Liechtenstein's ill-fated gothic metal legends - A review of Elis' discography (2003 - 2012)
Ladies and gentlemen!
Elis is one of the very best gothic metal bands of the first decade of the new millennium. I was introduced to this band by my father back in 2007 and quickly became a fan myself. I'm still listening to this band as we speak. The band's timeless music is worth your attention if you like calm, melodic and poetic gothic metal that inspires to dream, relax and think. Please read my reviews of the band's releases below to get a better idea of this overlooked band from the tiny country of Liechtenstein.
God's Silence, Devil's Temptation (2003)
Great Potential but Terrible Production
God's Silence, Devil's Temptation is a decent but not outstanding debut for gothic metal quintet Elis from Liechtenstein that would later on release genre classics such as Dark Clouds in a Perfect Sky, Griefshire and Catharsis. Despite being the band's weakest output, it shows lots of promise and talent and is definitely worth a spin for genre fans.
The band has numerous charismatic strengths. Its elegant, gloomy and longing sound serves as guiding line throughout the album. The poetic lyrics in English and German blend in perfectly and add important creative, emotive and intellectual components. The programming gives some songs an almost danceable electronic vibe but also provides some nearly cinematic soundscapes as these elements offer much diversity and entertainment. Sabine Dünser's vocals are outstanding as she has the kind of voice one would recognize among thousands. She sounds emotional without being melodramatic, she sounds grounded without sounding flat and she sounds variable without sounding unfocused. She's the type of singer any female-fronted gothic rock or metal band would like to have.
This album also has a few downsides however. The guitar play is at times generic, simple and uninspired. Don't expect any gripping riffs or stunning solos here. The guitar play simply supports the atmosphere of the different tunes without attempting to stand out. The rhythm section is serviceable instead of spectacular. The bass guitar is hardly audible and the drum play sounds slightly mechanical as if inspired by industrial rock and metal. The production is also below average and a little bit too loud and unbalanced as only the vocals and keyboards sound really great here. Especially the guitar play rushes by in a blur.
In the end, fans of female-fronted gothic metal bands from the early millennium should certainly check out Elis' God's Silence, Devil's Temptation. It's the most difficult Elis record to find these days but perhaps you could get your hands on it in a second-hand store. The song writing is decent enough to deserve a remastered version one day. The initial production is certainly the album's biggest flaw. The band's greatest strengths are however the emotional vocals, intriguing lyrics and dynamic keyboard parts.
Final rating: 70%
Dark Clouds in a Perfect Sky (2004)
As Smooth as Gothic Metal Gets
Elis was a band that stood out for numerous reasons. First of all, the group came from the small country of Liechtenstein that isn't exactly known for producing renowned metal bands. Secondly, the band didn't jump on the bandwagon of female-fronted symphonic metal bands but rather focused on gothic metal with mid-paced and slow musicianship. Thirdly, late singer Sabine Dünser had a truly unique voice which is very calm, enchanting and almost fragile. Dark Clouds in a Perfect Sky underlines the band's unique trademarks and should please any gothic metal fan.
Produced by Atrocity's Alexander Krull who also worked with the similar sounding but more vivid Atargatis, Dark Clouds in a Perfect Sky is a smooth and melancholic record that develops a quite unique atmosphere from start to finish. The guitar riffs are simple and often slow and slightly melodic, recalling not only early gothic metal but also traditional doom metal influences. The bass guitar transmits smooth background vibes. The drum play is grounded and precise as it always serves the individual tracks well. The occasional piano sounds give some tracks an even more melancholic touch, the few electronic experiments are employed with precision and some harsh male vocals honor gothic metal music of the early nineties appropriately.
The sum is greater than its parts on this hypnotizing effort but some tracks stand out nevertheless. The enchanting "Anger" represents Elis best as this might be the smoothest song ever about anger with angelic vocals, melodic electronic sounds and melodically distorted slow guitar sounds. The almost medieval keyboard sounds and unusually fast guitar riffs and drum patterns make "Die Zeit" stand out. The almost nightmarish "Black Angel" with its paralyzing guitar riffs, old-fashioned keyboard sounds recalling gothic rock bands from the early nineties and multiple vocal layers has an extremely strong atmosphere that evokes numerous images on your mind. "Are You Missing Me?" might be the most diversified track with some unexpected changes in pace, slightly distorted male vocals and a few electronic darkwave sounds. The most unusual track might be the closing "Ballade" that works surprisingly well by focusing on Sabine Dünser's charismatic vocals with only simple electronic beats and piano sounds as backdrop.
