Leçons de Ténèbres
(Holy Records - 1994)
The album commences with some soft male 'monk' chants, then is joined by tasteful and well done orchestrated keyboards and a male spoken vocal - all soft, dark, and sorrowful. Right at the end of the first track there spews out a tortured male scream that lashes out with anguish and rage, yet still fits in with the music somehow. Later, soft female vocals joins the brooding, gothic but darkly beautiful music. This is the general style of the whole album: dark-wave goth synth music blended with some influence of modern classical music and some black-metal-style vocals. This may sound pretentious or cheesy to some, but I assure you this is not the case. They pull it off with class and dark beauty. No guitars or drums whatsoever are used, only good quality keyboards and piano, a variety of male vocals, and a female backing vocal. The occasional violin and viola are used as well and they make me wish they could use a real symphony orchestra. 90% of the mood is dark, low and subdued, drawing in the gothic soul before ripping it apart with some occasional devastating shrieks. Do not expect technical or complex music at all, this is just heavy gothic moody music, sometimes reminiscent of Dead can Dance but more classical than ethnic, and more miserable and moody. Compared to their next two albums, this is miles more subdued and more dark-wave ambient, rather than the intense hell of the next albums. I detected quite a few snippets of Vivaldi used in the music and of course, this release has almost nothing to do with metal. Unfortunately, it doesn't grow on you like the next two albums, thanks to a distinct lack of dynamic composition and gripping songs, and a subdued brooding mood that pervades the album. In addition, the black-metal vocals will likely turn off a dark ambient audience, and it's not for a typical metal audience either. It's the next album that will rip out a new genre and sound and develop the sound to intense proportions. This one is just warm-up exercise and may appeal to a select few.
Les Ténèbres du Dehors
(Holy Records - 1996)
Right at the start I knew I was in for some devastating darkness. A second operatic female vocalist was added here for some chilling duets, and choirs are used very well to add great power and depth to the music. And that is not the only big enhancement. The music is much more dynamic now, alternating often between extremely dramatic and bombastic movements and the usual Elend dark beauty and sorrow. The black metal tortured screams are used much more often, wrecking and shredding everything in their way. And more masterful use of keyboards are present again to simulate an orchestra. The music takes you from the depths of despair and haunting darkness, to the fiery pits of hell and torture. The previous release was mostly subdued, this one is mostly devastation. But again, this is not perfect. It does get somewhat overly histrionic at times, yet this does not stop me from getting waves of chills down my spine. The genius here is in creating dark music and ambience as an intense and dark experience, not in writing complex music. This one comes very highly recommended, as long as this sounds like your thing. This is where Elend carved a name for themselves with their unique brand of intense dark music.
Weeping Nights
(Holy Records - 1997)
A special release containing 6 out of 8 songs from Les Ténèbres du Dehors, only without the male vocals (all of them). Three new songs were added and the two missing ones from the previous album were left out simply because they didn't contain male vocals in the first place. So what is left is actually dramatic or soft classical music (good quality synths again) with beautiful female vocals, pouring out sorrow, darkness and desperation. The three new tracks are quite soft and beautiful, with haunting, operatic female vocals. Some sections in the old songs do seem to be missing a foreground instrument at times, but most of the time it does fine on its own and the female vocals make up for it as well. Probably the point of this release was to present only the beautiful music of the last album without the extreme black-metal vocals for those that want their dark ambient without that extra harshness. The result is indeed darkly beautiful and not sleepy and miserable like the debut, but, as mentioned, there does seem to be something missing much of the time. And I DO like the black-metal vocals.
The Umbersun
(Music For Nations - 1998)
The first intense minute made my eyeballs pop out of their sockets, then it was all torn limbs and shredded intestines from there onwards, bleeding to death slowly towards the end. Ok so I'm exaggerating but I think you get my point. This is a horror movie of stupefying evil dimensions that is its own soundtrack. Many tracks discard the melodious content from previous releases and are left with only extreme thunderous violence, or eerie malice. Rage and anguish know no bounds here, but shift towards a more somber and quiet despair in the latter half of the album. Again, no guitars or drums are used. The keyboard orchestrations are so well done here, you actually have to concentrate to set them out as electronic at times - an amazing job. Another big improvement is the addition of a huge choir (about 30, mostly female) that obviously fills the music on a grand scale. The usual Elend protean vocals are still here including the black metal style screams, only this time they are often drowned amidst the violence of the music. Bombastic sounds of hell often give way to moments of dark solemn or sorrowful beauty (an angel awakens), or to soundscapes of eerie malice, and then it's back again to torturous screams and wall-shaking orchestral dissonant blast and percussive pounding. After all is done, the trembling silence greets you with an ominous stare, emerging from its hiding place from where it scurried to in fear. This is the pinnacle of their art with very impressive composition, dynamic mood and sound, various experiments with sounds, and astounding sound quality. It can get very extreme and noisy though, sounding more like a horror movie that needs to be experienced rather than music, and those of you who feel they want to check this band out but have milder or more melodious tastes in music may prefer the previous album in this trilogy (Les Ténèbres du Dehors). Otherwise, this is a monument to darkness that simply has to be heard. And, as scary as it sounds, it grows on you. This one and 'Les Ténèbres du Dehors' are Elend's monumental classics.
