Imagine being dipped head first in an Achillean manner into a whole new world with a new way of thinking—and new definitions of beauty. A world where beautiful is not a word that is just bantered haphazardly about to describe otherwise every-day events. Rather, beautiful is reserved only for the instances that truly transcend ordinary; events that simply cannot be described any other way. This world is Elysion, the debut release by post-hardcore prodigies Merge. Combining dynamic, stellar soundscapes with pinches of equal parts crushing heaviness and unfathomable ethereality, Merge craft a world that defies the ordinary definition of beauty in favor of something more surreal, illusive and incredible.
Like the birth of a child or the growth of a towering tree, beauty doesn’t just begin—and neither does Elysion. Merge slowly begin building their immersive castle of intrinsically awe-inspiring sound brick by brick, throughout the introductory track “A Perpetual Spring.” However, once “Lighters” begins, Merge’s black-and-white castle explodes into a vivid, colorful cathedral of sound and harmony. Crystal-clear guitar tones clash with deep, resonating chugs and punchy, intense percussion to create wave after wave of refreshing, crisp sound. “Us Against Our Cities” and “Cometa” are two other such examples of instrumental brilliance, where carefully-picked harmonies provide a scaffold to craft enormous overarching melodies—only to be crushed, crumpled and redrawn by Merge’s latent penchant for heaviness. “Wolf’s Dagger” and “Daily Grind” are the two most prominent examples of the band’s incredible ability to sneak segments of sinister-sounding heaviness and crunch into their music—using breakdowns in their truest-to-form manner, to break up the aural beauty which has wrapped a stellar, crystalline sphere of intricately-written music around the listener.
Elysion’s instrumental brilliance is only amplified by the simple, serene magnificence of Merge’s vocals. While Julien Ho-Tang and Charly V pick and pluck away at their guitar and bass, and Kazu Yamane punctually hammers way, providing a solid percussive backdrop, Anthony Hamin simply…shines. With guttural screams that reach down to match with Charly V’s vicious bass work and crystal-clear cleans to resonate with Ho-Tang’s stellar fretwork, the vocal element to Elysion is dynamic and, for lack of a better word, comprehensive. With screams and shouts that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Memphis May Fire record (“Wolf’s Dagger,” I’m looking at you) and serene singing a la Sianvar or Dance Gavin Dance (“Joy Illusion” especially), Elysion is a mosaic of vocally driven brilliance that demands to be heard. The vocal performance throughout the album is a true ecosystem, with grinding, intense screams that allow the sky-scraping range of the cleanly crooned vocals to shine just that much brighter, and soar just that much higher.
Both elements respectively are strong enough to stand on their own, but where Elysion allows Merge to truly stand their strongest is the culmination of the vocals and the instrumentation into one cohesive sound that is neither forced nor dull. “Wolf’s Dagger” is a jarring, punch-to-the-gut experience that takes the listener by storm, while “Lighters” and “Joy Illusion” are twisting chimeras of sound that are nigh impossible to follow as they leap from sludge-influenced atmosphere and heaviness to punctual, post-rock moments of hyperambience. In short, Elysion is the peaceful, placid snow-capped mountaintop as much as it is the murky, deep and dark swampbed. It is wrath, anger, envy and energy as much as it is peace, solitude, serenity and solace. It is a comprehensive listening experience that demands to be heard as much as it demands to be had.
It isn’t often that one album is able to so smoothly incorporate such a stellar array of emotions and settings into one fluid setting—which is why it’s so shocking that Merge manage to do so on their debut full-length. However, Elysion does, and it does so brilliantly as well. In a word, Elysion is beautiful—in our world as much as in Merge’s.
For Fans Of: Sianvar, Dance Gavin Dance, Memphis May Fire, Have Mercy
By: Connor Welsh