Thursday 15 August 2019

Anfel - Echoes of Buried Hope (2019)

Country: Russia
Style: Symphonic Gothic Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Aug 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | VK

It seems odd to suggest that this is polarising music and then come down in the middle, but I'm going to do just that.

Anfel are an unusual band, not least because they're often the solo project of Denis Lobotorov, who goes by Dionis. He's Russian, from Tver on the road from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and he mostly plays symphonic gothic metal.

I say mostly because the steady release of new albums—eight of them in the seven years from 2009—stopped in 2015 so that he could concentrate on re-releasing each of them as solo piano performances. That's pretty gothic, I have to admit, but it's neither symphonic nor metal. I should add that some were instrumental to begin with, but this still marks a return from reworks to new work.

It also marks the debut as lead vocalist of Elvira Lobotorova, the guitarist of Blackthorn, who goes by Alchemida. She'd also previously played guitar on the prior Anfel album, Icy World, and I believe she does so here too. Dionis play bass. I presume that the rhythm comes courtesy of a drum machine, but I can't confirm that.

I liked this immediately and a good portion of that is Alchemida's voice, a soaring creature that seems to sing even slower than she does. The music is clearly symphonic, each song finding a swirling groove that I'd be surprised to find isn't the product of synths rather than an actual orchestra. I don't think Anfel has that much budget. Alchemida soars over it but she's part of it too, as if the music is clouds and she's floating on them.

What surprises me is that, as overblown and emotional as the music is, the vocals make it sound somehow patient and restrained, not something we tend to hear in this genre. It's lush material, music to be enfolded by. There's real melancholy poured into it, but it refuses to be too weighty. And that's a good thing.

What may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective, is that it's crazy long. Sure, there are only ten songs here, but six are over ten minutes and the average is only just shy of that length!

Sometimes that's certainly good. The opening song, And Our Proximity Create Only Chaos, doesn't feel remotely long at eleven minutes. It just continues to get increasingly exquisite, the soaring vocals of Alchemida at the fore and the harsh ones of Dionis rumbling underneath her to provide texture. It has to be said that, while there are plenty of instrumental sections, this is all about that contrast of voices.

Sometimes, however, it's bad. Dawn on the Ashes of Our Senses may get where it needs to go, but it takes its sweet time about doing it and it really has no business being nearly a quarter of an hour long. The whole album can be actively listened to or set off in the background for a pleasant environment but songs like this one do test our attention.

And this is where it's going to get polarising...

To fans, of whose number I'm now one (while acknowledging that the album is too long), this is often hypnotic stuff, the vocals lulling us as the drum machine speeds up and the synth strings swirl around. I've had it on in the background for a couple of days now and I seriously feel better for that.

However, to non-fans, this is going to seem interminable. They'll complain about how songs never end and don't vary much either, the groove found two minutes in to any song being the same groove found ten minutes later as it wraps up and, arguably in the next song too and the one after that. It does sometimes seem like a fourteen minute song is actually a four minute song with the key parts looped, but that may be overly cynical.

So which are you? Well, if you're interested, I'd suggest that you sample the track, And Our Proximity Create Only Chaos. If it knocks your socks off, this will be a must purchase. If it doesn't, then this really isn't going to be for you.

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