Winds Devouring Men
(Prophecy - 2003)
This release starts a new trilogy, and with it a brand new sound which has nothing to do either with previous Elend, or with metal. Whether you like the new direction or not, it shows that Elend always progresses and moves forward, experimenting and trying to find new music, just like they did before with their own brand of dark-wave and neoclassical, blazing a new trail once again. It also makes sense since The Umbersun was the most extreme peak imaginable and I can't imagine them doing anything else with that sound besides repeating themselves. The new sound on this album makes use of primarily clean near-chanting male vocals with a limited range in the vein of Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance, some (less) female soprano backing vocals, more advanced digital sound design, more organic instruments like a violin and trumpet, some industrial percussion, and many industrial sounds (ambient or percussive industrial, not the commercial rhythmic type). The first and last handful of songs stick to gothic, heavy, slow, gloomy, near-monotonous tunes with Dead Can Dance-esque singing, with some occasional industrial sounds. They are not without dark beauty, but the lack of dynamism makes them way too monotonous. Even Dead Can Dance in their gothic era used more varied sounds than this, was not as consistently morose, and they alternated songs with Lisa Gerrard who sang in a variety of styles. The middle handful of tracks experiment with many more industrial and experimental sounds, some of them creating a pounding ambient dark atmosphere (still monotonous though), others more interesting and frightening, creating a new kind of hellish sound with instruments and industrial sound engineering. As with Leçons de Ténèbres, this feels like a warm-up act that sets a baseline for the rest of the trilogy; It contains dark moody beauty but lacks dynamics and musical development. But as opposed to that album, I enjoyed this one even less. The experimentation still deserves credit however.
Sunwar the Dead
(Prophecy - 2004)
As with the previous trilogy, this second entry develops and expands the sound and approach from the first Winds Devouring Men, and also takes it to a further extreme. It's very modern, very avant-garde dark classical music mixed with industrial sounds (especially percussive), Brendan Perry-esque semi-chanting somber male vocals, female soprano, and choir. This is very out-there, as avant-garde as it gets. Some of the sounds include: Horror soundscapes by an orchestra with dissonant string plucking and eerie sounds like from a Stanley Kubrick horror movie, dark sorrowful choirs, radically experimental industrial sounds with both percussive and ambient elements, some creepy guttural whispers as well as the ubiquitous male gothic vocals, screeching violins, lots of dissonance, Japanese-style wind instruments, roaring sounds from hell, etc. When the female soprano sings, it brings to mind 3rd and the Mortal at their most experimental. Although, similar to Umbersun, much of the music here is more ambient or modern than melodious, and it is more of an experience than a tune, it has not lost it's musical content completely and thus serves as a superb middle-ground between the duller somber 'Winds Devouring Men', and the too dry and extreme 'A World in Their Screams'. There is lots of dynamism, lots of experimental impressive compositions, the male vocals change to suit the song rather than using the more monotonous approaches of those two albums, and many of the tracks are quite interesting and strangely enjoyable, especially the first five, and final dark beauty. The second half of the album goes more ambient and industrial and is less enjoyable. An adventurous audience into avant-garde modern-classical music may get into this one. I am not into that music, and yet this one grew on me, because it contains several interesting elements and a dynamic collection of compositions. It's definitely the best of the second trilogy, but doesn't reach the rewarding proportions of the first.
A World in Their Screams
(Holy Records - 2007)
Once again echoing the pattern of the previous trilogy, this third entry takes the current Elend sound to its extreme, turning up the intensity to eleven. Even more so than with Umbersun, melodious content is largely discarded in favor of hellish bombastic sounds, eerie soundscapes, terrifying pounding sounds of armageddon, unsettling industrial and mechanical sounds, overwhelming choirs of pain, and lots and lots of screams. Choirs and vocals don't just intone on this album, they wail, scream, ululate, whisper, howl, hiss, whimper, sob, moan, caterwaul, shriek, trill, flutter, and belt out tortured cries. And this is done by trumpets and keyboards as well as vocals, until sometimes you're not quite sure which is which. The male vocals eschew the pleasant singing from the last two albums, and opt for creepy whispers instead throughout the album, except that this is over-used. Industrial and mechanical sounds supply both eerie sounds as well as pounding punishment, and the orchestral sounds don't supply a tune as much as punctuate and enhance the sounds of hell with lots of frantic roars, dissonance and avant-garde sounds. As opposed to The Umbersun however, despite this being even more extreme and more adventurous and varied in terms of its experimental sounds, I did not become enthralled by it right away, nor after a few listens. Sure, some tracks and moments were terrifying, others were darkly gripping, and the album as a whole is a monument of avant-garde dark experimentation. But, I believe, there are a few elements that reduced my enjoyment: One primary issue is the lack of small moments of beauty and melodic respite, which I think allowed The Umbersun to draw you in before drowning you in the tortures of hell once again. This one is almost unrelenting, not in terms of bombastic sound, but in terms of a lack of musical content. The bombast also sometimes becomes too much and turns into noise that you just want to turn down, compared to Umbersun where I want to turn it up so that it will terrify me with dark beauty. Another minus is that the often-used pounding industrial sounds diminish from the effect of the album, compared with the more natural sounds of tortured souls in Umbersun, reducing hell to a less frightening mechanical machine. The whispered vocals are over-used as well, as mentioned, the raspy screams from Umbersun providing more dynamism, not to mention ripping your soul apart with their more human sound. In short, this did not impress me or grow on me as The Umbersun did, but do check it out if it sounds like your thing since it is definitely an interesting one-of-a-kind intensely dark creation. Or try 'Sunwar the Dead' which is less relentlessly bombastic and much more interesting musically.

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