Griefshire is indeed a fitting title for the third album from the Liechtenstein heavy metal band Elis. After two critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums with producer Alexander Krull, Elis entered the studio in 2006 to record this concept album, whose songs center around a pair of brothers and their spiritual fanaticism as they search for truth, joy, and eternal love (yeah, this is far from the purposely scandalous concerns of black and death metal). There is something afoot here and it's far from the usual fare. Sabine Duenser, the band's vocalist, was a fine lyricist as well, and took a deep personal interest in the songs that make up this set. Shortly after completing her vocal tracks, she collapsed during rehearsal and passed away the following day from a brain hemorrhage. The band went on to finish the recording since her tracks were complete. The end result is a heavy, riff-laden construct that embodies classical themes, dramatic interludes that are near breathtaking, melodic songwriting, and the use of controlled aggression in a new way. Certainly this band, should they find a new singer, has everything it needs to continue and should.
Duenser's controlled, nearly plainsong voice stands in such contrast with the aggressive riffing of the guitars it's nearly a paradox, it's 180-degrees on the other side of metal's harsher side. Check the sheer beauty of the violins, power guitars, and drums, and the gorgeous, quiet singing of Duenser on the theme cut, "Brothers"; everything moves toward silence as she introduces the lyric and then comes pushing aggressively out of the gate. She floats above the mix and then down into it. The punishing riffs accent rather than take away from her voice. The sheer melodic feedback and tripled guitar lines in "Show Me the Way" offer an irresistible hook. When the band drops out to make room for their singer, she enters both gracefully and forcefully.
Krull's production accents the dramatic, the tension between the elements is nearly unbearable, and the bridge created from near-classical arrangements underscores everything here. There is another world that reveals itself, where everything swirls together but in perfect order. The balladry in "How Long" is something utterly on the fringes of the new metal because it's not a metal song at all. It's a power ballad without the weight attached. Duenser's voice is otherworldly, ethereal, and startling in its clarity. The contrast between this song and the shimmering crunch of the drums, guitars and bassline in "Innocent Hearts" is attention-grabbing, particularly because the riffs get leaner and much meaner as the tune progresses. It's an anthemic headbanger. "The Burning," with its death metal intro vocals by Elis' bassist are nearly alarming, but Duenser brings the track out from hell and back into the heavens by the sheer force of her will and the willingness of the band to create a melodic -- yet no less heavy -- bridge. This new edition issued by Napalm in an utterly attractive and glossy digipack contains a bonus cut: a cover of Ronnie James Dio's "Heaven and Hell" that rivals the original though it's quite different, and in Duenser's vocal, the meaning of the tune changes. Griefshire may be drenched in loss, love, and remembrance, but its so wonderfully done it is a fitting testament to Duenser. If you are at all interested in the new metal, snag it. [This edition includes a bonus track.]