Friday, May 21, 2010

Odes of Ecstasy - Deceitful Melody

Odes of Ecstasy - Deceitful Melody
2000, The End Records

I'll confess right now, here at the start, that the lyrics of this Greek band are ambiguous enough to confuse me completely - one is not sure what exactly they refer to, what emotions they are trying to work upon (the music makes that much clearer), what sources of inspiration they are calling into effect, or what references they are making to the past. Take the title track, for example, the epic composition 'Deceitful Melody', where the vocalists (male and female) spin out, over and over, the lines 'A blinding shine of truth/reminded the exploited/dreams of their youth/time is up/for the departing silhouette/but a smile/appeared above his head' - repeating this, in fact, so blissfully/hypnotically through the course of the song that the words cease to have any meaning at all (if they ever did) and become a tone poem of sound for the vocalists to warp and change at will - manipulating the language and their voices to match the strident riffing, right and left in the listening space or mix, or the pace and energy of the rhythms. In fact, during this song, this section of lyrics is repeated three times - two times as a linked section (statement and reprise) and then once again, after an excellent, tastefully melancholy solo that comments expertly on the main melodies. Although lyrically obscure to me, this song is a musical/compositional tour-de-force, and it highlights every single element of Odes of Ecstasy's unique sound one by one: their catchy turns of phrase and succinct (although elusive) lyrics or vocal patterns; the piercingly beautiful, lilting, songbird-like tones of 'melodic vocalist' Christina Maniati (listen to the way she makes the whole song by her trilling spin into higher registers on the third and fourth refrains of the repeated verses, first featured at 2:45 into the song, on the words 'A blinding shine' - this is amazing, the catchiest part of the composition); the rougher, gruff vocals of the male singer, barking authoritatively; the clean guitars ringing like bells or marching through lightly-distorted riffing highly reminiscent (to me) of classic Goth veterans Bauhaus (these are almost always in the left channel it seems, behind and above the other instruments); the tighter, more metal-influenced muted chords of the bruising guitar on the other side, in the right channel, controlling the rhythm of the song (I actually hear a little bit of Rotting Christ influence in the rhythm guitars - especially in the opener 'Ignorance' - which is not something you take notice of every day); the splashing washes of synth sound (which change, in different songs, to piano work or more traditional keyboard additions), the strange and very skillful (listen to 'One With The Darkness') drumming and miscellaneous percussion which references both the more traditional avenues of metal composition as well as New Wave music, etc. There are so many disparate elements coming into contact at once throughout these songs that the result can never anything other than dynamic, refreshing, and exciting...

But like I said earlier in my review of Love History's 'Anasazi', it is pointless and/or meaningless to simply list all of this band's stylistic innovations and sound elements, categorizing and placing them in some kind of 'heirarchy of originality', and then think that somehow describes the band and their music. Odes of Ecstasy are much more than just the sum of their parts and individual members' talents - in coming together, they create something new. Finally, exhausted, you just have to return to the material and listen to it over and over, letting it sink in. Unlike the Love History, however, this album tends to make much more of an immediate impact on one's understanding based on the fact that it doesn't deviate too far from traditional forms of composition (at least to my jaded ears), and it tends to stay, throughout its myriad elements and stylistic shifts, very close to what has come before on the paths of melodic metal (except for the song 'Abstract Thoughts', which is completely innovative). This is what is original about this album: although it does branch out into nonconformist territory, it is not in the ways these melodies are brought to your ears - the forms of the songs - but rather in the strikingly novel and unique nature of the melodies themselves. A few listens will make this clear to you - I guarantee you have not heard melodies of this timbre and nature before: melodies and harmonies that are obscure, fleeting, evocative, atmospheric, and mysterious as well as being highly emotional and very communicative...to create such music is to reach towards one of the highest levels of compositional difficulty, as the hardest thing in the world for a musician to do is to write melodies that are both intensely personal and somehow, at the same time, emotionally 'meaningful' for everyone in his audience. Odes of Ecstasy succeed in doing this. Also worthy of note is the fact that this band has a tremendous range, as every one of these songs, when taken at face value, sounds different from the others, and one never feels that they are getting close to exhausting their potential for creating original orchestrations.

Ultimately this is just a great album, filled with beautiful music from the first fanfare, and anyone would be well advised to seek it out as soon as possible. I know it will remain in my stereo for a long time to come...