You probably remember the British label Cacophonous Records, very much in the public in the end of the nineties, incredibly talented acts scout and tutor but alike our French football premier league unable to keep them in. This incumbents on a strategy essentially based on profit and rip off, because they were considering their artists as cash cows which subsequently led to their doom. Despite
everything, the label's existence will remain deep into our memories in particular thanks to he releases of, according to me, of Cradle Of Filth
's and Dimmu Borgir
's best records (respectively "Vempire" and "Størmblåst"), two acts which have now become superstars, but to whom commercial success is no longer a synonym of artistic quality, and this for quite a long time.
In the shadows of these bands that built up the renown of Cacophonous Records were hiding several other acts well often characterized by a strong creative potential and a distinct personality. Ebonylake
, a per se worshiped band, stands out as a perfect example. Ebonylake
, septet hailing from England have had a short-lived existence and left as their only legacy a single album: "On the Eve of the Grimly Inventive", almost ten years ago from now. A single album, but what an album !
Its mastery and its technicality impress the listener but above all its originality and inspiration. A work quite difficult to discover, whose complexity may be simply horrifying leave you stunned from the start. A work that draws inspiration as much from extreme metal than from contemporary music and opera. With such an introduction, you could answer me that it's quite unoriginal? It's just Ebonylake
like to shuffle the cards and to create a musical labyrinth, awe-inspiring and fascinating, where the exploration of all its meanders seems quite a tough task.
There is nothing conventional to be expected from this patchwork made of very fast guitar riffs, maimed and perpetually changing (recurring riffing is almost absent), of drums tracks coming from a different world and of orchestral keyboards offering a polyphony seldom seen in the history of metal. They are dense (a trifling three keyboardists in the line-up!), diversified but used in some unusual ways, not only as melodic elements but rather as disrupting elements, obsessing and chaotic (anti-harmonic if I daresay), the quite numerous orchestrations are just as many direct and slitting aggressions. The piano and harpsichord tracks, vivid and dissonant, are like sudden nerve-wrecking demonstrations; the harp troubles its ghostlike strings, vanishing just as quickly as they appear while violinists disrupt our mental health like razorblades. It would be utterly unfair no to mention the extreme diversity of vocals, thanks to an amazing vocal quarter, whose dynamics and placements are structured like in an opera, with a most original lead singer, because it is in fact "double singing" overlaying simultaneously the vocals of a sanctified ghoul with soprano vocals, breaking away and patching together according to mood swings. The result, highly distracting and disturbing, gives the listener the impression to be face to face with some entity and its doppelgänger, without ever knowing who's playing the malevolent alias.
Imagine that all this is mixed with energy, breaks coming in every three seconds (no jazz!) together with breathtaking technical skills, that only a few musicians could ever dare approach, and you may envision the complexity of this work beyond standard specs. It will only amount to a vague notion because you have to hear it to believe it.
It's quite fortunate that production doesn't spoil all that good work. Quite on the contrary, it emphasizes the music thanks to an astonishing sound quality full of power and precision, altogether giving it a coarse substance not only to guitars but to orchestrations as if coming straight from an old gramophone.
If the form is stunning because of its proclivity to always be on the move and if the profusion of the production is simply inhuman, all these efforts would remain vain and sterile if they had not been channeled by dramatically woven lyrics. They are far more than mere ornaments, they are the solid frame on which were built all musical tracks. You may usually find such a proceeding in concept-albums, except that "On the Eve of the Grimly Inventive" is no concept-album in stricto sensu, all the lyrics tell a different tale although they remain thematically linked together with poltergeists, their main thread.
These lyrics are admirably written following a novelized form, drawing their inspiration in fantastic literature ("The Author of the Burning
Flock" is based on a theme reminiscent of the tragedy forever striking the offsprings of a damned community quite similar to Peter Straub's "Floating Dragon
") as well as in cinematographic works from another era ("The Wanderings of Ophelia through the Untamed
Countryside" could be the adaptation de "The Lady
of the Lake
", a film noir released in the forties fully filmed in subjective view – nothing to deal with King
Arthur's legends -, but with the Ebonylake
touch, fantastic and surreal.
These lyrics are fascinating to the point where reading the leaflet (superbly illustrated by the way) gives the impression of immersing yourself within short novels, whose ambiances are symbiotical to the music. Especially since Ebonylake
remained true to their approach all the way: each sentence, even sometimes each word marries perfectly with its musical counterpart, somehow explaining the tracks' complexity and proving that putting it all together hasn't happened just by chance. Even though lyrics and music may live separately, Ebonylake
's purpose may only be attained by combining these two together: music illustrates lyrics whereas lyrics justify music providing a synergy to dive in this record without any restraint. Because these are more than just flashes, more than pictures, these are literally short movies playing in our heads with diabolical precision.
in the Piano" is in this regard a milestone. You've lost a loved one, his body inexorably going down and disappearing in the dark depths of a tumultuous sea. All your efforts to reclaim it from death's claws… vain and desperate. Sorrow
is poignant, pain is heart-rending. Life
becomes unbearable and useless. The Grim Reaper
's irresistible call transfigured into the ghostlike features of the lost one; this call from beyond personified by sinister piano notes. Then comes suicide, supported by incisive string attacks and eventually eternal rest where a too seldom lulling piano plays soft and melodious. Happy ending or grievous doom? No one may be certain for the atmosphere of this final closing movement, both sad and romantic, dark and cryptic, leaves us puzzling with too many leads.
This dramatic intensity and hypnotic power inhabit all the other works of this timeless masterpiece, dead to the power of years that still leave its splendor and mastery unaltered.
Seldom a musical work has been so rich and successfully completed. This work has yet no equal, even today. We could try and risk to draw comparisons with Akercocke
, because they are fellow countrymen and of course because they share the same 'eccentric aristocrat' imagery, because they've chosen not to restrain themselves artistically. Ebonylake
's music remains infinitely more complex and anchored into classical music (to be more precise contemporary music).
A work inhabited with grace, created by transcended musicians by some creative inspiration one can only achieve once in a lifetime, the aspiration we commonly name 'sacred fire'. To recreate the same performance would have turned into a desperate quest and the Brits did know it, preferring to leave the stage right after their coup de grace. A highly honorable feat that many acts should ponder and which gives all the more credit to this masterpiece that remains like an ebony lake whose opaque surface and abysmal depths still retain some secrets.