With magic, the devil is in the details, particularly when treating with the forces of darkness. Make one wrong move and you might find your spleen ruptured or your housecat warped into some sort of hellbeast. If I might invoke a rather maltreated metaphor, so it is with old-school heavy metal. The devil, in this case, comes in the form of French heavy/power metal outfit Elvenstorm and their fourth album The Conjuring. As for the details, there’s the obvious question. In spite of a well-worn style — a dead one by some measures — can Elvenstorm at least offer an enjoyable listening experience? Or are the candles ’round this circle all burned out?
Skipping the superfluous intro track, The Conjuring opens with “Bloodlust.” Charging full speed ahead with surging riffs and pummeling drums, “Bloodlust” eagerly channels Motörhead and Helloween, with tiny bits of later power metal in the vein of Gamma Ray thrown in for good measure. The rest the album follows suit without a lot of deviation from the template. Most tracks suffer from editing issues, with only one besides the intro clocking in at under four minutes. The frenzied riffcraft of Michaël Hellström and catchy vocal hooks (with a caveat; see below) of Laura Lombard F. carry “Bloodlust,” “Ritual of Summoning,” and “Cross of Damnation.” All three serve as excellent examples of this admittedly aging style, with “Chaos From Beyond” serving as a lesser but still good entry. Instrumental “Stellar Descension” is easily the standout track, expressing the sinister creep and malice of the album’s demon-summoning theme in a way that the lyrics and vocal presentation generally fail to.
I wish that was where my criticism of Lombard’s vocal work could end, but it’s not to be. While the vocal hooks are well-written, I can’t say the same of the performance. A few notes appear to be a little high for her, causing readily apparent strain as on the high note of “Devil Within'” (sic), but the real issue is pitch control. Lombard is very consistently off of any given note, either slightly flat or slightly sharp; unfortunately for the listener, it’s more often the latter. It’s not quite bad enough to make the album unlistenable, at least for me, but it comes across as remarkably amateurish for a band on their fourth album. Thankfully, when Lombard pulls back into her lower register as on the verses of “Chaos From Beyond,” the problem abates, which means it’s a problem easily addressed with additional training and practice. The Conjuring also features a few instances of orchestral and piano segments that feel out of place on what is a straightforward heavy metal release. On the other hand, the album is otherwise somewhat formulaic structurally and slavishly adherent to fast tempos, so the orchestra hits are not totally pointless.
As indicated, the musical core of Elvenstorm is without a doubt in the guitar and drums. Both Hellström and drummer Antoine Bussière both shine in songwriting and performances, particularly in the aforementioned “Descension.” Where Lombard’s performance is tolerable, her powerful, smoky alto is a real asset to the band, offering a weight that a higher voice often lacks. Unfortunately, Benoit Lecuona’s bass is difficult to assess, almost invariably buried in the mix by the guitar and drums. Where discernible, its thin tone does not help. The mix has problems in general. Everything feels off balance, leaving the sonic palette even more compressed than it actually is.
While a solid imitation of its forebears (and thankfully no interest in re-inventing the wheel), Elvenstorm craft an album that, while often highly engaging, suffers from vocal performance and production woes that leave this very thin-sounding album one to leave on the cutting floor. This material probably kills live, though.