I have to admit that reviewing ELVIRA MADIGAN’s recent album has proved to be a task of the highest order, firstly for the reason of its length (over 74 minutes) and secondly because of the structure of the songs.
Let me however begin with explaining the remarkable band name for those of you who are not familiar with it. Elvira Madigan was a Danish circus tightrope dancer who fell in love with a Swedish officer, an affair, which ended tragically for both of them. Suffice it to say, that the story happened to be adapted more than once for the needs of Scandinavian cinema industry. It was just after having seen one of the films (by Bo Widerberg) devoted to this disastrous love story, that I also got to know about the Swedish band using the name of its title character.
If you search the world wide web in order to gain some knowledge of ELVIRA MADIGAN, (I am aiming at the band from now on; by the way I can add, that it is only one-man band lead by Marcus Hammarström) you will notice, that in many cases this music is labelled as Black Metal. The thing is, that such etiquette not only seems to be somewhat misleading but also – if we take consideration to numerous fragments on the CD – purely incorrect. It would have as a matter of fact been more suitable if someone had come up with a term like Fantasy Metal or something similar (the texts on the album concern the world of fairytale and the term itself can refer to a number of Metal genres, just like ELVIRA MADIGAN’s latest album).
So what kind of hybrid “Regent Sie” actually is? Well, I would say the Swedish ensemble combines together Power, Gothic and Symphonic Black Metal elements. As for the first ones, they become visible in many fast guitar parts supported by synths. Another thing, which is not so odd as far as Power Metal is concerned – especially the one influenced by stories of noble knights and charming princesses (plus some dragons) – and which you can find on this CD are the narrative fragments being an undividable component of the album’s lyrical concept. They appear both inside certain compositions (like “Mortal Man & The King”) as well as separately (examples: “Sister Fairytale” or “Simeons Monologue”). The question is whether these patents really are necessary in such quantities. Admittedly, they enhance the whole work, though in certain moments one might start wondering if this still is a Metal album or an opera play (not that I have something against opera performances).
When it comes to Gothic elements on “Regent Sie”, the thing, which directly stands out is the usage of keyboards and synthesizers. The effect is, that the music becomes mysterious and sublime, thus fitting perfectly the lyrical plane of the release. On the other hand, these instruments are present to such an extent and are so much exposed, that you simply have enough. I do not mind them being incorporated in music if only they are used in – let us say – economic way. Here though, the listener is overwhelmed, especially in these least interesting parts where the keys sound so sweet like in the instrumental song called “Solstice & SleepwalKing” – it is overfilled with kitsch and sugar, therefore making it impossible for you not to imagine a secret meeting of two lovers on a clearing near a medieval castle (compulsory by the moonlight) while listening to it, oh…
Now as to Symphonic Black Metal influenced parts. Luckily for the album, they rescue it from the lowest rate, however, these more aggressive passages stay often in the background of the sweet-dramatic key melodies resulting in lack of a decent kick, which such kind of playing should theoretically provide. What mainly directs my thoughts towards Symphonic Black are the vocal efforts resembling much of Dani Filth of the well-known band (clean vocals appear as well).
Subsequently, I have objections as to songs’ structures, which seem to be a bit chaotic and somehow unfinished. Whilst ignoring the traditional verse-chorus-verse pattern is nothing wrong, making the compositions too complicated (by for instance not repeating certain longer sequences) causes, that the reception of the music is more difficult and forgetting of what you just have heard occurs not infrequently. This is one of the main problems with ELVIRA MADIGAN.
Of course, I understand, that the concept of the story presented in “Regent Sie” demands in a way a bit more unusual means of artistic expression, yet here we are witnesses to “style over substance” case. Eclecticism in music should be in my opinion warmly welcomed but perhaps in rather moderate quantities or at least when everything is arranged in a really captivating way.
One thing I am absolutely positive about and even somewhat impressed is that Marcus Hammarström manages to handle alone everything concerning the functioning of his band. Otherwise I do not, unfortunately, find ELVIRA MADIGAN’s music truly interesting.
(Online June 3, 2008)