Flaming Row – Elinoire
Tue, 17 Jul 2012 02:38:10 +0000
I’m not an artist by any stretch, in any discipline – music, video, art … anything. I don’t have much talent in that arena anymore. I’m not all that creative either. Even if I did have the talent or creativity, I don’t have the discipline or patience to fine-tune and hone my craft over, and over, and over again until it’s just right. I much rather prefer to just appreciate the efforts and talents of others. I’ve often wondered if musicians, artists of any sorts really, truly appreciate their own work, and can recognize when they’ve put together something special… given the countless times they’ve had to re-listen to every little aspect of their creation. Then, an album comes along like Flaming Row’s Elinoire, and I can’t help but think that the creators MUST know it. How could they not? When the end result is a true gem that was the best album I heard in 2011, topping (in my opinion) heavy-weights such as A Dramatic Turn of Events, Iconoclast and Imaginaerum. And amongst my musical peers, I wasn’t alone in the belief that it was one of the (if not the) best prog-metal albums of 2011.
Such is the creation that Martin Schnella and Kiri Geile ended with in Elinoire. Brace yourselves Obscurites (I have no idea if that’s what we should be calling all you fans… but it sounded nifty), here’s another concept album. Yes, we do love them here. Elinoire provides another very unique and intriguing concept:
The story about a young British family. Lea and Adam Baltwin are at their prime of life, having great jobs and live in prosperity. Lea became pregnant. But while the birth of their daughter Elinoire, Lea died because of medical reasons. Adam never overcame the sudden death of his beloved wife and laid the blame on Elinoire. Within the years he could not build up an ordinary relationship to Elinoire. Adam’s father Cyrus Baltwin took on the role of the father figure. But after some years, some true facts about the previous life of Lea were revealed. Was Lea’s death really an accident?
The story is told by the real characters, their emotions (Love, Rage…) and some virtuals (Time, Destiny, Death, Spirit and so on). There are 15 different singers, female and male, performing the roles of the story.
Something is to be said when a relatively unknown German prog-metal act is able to attract some (almost) household prog names in Gary Wehrkamp and Brendt Allman (Shadow Gallery), Billy Sherwood (1990s Yes), and Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) to contribute to this masterpiece. Combined those talents with relatively unknown female vocalists (at least for my North American ears) Micheala Auer, Jessica Schmalle, and Anne Trautman, and this is pound for pound, easily comparable against some of the greatest prog-metal concept albums of all time… as good as Scenes From A Memory and Operation:Mindcrime. The ladies on this album are the true hidden gems. The passion that comes through their voices is unmistakable, and incredibly moving. The album contains some remarkably impressive vocal layering, especially in the opening track, which at 95 seconds, tells much of the story, and has more lyrical content than 8 minute tracks that come later. Schnella was even able to make me a fan (at least on this album) of scream/growl vocals. Usually, I can’t stand them, but they are used so incredibly appropriately, you can’t help but appreciate and love them.
Musically, the guitars are what really stand out to me – and all forms… electric, acoustic, baritone, 12-string, mandolin, banjo. Raw, powerful, delicate, simple, grandiose… I’m not sure what other ways I can describe how incredible and diverse they are from track to track. The melodies and solo’s (contributed by seven different axemen) are simply astounding. There are so many riffs that just get stuck in your head. Like any good concept album, Schnella was not afraid to incorporate several non-traditional instruments, most noticeably on the banjo-led Do You Like Country Grandpa? – a short instrumental that is so out of place, it fits magically, and is a welcome (albeit brief) reprieve from the prog-metal on auditory display.
Rage of Despair is the first apex of the story, and the heaviest track of the album, containing one of the aforementioned riffs that get stuck in your head. Unearth the Truth is the true climax, and (re?) opens the true questions of the story that go unanswered, left up to the listener to figure out, or draw their own conclusions (of which I have drawn three distinct possibilities of my own). The final conclusion comes with A Place to Revive Your Soul, a five part track that revisits all the elements you’ve just experienced for the last 17 songs … guitar melodies and riffs that envelope you, vocal layering that hits you from every angle, multiple guitar solos that change the mood and emotion being portrayed, all stitched together in a magnificent manner.
Lyrically, Elinoire is a wonderfully complex character driven album, using not only “people” as the characters, but (similar to The Human Equation) utilizes more non-human characters (Spirit, Love, Time, Season, Conscience, Destiny, Death, Rage, Liberty and Forgiveness) to deliver the story. Some (Schnella as Spirit, Wehrkamp as Conscience and Geile as Destiny) are prominent throughout, while others pop in for key contributions, or even just a chorus or two. The lyrics are intricately woven between physical and virtual characters, and it is the latter that carries the sub-plot – one of the many reasons I keep coming back to this album. Many concept albums (including the greats of Tommy, The Wall, Operation:Mindcrime and Scenes From A Memory ) don’t leave a lot to the imagination with respect to the story – being fairly easy to follow and understand, even the sub-plot’s. However, I still haven’t figured out the true story behind Elinoire. I still find something new every time I listen to it, a new sound that ‘wows’ me, or a new piece to the puzzle uncovering the truth behind the story. Given English is clearly a second language for Schnella and Geile, the lyrics are filled with cute translations and pronunciations – not in a bad way whatsoever. While they provide a charm that (ironically) can’t be accurately described in English (“Don’t fool about”; “I’m forever on your side at all the time”; “My camouflage’s uncovered now” and several other instances) they also make comprehending the sub-plot a little more difficult.
Based on the web-series the band released on Youtube chronicling the recording, Elinoire appears to be essentially a self-produced album. And in that case, the overall package is even that much more impressive. It’s fantastic to see two people so committed and passionate about their craft, and that dedication shows in the final output.
Those that are attending their Aug 19th performance, where they will be opening for Beyond the Bridge (see Lonestar’s review of that brilliant album), will be in for something special. Two brilliant German prog-metal concept albums in one show are surely going to give the audience an eargasm! I actually looked into how much it would cost to fly to Frankfurt for this, but the almost $2000 price tag and other factors just didn’t make it feasible. I’ll just have to wait for the good Lady’s review of the show.