Thursday, 21 May 2009

RENFIELD

Band: ELISABETHA
Title: Renfield
Format: CD pressing on the Schwarzdorn Label (Germany), catalogue reference SD20C, recorded in 2001 and released in 2002.
Edition: Limited to 100 unnumbered copies

Track Listing:
1. Besessenheit in Agonie - Renfield ein Panoptikum des Grauens 23:30
2. Renfield – Hedoniker in Demut das Ethische Prinzip der Sinnenlust 22:04

Continuing Elisabetha's early quest to delve into the stories within the Dracula legend, the "Renfield" release is seemingly the 'lost' cousin of much of the project's other output, almost without reference on the internet in terms of review or even recognition.

Admittedly it's not the easiest album to listen to in the world, although that particular thought could equally be labelled at a million other demos and CD's from a similar time and earlier that still receive media attention to this day.

The title is somewhat enigmatic until you understand who Renfield actually is. Bram Stoker writes of him (in Dr John Seward's journal):

"R. M. Renfield, 59. Sanguine temperament, great physical strength, morbidly excitable, periods of gloom, ending in some fixed idea which I cannot make out. I presume that the sanguine temperament itself and the disturbing influence end in a mentally-accomplished finish, a possibly dangerous man, probably dangerous if unselfish. In selfish men, caution is as secure an armour for their foes as for themselves. What I think of on this point is, when self is the fixed point the centripetal force is balanced with the centrifugal. When duty, a cause, etc., is the fixed point, the latter force is paramount, and only accident or a series of accidents can balance it."

Renfield, the character is an inmate at the lunatic asylum overseen by Dr. John Seward. He suffers from delusions that lead him to eat living creatures in the hope of obtaining their life-force for himself. Being confined to the asylum, and aware of the foolishness of taking on a full-sized hospital orderly, he starts by consuming flies, then develops a scheme of feeding the flies to spiders, and the spiders to birds, in order to accumulate more and more life. When denied a cat to accommodate the birds, he eats the birds himself.

During the course of the novel it is discovered that he is under the influence of Count Dracula - the vampire, whose abilities include control over animals such as rats, bats and spiders, comes to Renfield with an offer: if Renfield worships him, he will provide Renfield with an endless supply of food.

The music is a perpetual 'wall of sound' in as far as there is a constant discordant synthesizer overlying the background ambiance that can seem rather off-putting at first, as it seems to be too 'in your face' and seemingly obscures much of the narrative (spoken in German, for the most-part) and other instrumentation. But it's important to reflect on the nature of the beast here - this album is not so much a musical expression as it is a trip inside the mind of Renfield himself, a trip into a dark and despairing void of nightmare, confusion and fear. Once this is understood, the bleak tone of the Elisabetha music becomes more evocative and understandable, and makes sense of the tortured moaning, despairing laughter and desolation that is experienced and voiced by Renfield throughout the album.

Indeed, one particularly chilling moment comes at 12:12 into the first song, when a clearly heard whisper is plaintively heard to say, to a backdrop of disturbing keyboard discordance, "he's out there, he's out there...."

There are some clever touches to the music too - in track 2 there is a distinct 'buzzing' effect in the background at times, quite probably symbolising the flies referred to earlier in this narrative. Track 2 is also notable for having a memorable and spiritually uplifting female choral melody pervading which pervades it throughout, again mirroring events in the novel - when confronted by Mina Harker, the object of Dracula's obsession, Renfield suffers an attack of conscience and begs her to flee from his master's grasp. Enraged by this treachery, Dracula infiltrates Renfield's cell (in the form of fog..."he's out there..."), and when Renfield lures the Count by assisting his entrance into the asylum, the base of Seward and his fellow vampire-hunters, Dracula breaks his neck.

Not an easy album to absorb, and two long tracks make this a challenge to the uninitiated. When Nazgul first sat down and listened to this some years ago it took a while to make sense of what was going on. Even now, having owned this for some time, I still notice new elements to it and bits that I would have sworn I've never heard before. Frankly, it's one of those release that must have taken a considerable amount of time and effort to construct, that was released in a minuscule quantity, that has subsequently received scant attention from anyone, and which might well have been easily dismissed by those who did hear it as unadulterated noise at times and confused at best.

Well, now you know differently. Nazgul has spoken, and the word is this: "Renfield" is more than a worthy inclusion to the Elisabetha discography and should occasion arise that you have a chance to lay your talons on a copy then grab it, and digest it slowly.

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