This is the second installment of our "Criminally Underrated, Mandatory Nonethess" series, and Bowling has certainly taken a shot with this one, as Elvenefris is the lone release from Lykathea Aflame. Few bands are able to remain at such a cult level with one release under their belt, but as you'll see below, the are many reasons to delve into this underrated death metal gem... - David E. Gehlke/Editor
Dick measuring contests between two (or more) fanatical metal fans trying to out-esoteric one another with bands usually never ends well. It will however on occasion bring to one’s attention a release that is well known by all of 15 people while simultaneously not being a garage-band level piece of ‘br00tal’ garbage. For this writer such a moment occurred several years ago when frequenting a metal blog ran by a people consistently at one another’s throats vying for the spot of ‘most brutal douche.’ For all of its elitist failings however the blog did result in my being introduced to the mythic Lykathea Aflame and their lone (and legendary) contribution to the extreme metal world: Elvenefris.
Hailing from Prague and unfortunately being tied to a fairly poor production job, Elvenefris is nevertheless a beast all its own: hyper-technical and eastern/Egyptian themed death metal with an unusually positive and spiritual lyrical slate. Make no mistake, the use of the term hyper-technical is not hyperbole, this thing is all over the place all the time. Whether the solo-less riff-a-thons put on by guitarists Petr “Ptoe” Tománek and Ondra Martinek (seriously, not a single solo across the 72 minute run time) or the absolutely ludicrous (seriously) drum performance but on by Thomáš Corn. While often buried in the mix and cheated by the subpar production, the bass of Andy Maresh more than keeps up with the guitars and drums - every brief glimpse of its workings resulting in a want for more. Sadly however it’s only on occasion it can readily be discerned from the cacophonous tornado swirling around it.
The intercourse of all three of the above elements is readily apparent from the opening seconds of “The Land Where Sympathy Is Air,” beginning with oriental guitar and quickly escalating into a colossal and take-no-prisoners assault on the senses. The peculiar positivity wrapped up in the lyrics do not only manifest there, becoming readily apparent in songs “Bringer of Elvenefris Flame” and “To Give,” numerous passages akin to flying into giant rays of light. Despite the nigh septic-tank death growls of Ptoe, the vocals work well within the often extremely melodic framework of the music, complemented at numerous points by cleanly sung or spoken word passages.
The songs themselves are usually complicated and multipart affairs, most coming in at over five minutes and the majority of the back half careening well past seven. This is especially true of my long-time favorite “Sadness And Strength” and its tempestuous first half giving way to an escalating and outlandish second half: the outlandish drumming and guitar serving as a running bulwark for the atmospheric reach of the closest thing the album has to a guitar solo in a furious oriental guitar part. Synth work, ever present (unusual in itself for a death metal release) leave the song awash in a positive energy, something so readily and lovingly available for contrast in the madness so prevalent beneath it.
It makes it all the more unfortunate that this monument stands alone for wandering listeners to occasionally stumble upon and gawk at, ever the treasure isolated in a wasteland of otherwise forgotten releases. Though often noted among the best death metal (or metal period) releases of all time by those who have touched it (take a look at Metal Archives, 96% across 20 reviews, where else will you find that kind of agreement?).
Outside of what seem like a handful though it seems there is forever a dearth of those who can be called forth to share in the love for this stellar album. The band itself broke up sometime after the release of Elevenefris. And reformed (in part) under the name Lykathé, but little to nothing has been heard of or from them in the years hence. Instead of world-wide acclaim and a podium that should arguably be shared with Nile (many fair comparisons can be made) the band’s memory exists only as a kind of manifestation of the album closer “Walking In The Garden of Ma’at”, a peaceful and reflective place for those who happen to stumble upon it.