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ell : Sweetest Nightmare

ell's debut release is a genuinely eclectic mix that holds to the spirit, if not always the letter, of Doom.

I have a lot more sympathy these days for the difficulties of promoting music, having tried it for myself with our own tribute album. There literally weren't enough hours in the day to fit in the tracking down of sources, writing e-mails, posting promotional stuff and - on some lucky occasions - packing up and sending out copies. I'd go so far as to say that I absolutely get why mass-circulation electronic presskits and third-party PR representations are the sensible way to go - even if they're not the most exciting things in the world to receive - especially when you can be certain most of them are going to disappear into the ether, never to be replied to. Yet, actually, a lot of people do still contact us personally, and do still send us real physical copies of their work: something that's always appreciated (and which we always try to honour) - and even amongst those, some stand out as having really gone the extra mile: ell being a perfect example of that.

The duo from Austin, Texas, were kind enough to send us one of their hand-crafted kits: a CDr of this normally digital-only release, wrapped in an episode of their self-produced 'zine (volume 1, being a spellbook), accompanied by a handwritten card...there's a lot of effort gone into that, and, though not specifically relevant to reviewing what's on the disk, I wouldn't like to let it pass by without a favourable mention and a thank-you.

Well - that's maybe the easiest part covered. Dealing with ell's music is rather more complicated: they're far from the simplest band in the world to categorise - a job they've sidestepped slightly by describing their style as 'precious metal', which sadly isn't one of the categories we can use on-site. Personally, I'd triangulate it somewhere between the Post-Rock/Shoegaze wall-of-sound of My Bloody Valentine, the Death/Doom growls of shEver, the melodic Post-Metal of Oceanwake and the experimentalism of 3rd And The Mortal. Vocalist/guitarist Emily certainly combines elements of all of those in her eclectic presentations: percussionist Danny takes a slightly less clearly diverse path in creating the drum'n'key backrounds which anchor them. Though that's, admittedly, a somewhat superficial first summation - facilitating the vocal hooks is an obvious motif, but it's far from the only one on display in the finished results, and there's a lot more to the band than the shock value of the most intense of those...

...and, if I'm honest, I rather prefer the less-blatant aspects, anyway: the ones that really hover on the borderlines of gentleness: a soft-crooned, atmospheric and somehow more touchingly personal approach. Not that I have a problem with Emily letting her inner vocal monster free - there's an undeniable power and charisma when she does - it's just that sometimes, with the single-word, or short-burst, emphasis, it seems more of a 'because we can' than a 'because we need to'. Personal opinion, obviously, but with an average track length of around four minutes, I find the instances of radical contrast between the songs more effective than radical contrast within them. That's more or less exemplified as soon as you get to 'Moria', which goes rather gratuitously down the latter route, until committing to a harsher ending, followed by the soft 'Waning' and the stomping, brutal 'Heaven', sitting in far more favourable complement to each other.

The other thing that particularly impresses me is the way the duo make a quite sparse and minimal set of instruments into a captivating sonic backdrop. It's subtly done, but there's enough balance between space and texture to make it sound full, whether with spot effects, chimes, keys, varied guitar tones and, of course, drums. This is where Danny's work in the back office comes into its own, populating the deeper layers of the album with detailed features. And at times, such as on parts of 'Midnight', Emily's vocals meld with that rather than taking centre-stage presentation, clearly demonstrating that it's not all about what's up front and in immediate view. It's well done, intriguing enough to hold the attention, while steering a delicately narrow course between consistency and capriciousness, all the way through to the turbulent finale of 'Storm'.

Okay, you may have guessed from the eclectic references above that this thirty-minutes-and-change release doesn't always stay strictly within the stylistic boundary of Doom (if such a thing even genuinely exists), but it does hold true to the spirit of it. The collision between melancholic moodiness and swirling maelstrom is an apt match for the titular 'Sweetest Nightmare'; and it's one of the more interestingly individual releases I've listened to so far this year. I'd certainly accept it's a little far off the wall to get everyone's vote - I don't know if it helps at all to suggest that this is most likely for you if you reckon 'Painting On Glass' would sound way better if you got Ashtar to cover it and Killing Joke to handle the remix. But it's an image that works for me, and if this is what the Texan "Elves Of The Dark Order" are offering, then I'd like some more of it...

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Arden
2. Moria
3. Waning
4. Heaven
5. Noir
6. Ghost
7. Midnight
8. Storm

Duration : Approx. 32 minutes

Visit the ell bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-06-13 by Mike Liassides
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