Label: Black Lodge Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
As much as we appreciate the grandiose excesses of symphonic metal, restraint and temperance within it is refreshing. The Swedish band ELEINE seems to prefer the latter approach, and on their third album, ‘Dancing In Hell‘, they blend bombast and brevity with confidence and skill.
This is the second album for bassist Anton Helgesson and drummer Jesper Sunnhagen since they joined ELEINE’s core duo of singer Madeleine Liljestam and guitarist/harsh vocalist Rikard Ekberg and they’ve since become a cohesive, instinctive unit.
This full-length follow-up to the 2019 EP ‘All Shall Burn‘ begins with a reprise of ‘Enemies‘ and it’s crushing and atonal before the orchestration, choir vocals and pummeling, precise clip of the rhythm get things underway in earnest. Madeleine’s voice is sweet (that’s the best way to describe it), with the occasional rasp. She does get lost a little in the mix and kind of lacks the personal presence to sing lyrics like this — her sexy purr on a line like “Blood fills my lungs/ A foul taste on my tongue” is kind of jarring in that context. The chorus is well constructed and a definite singalong, but the solo section in between two takes of it doesn’t add anything, really — the point of having a good musical idea like this one is to keep it unique and leave us wanting more.
But ELEINE settles into things nicely going forward, as a string of notable songs follows, beginning with the title track. The natural seductive quality of Madeleine’s voice works well here in the bridge and throughout; it’s ironic and rather quirky. After all, she is rather seducing the one who hurt her to suffer along with her, as she urges, “I dance inside your flames / These marks they won’t remain / Dance with me.” Rikard’s guttural serves as the counterpart — “I stood by your side in hell / And you thank me / By standing in silence / You fade away” — as if to say it’s your fault too. The idea of the “Dancing In Hell” is a cleansing: “Though I bleed / My wounds will heal / I’m leaving you behind / Fading in time” and the final line of the chorus “Dancing in hell as I smile”, like it’s welcome and necessary pain. This too is long, but it doesn’t meander, every part feels necessary.
‘Ava Of Death‘ powers off with a big symphonic beginning and another majestic stomp. Its chorus runs an emotional gamut and Madeleine spits out the words to fit the defiant feel. A section leading into the solo is introduced by Jesper’s insistent punch and Rikard’s single guitar fades out the melody line, sparse and haunting, at the close. This is a standout musically and lyrically, concise, cinematic, Madeleine’s singing in keeping with the lyrics. While those words might be vaguely drawn and unspecific (“The plan was to bury us where we stand / To suffocate at last / But we will rise to claim this land” — who will?), it’s delivered with conviction, as is the chorus, which vows, “Try and strike us down / You will learn to fear us all.” What an “Ava Of Death” is, however, remains a mystery (the Voice Of Death – see the interview with Madeleine – editor).
Rikard’s gritty riff that serves as the foundation of ‘Crawl From The Ashes‘ is a touchpoint, reliably consistent and audible amid any orchestral bombast layered atop it. Madeleine uses the same Eastern-tinged melodic progression in one line as she did in the title track — she’ll do it again in later songs — it might be a hallmark of hers, but take care not to overuse it. The drama of the chorus is subdued a bit by her high soprano part — it weakens and softens it — but she’s much better in the latter part of it when she sings, “Feel your call / And the gods / Will burn as they fall / From thrones torn apart.” And the guttural section is a bit out of place, but it does add a necessary toughness and perhaps another character to the story, as Rikard growls: “No, I will not be another pawn / Deprived of my thoughts … This mind will not be broken by you.” Perhaps it’s a commentary against religion (“How easily our minds fall apart / As corruption starts”), but it’s a bit unclear, which is fine since the imagery is strong enough to carry it.
