Hey, you remember “Repo! The Genetic Opera”? Well, Sean Lacefield, a guitar player who had more than his share of responsibility for the soundtrack, is now working with Los Angeles goth metal band “Ellsbeth.” They self-released their album “Well-Dressed Killing Machine” digitally, in preparation for a summer long tour beginning right about now.
Ellsbeth’s collection of eleven tracks has a lot going for it. The music is big and bold, and riddled with emotional fury. It has a legitimate theatrical quality, and is played with deliberate and calculated precision. It seems like this could be a product of Lacefield’s work on “Repo!” in producing a sound that is colorful and also consistent.
The album manages to avoid easy pitfalls too often seen in this genre; it doesn’t become melodramatic, and doesn’t lean on the power of its strong female vocals to make the album work.. The hidden gem of “Well-Dressed Killing Machine” is that the powerful but not overdone drums of Jay Liermann, are the backbone of the entire effort. While not the end-all-be-all, he is a capable drummer that understands when to push the envelope and when to pull back.
Ellsbeth is at their best when letting comparatively loose, and one of the drawbacks of the album is that the band simply doesn’t do that often enough. Maybe it’s a product of their not yet totally gelling as a band, I can’t be sure. Still, for every success such as “Wide Awake” or the thundering “Arise” which embraces the band’s metal capability, there is a song like “Breathe,” which begins to lose sight of the ferocity that could have been. It is in tracks like the latter that the band begins to sound dangerously like Evanescence, which for me is a bad step to take.
The band varies their sound by adding in unusual pacing or unexpected instruments. A synth line here; an acoustic guitar there. It adds just a little flavor to the mix, which serves to distinguish the tracks from one another. Honestly, they could have included more of this and I wouldn’t have complained.
Despite the loud and dramatic nature of the music, I am surprised to report that the production is somewhat quiet. The instruments are well balanced but sit patiently in the background while the vocals are more dominating. Separating the lines into their parts, Ellsbeth could have had a real head-banger on their hands, but it’s difficult to feel that kind of power when as a listener you have to sift through the thick vocals first. There’s a secretly great guitar lick on “Victim of Mine,” but you have to strain to hear it. It’s still a solid track, but with just a little more even production, it could have been a jewel.
There are a lot of great moments here, and the whole of the album is enjoyable if nothing else. I would have liked to see the band take some bigger chances with their full metal sound and really open their arms to embrace the heavy metal sensibilities that they clearly possess. The album is uneven in that regard. Put some bigger teeth on it and amp up the loudness in the editing booth and Ellsbeth could really make a move.
If you just can’t get enough Lacuna Coil, consider “Well-Dressed Killing Machine” to tide you over. Also, if you’re looking for some no-frills, straightforward heavy metal, give this a spin. As albums go, it’s an enjoyable spin and certainly satisfying enough. And hey, it’s better than “Repo!”