It's difficult to give this album a precise grade as its consistency is quite close to the other Elis records. However, I actually might prefer this release for its immersive atmosphere without any weak spots. If you like smooth and melancholic gothic or doom metal, you should give this overlooked band a chance and could start your journey with this beautiful release.
Final rating: 80%
A Testament to Calm Melancholy
This last album with legendary singer Sabine Dünser who collapsed and died during a rehearsal for this record is a dark and melancholic testament with a more or less important conceptual story. The positive thing is that the songs also work as single tracks and this is no overloaded, overambitious or overwhelming record. The depressive and calm atmosphere is an important foundation of this solid funeral album.
In comparison to many other bands of the genre, Elis create a sound that is more down to earth. They don't employ big orchestras, unnecessary male growls and guest musicians that play strange folk instruments. Dark and melancholic guitar riffs and a few piano sounds gather around Düner's charismatic, calm and fragile voice that is technically a little bit thin but nevertheless easy to appreciate and a great alternative to operatic voices. The problem is that neither her voice nor the musicians vary very much and that's why this album is at times stuck in mediocrity in its second half and sounds too repetitive.
The greatest songs on this record turn out to be the two German tracks. "Die Stadt" tells a very creative and poetic story about a lost town and the music is as mysterious and melancholic as the vocals are. The song creates many images on my head and the brilliant lyrics are very inspiring. "Seit dem Anbeginn der Zeit" is another rather calm song that convinces with an exotic and slightly orchestral folk ending that leaves me thinking, dreaming and relaxing as if I got hypnotized in the end.
The number of straighter songs are rather limited on this record like the solid opener "Tales from Heaven or Hell", the more stereotypical and slightly traditional "The Burning" or the rather disappointing Black Sabbath cover song "Heaven and Hell". Instead, this album focuses on smooth ballads like "How Long" and "Forgotten Love" that gothic metal fans with a weakness for down-to-earth piano melodies, decent classical orchestrations and catchy pop music should greatly appreciate. These aforementioned ballads are catchy and they won't get out of your head no matter if you happen to like them or not. These skills are based upon the good songwriting and the catchy vocals by Sabine Dünser who turns out to be one of the most talented female vocalists and most creative lead singers of the genre. She has a very unique and intellectual approach to music and sounds like a mysterious fairy. This album really underlines that her death is not only a big loss for the band but also for the whole gothic metal world.
In the end, this record is a great testament and defines Sabine Dünser as a unique, calm and catchy vocalist and an introspective, creative and intellectual songwriter. You should really try out some of her songs as this album isn't that much comparable to similar bands and shows us something new. But if you happen to not be entirely pleased by her voice and her lyrics, then there is no glimpse of a chance that you might like this record as this is her personal musical testament. On the other side, the fans that always thought that the vocalist of the band was great and unique but the music sounded rather limited might consider this record as their favourite one of the band though even if there are a few mediocre songs in the second half. Nevertheless, I would like to underline once more that this record is one of the most interesting ones of its kind in the past years and something fresh that is worth to be discovered.
Final rating: 79%
Show Me the Way (2007)
Farewell and Welcome
Elis' extended play Show Me the Way was released to accomplish two tasks at once: bidding former singer Sabine Dünser farewell and welcoming new singer Sandra Schleret.
The title track was one of the catchiest tunes from the very good previous studio album Griefshire. It was recorded again with new singer Sandra Schleret and exists in a full version and a radio edit. The sound is a little bit crisper here and focuses more on powerful guitar riffs than atmospheric elements. This is a welcome change since Sandra Schleret sounds more energetic than Sabine Dünser as well. If you prefer the gothic side of the band, you will prefer the gloomy original version with Sabine Dünser but if you care about the metal side, Sandra Schleret's powerful performance might be your favourite. The band made the right choice by opting for a singer with different qualities instead of finding someone who would simply attempt copying Sabine Dünser's unusual atmospheric style.