‘As I Breathe‘ is snapping and dynamic. Madeleine’s voice here is big and potent with no simpering, especially in the chorus, although I wish you could hear her more — she doesn’t have a ton of natural projection, so the mix needs to help her. The orchestrated bridge is dark and dramatic, sent racing by Jasper’s excellent in-the-pocket drumming, and it segues effortlessly into the solid chorus. It ends as it started, brief, well-crafted, and well thought-out. Again, the exact subject matter isn’t clear, but the delivery makes it all worthwhile, particularly the chorus as it escalates to the lyrical climax, Madeleine’s voice the soaring guide as she proclaims, “We have fought / We have burned / Nothing’s served / All is earned.”
‘Memoriam‘ might be the longest track at a bit over six minutes, but it’s worth every moment, from the initial foreboding guitar melody to yet another memorable riff. The lilting, swinging chorus is delivered from the perspective perhaps of someone headed to battle knowing they might not see the next day (“All we want is someone to remember us” and “Death is not the obstacle to climb across / We’ll be in memoriam”, that is, in someone’s memory). When Madeleine stresses the line, “This wasted life is mine to live / I rise above”, she gives it raspy defiance. The second verse is a continuation of the first, with a well-done parallel in the lyrics — “I raise my head to the sky / Not knowing if next day will rise / Wind strokes my skin as I smile” in the first, and then the almost reminiscing quality of the second, “I fought my way / Through this life / And stood my ground / So many times / Scars grace my skin / Worn with pride / This smile will never fade with time.”
‘Where Your Rotting Corpse Lie‘ might be grammatically incorrect, but it’s full of sinister imagery, hinting at the bringing back of the dead to life (“My wrists are open wide from my sacrifice / My blood has dried” and “True power we acquire”). It’s all minor-key evillness, helped out by the hellish orchestration and Jasper’s super-tight blast beats. Rikard’s growl is the needed transition, intertwining with Madeleine, and she holds up to it well, not giving ground a bit. The instrumental bridge is suitably spooky, the spoken-word bit from Rikard is chilling and the end is as final as a coffin lid slamming shut.
‘All Shall Burn‘, the title track from the EP, is also reprised here, its grand striking string section melody echoing the best of Nightwish without the excess. Rikard sings a verse before delivering his guttural turn, and the transition is effortless — you wish he’d use lush, vibrant tenor more often. The booming drum that heralds Madeleine’s soaring, glorious chorus is superb. The string section in the chorus has Rikard growling appropriately and prophetically above it, and when he ends everything with his final “Burn!” it’s explosive. This is a perfectly constructed track, all the best that is power/symphonic metal — it goes through every emotion, it’s tense, it builds, it releases, it’s just excellent. It’s rare when what’s being said matters less to me, but in this case, it sounds so good that you just float along on the imagery and the sounds of the words. But the chorus, including the powerful sentiment, “Stand with us / Ignore the spineless lies in which they bury us”, is undeniably inspiring.
The sweeping guitar and orchestration and erratic tempo of ‘Die From Within‘ quickly settles as Madeleine croons most tenderly — it’s nice to hear the nuances of her voice before Rikard destroys the mood as the voice of grief, the frustration, the agony. Her desperate delivery in the chorus is apparent without being histrionic. The piano intro to the second chorus is splendid, as is the aching solo. This is definitely about the loss of a loved one, poignant but not maudlin — “I uttered words / You could not understand” and “No, I can’t breathe / Please come back to me” and “Death comes to all /Often the weak / But why take my friend / I was there at the end.” The truly touching lines, “For him I play on broken strings” and the lovely “With small tired eyes / He watched me cry” add intensely personal touches.
Finally, ‘The World We Knew‘, a beautiful piano interlude, leads into the orchestral version of ‘Die From Within‘ briefly incorporating its melody ever so subtly as if to herald it. Again, as on the previous EP, such an alternative treatment is a bit superfluous and lessens the track’s impact — it would have been fine to just end the album on the piano solo, since it so nicely reflects the subject matter of its predecessor. It’s a minor thing, though, considering the overall strength of this effort.