise / So save your tears, I’ll be a butterfly”. And the outro kind of says it all, again bringing the whole theme of the album full circle: “I’d rather live before I die / Than die to live in paradise / A sinner dying on his feet / Or living a life on your knees”.
But there are three songs yet to go after this fairly final word on the subject. Perhaps it might have made things hang together better if it was the closing track, but that’s just a thought. And we also seem to be missing the sin of wrath, but again the band was merely “influenced by” the theme, so perhaps they didn’t feel they needed to be comprehensive.
“Black And Gold” is greed again, though, this time the desire for money or wealth (the “cold embrace”) and what that need brings, the “Heart that always aches for more / And fears of having less”. “Black” is the sin of greed, while “Gold” is the constant longing ; within the two “My soul will die… covered in gold but rotting inside”. The narrator here is self-aware enough, however, to note “Gold shines a light on whatever is worst”, that is, in our character – indeed it does. The song starts and ends with acoustic guitar and Nastassja’s almost robotic repetition of the words of the title at the end drives home the futility of the pursuit of wealth.
The more optimistic-sounding “Dynamite” is a musing on the pursuit of physical perfection, no matter the personal cost in this social media-centered world, to “Show some skin / But hide your scars / ’Cause no one wants to look behind / The curtains closed”. The chorus reminds “You don’t need their love to catch alight” and the bridge asks “If beauty knows no pain / Why do we hurt? Why do we ache?” It’s off-topic, but it’s a valid observation.
The closer “Crush”, a cover of the 1998 pop hit by Jennifer Paige, is an interesting choice and it suits them well, with its subtle conveying of a complex situation. This could again be lust at first blush, since it’s talking about living for the moment and not reading too much into an initial attraction (“If you see something in my eye, let’s not overanalyze / Don’t go too deep with it baby” and “Say, ‘That we’re forever more’ / That’s not what I’m looking for, all I can commit to is maybe”). The chorus is the narrator trying to convince herself “It’s just a little crush… It’s just some little thing”, even though, as she notes, “Everything I do depends on you”. It’s a bit out of place in some ways (it may have been better suited as a B-side or bonus track), but they deliver it convincingly.
Even though “Seven” deviates little from their debut – and each song deviates little from one another – ENEMY INSIDE does what they do musically well, and they do what they do lyrically just as well, in a thoughtful, well-drawn manner with plenty of nuance and depth despite their initial simplicity. They don’t thump you over the head with their themes, but instead provide plenty of opportunity to ferret out meaning, even amid such well-trodden ground as those seven sins.