This release includes three tracks recorded by the former line-up during the Griefshire sessions. ''Salvation'' surprises with choral elements as the atmospheric female vocals are supported by energetic, epic and melodic male choirs. Crisp growls add further diversity. This is also the kind of track that could come from Leaves' Eyes. It's probably the greatest of the three unreleased tunes.
''These Days Are Gone'' focuses more on symphonic elements and sinister guitar sounds that make for a mid-paced gothic metal tune that goes back to the genre's early era in the early nineties. It slightly recalls the style of Theatre of Tragedy. Genre fans will certainly like this song even if it lacks a truly catchy, imaginative or memorable element.
''In einem verlassenen Zimmer'' is a ballad focusing on harmonious vocals, string sections and harp sounds. Everything sounds appeasing, dreamy and timeless until the horrible electronic drum patterns kick in. They don't fit at all here and the song would have sounded much more efficient without them.
In the end, Elis' Show Me the Way is obviously the band's least essential release but it isn't a bad output either. The two new versions of the title track aren't of much interest but the three final tracks featuring Sabine Dünser should please genre fans with ''Salvation'' being the best track here. If you like atmospheric gothic metal and can get your hand on this rare extended play for a fair price, don't hesitate to purchase it.
Final rating: 68%
Going through Changes
This fourth album of Liechtenstein's best band Elis is a new beginning after the sudden death of their calm, hypnotizing and unique singer Sabine Dünser that was replaced by Austrian singer Sandra Schleret. She is not as unique and charismatic as the late vocalist but from a technical point of view she is more skilled and does her very best here. The music has also changed with all those changes and moves away from the rather calm and hypnotizing sound of Griefshire to head for a heavier sound in the tradition of popular symphonic metal bands. It's because of the band's high degree of diversity that it doesn't get drowned in the masses of endless popular bands of the same genre. They successfully defend their acquired place and reputation with this record.
The success formula is rather simple and unites styles and skills from the band's past efforts. We have rather dark, heavy and especially atmospheric pieces like the great "Twinkling Shadows" or the slower and epic "Warrior's Tale" featuring singer Michelle Darkness from German gothic rock band End of Green. The latter surely isn't the best track on here but a good experiment and it could have been a rather popular song if the band had decided to release it as a single or make a video clip for it. It's the same thing for the catchy Jennifer Rush cover "I Come Undone". In addition to the aforementioned songs, the band convinces once again when they use German lyrics. The elegiac "Des Lebens Traum, des Traumes Leben" is dedicated to Sabine Dünser while "Das kleine Ungeheuer" tells a dark little tale with many interesting changes in style that create a great atmosphere.
The problem with this record is that there are some fillers and a lack of continuity and coherence that made Griefshire so special and outstanding. This album is full of ideas and emotions but a true soul is missing. The band tried to vary more and focus on its strengths as well as on new experiments which is a positive point but this plan didn't always work out in my book. The record is though still better than most of the releases of other genre bands. I would like to recommend the purchase of the special edition of the record which includes two good bonus tracks as well as a great little concert where eight songs from the past two albums are performed in a very good way by the new line up.
Ultimately, it was a good decision for the band to carry on after the death of its late vocalist but this would also turn out to be the group's last release. The band went through another line-up change soon after, changed its name to Zirkonium and even announced an album but the band folded before it could really get started. It's a shame that Elis didn't survive and the group would have deserved more attention in hindsight. If you feel like revisiting one of the best gothic metal bands of the first decade of the new millennium, give their great records a chance.
Final rating: 76%
Here's a list of my ten favourite Elis songs:
1. Die Stadt
2. Show Me the Way
3. Das kleine Ungeheuer
5. Die Zeit
6. Phoenix from the Ashes
7. Engel der Nacht
8. Warrior's Tale
9. Black Angel
10. Are You Missing Me?« Liechtenstein's ill-fated gothic metal legends - A review of Elis' discography (2003 - 2012)Riding through dark waves in the sanatorium's basement - A review of Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts III »