Despite our need to stay within the real world, there are definitely times we need to find an escape. What do we do when we need to find an outlet? Often we turn to fantasy. It’s a great way to find solace and adventure in the imagination of another who has laid out a world we can explore at our leisure. Metal has something akin to that and it’s every bit as important, if far less known, as fantasy literature. A lot of fantasy themed metal isn’t taken seriously, often times it’s given demeaning subgenre names like goblin metal or pirate metal. However, in spite of those names the bands and artists branded as such have embraced the title and have decided to delve into their respective worlds for the purposes of entertainment and escaping the unpleasant reality we find ourselves stuck in. Immortal had Blashrykh, might Ravendark, and that was really the start of fantasy in black metal. I’m not going to reference Tolkien metal here because that subgenre deserves its own discussion at a later date. What do goblin metal and pirate metal have in common? They have a musical style base in power metal, genre that couldn’t take itself seriously if it tried. From all of that comes Unearthed Elf, the solo project of Keith D of Artic Sleep and their debut album “Into the Catacomb Abyss.”
As you might have suspected the man behind the band uses a lot of fantasy clichés in the music as a lot of showmanship, all of his appearances in connection with Unearthed Elf is that of an elf. Without even listened to the music I had a vague cognition of what I was going to get into and I was about half right once the music began to play. The album is a mix of power metal, classical heavy metal, and doom metal. All the genres kind of blend into one like a stew. There are pockets of doom metal here with lots of power metal or classical heavy metal mixed with doom over here. It all boils down to something pretty good and surprisingly technical. The vocals were the one item I did not see coming but maybe I should have if I had done my research on the band before diving right into it. The vocals are a truly beautiful mixture of Messiah from Candlemass and Jari from WinterSun, both of which I admire and have tremendous respect for. Unearthed Elf might just be a one off as an outlet for a different sort of creativity or it might be a continuous thing, all I know is that this album was really enjoyable.
The music, while it does have its somber moments, is fairly light hearted, not taking itself too seriously. Nor though, does the music ever forget what its purpose is. Into the Catacomb Abyss plays like the campy soundtrack to the old B Horror films so many of us grew up on. I, in particular, grew up terrified of the Thing from the Black Lagoon (seriously the first time I saw it when I was four years old I was too scared to walk alone into my dark room). Now since then I’ve stopped being terrified of movies but I still find these older films ripe with beneath the surface themes. Music brings out those themes and the themes of Into the Catacomb Abyss is no different in that regard. Despite its campy, goofy nature there is something significant beneath the surface here.
Adventure and new experiences. Even in the face of the unsurmountable and the terrifying. This, overwhelmingly, was what I felt when listening to Into the Catacomb Abyss. The idea that even though this world and the world of the album is filled with horrors beyond our mortal comprehension, there are still wonders to be found and experienced. Unearthed Elf is undoubtedly escape metal, an artist we can pop in and forget about things around us for an hour but its more than that. As with the fantasy genre in literature, the fantasy genre of music doesn’t just allow its readers or listeners to escape, it allows them to look at the issues they might be facing from the outside world in a new light. They can see the scenarios or emotions they can’t quite come to grips with played out before them in an entertaining way that gives them insight or hope. Fantasy, in music and literature, is not an escape, at least not all the time.
Into the Catacomb Abyss is fun, it’s light hearted, and it’s cheesy. That formula can make pretty good albums nine times out of ten. While the entire album might not be groundbreaking it’s technically and musically proficient. The sound quality is excellent, clear and atmospheric. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those who give it a shot with an open mind, they will enjoy it as much as I did. I do hope Unearthed Elf is not just a one off because I think that would be depriving listeners of some very entertaining stuff.
Listen and support!