Where are we? Somewhere in nature definitely. To a background of looped tunes, someone is hurrying through dry leaves or high grass, breathing heavily. The person might be running away or just climbing up a hill. But that’s just the beginning. What else is going on? Some kind of ritual, apparently. There is singing, dancing, feasting. There is a fire burning, too. You can hear it crackling. The ritual that is taking place is going through different phases, is alive and pulsing. Ecstasy is followed by breaks and resting, by brooding and pondering. Everything ends at the sea shore, with waves rhythmically rolling in and retracting from the land.
The above is a description of the setting of Maenad, the debut album by Swiss three-piece E-L-R. And quite a debut it is. I was hugely impressed by the atmosphere created, even more so, when I read a bit into the band and researched the album’s topics. The music literally sucks you into another world, another time and place entirely.
The album is named after the maenad who, in ancient Greece, were the female followers of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. During their orgiastic rites, they roamed through nature and performed ecstatic dances apparently possessed by their god, gaining superhuman, deadly strength in the course of their rituals. The album’s cover features a female figure standing in a dimly lit forest, dressed in a tunica, with a snake spiralling up one of her legs, and with a torch in one hand. The scene looks idyllic to some extent, beautiful too, but it also contains a disturbing element of danger. The woman’s face is only partly visible and her intentions are therefore not clear.
The track titles contain more references to the maenad and their rites. Glancing Limbs lets you imagine the flashes of light fire throws on scarcely clad people dancing around it, while Ambrosia makes you think of feasting and drinking. But all of that is just a framework for the music. The music is primarily responsible for creating the exceptional atmosphere.
Like a good glass of red wine, the album’s soundscapes are rich and lush. The glass is filled to the rim and overflowing. You get the impression that sounds are bouncing off of walls, constantly reverberating. The deep, loud and pronounced drumming calls rites to mind, as do the double female vocals and the mantra-like lyrics, often consisting of just of a couple of lines, continually repeated. Moreover, the vocals are most of the time delivered through a haze. You can’t understand what is being said which gives you the impression that you are drunk and that you have been taking part in the ritual.
E-L-R display exceptional song-writing abilities and an outstanding feeling for composition and atmosphere on Maenad. The guest vocalists appearing on the album add to its appeal and speak for themselves: There is Dool’s Ryanne van Dorst on Lunar Nights and Colin van Eeckhout of Amenra on Above The Mountains There Is Light.
Whether you are into post-doom or not doesn’t really matter. This is a great album and a stellar debut. If you don’t get goose bumps when the bass sets in on Devotee, you have been desensitised beyond repair.