“There’s no way back now… I’m getting afraid of what I’m becoming”-E’last “Tears of Chaos”
In E’last’s first comeback, the members begin to awake to a looming dark reality. Retaining their signature orchestral bravado, Awake sounds like the fear and helplessness of awakening from their wistful Day Dream only to face themselves and what they are becoming.
E’last’s debut album Day Dream saw the members entranced with a love just out of their grasp, with balladic and generally soft songs to match. Ethereal piano interludes, pop-centric tracking, and evocative vocals are accompanied by a pastel, organic MV and album concept. Awake, however, sees the members facing an uncertain reality, one in which they must face themselves and their looming inner darkness. The first three tracks “Intro.,” “Tears of Chaos,” and “Dangerous” personify stages of this struggle, while the last two tracks “Present” and “Because of You” pull back the intensity to convey a helpless, wounded sensitivity- in which they found their way back to the light or lost themselves completely.
The “Intro.” picks up where Day Dream left off with delicate acoustic strings and piano before picking up tension and suddenly shifting to electronic style synthesized sounds. The sudden shift is not just jarring but thematically personifies the awakening of the members throughout the whole album. Through the music, the members retain the distinctive semi-acoustic and orchestral sound from their debut, but while experimenting with their stylistic range and aesthetic.
The title track “Tears of Chaos” is the star of this album that really ties all the tracks together conceptually and musically. The timbre of the music is similar to their debut track “Swear” with refreshing, beautiful string choruses, soaring vocals, and thick harmonies, but with a desperation and maturity that their debut lacked.
The MV shows the members waking up in a picturesque forest dressed in crisp white or all black clothes. Seungyeop, Romin, and Baekgyeul are key protagonists in the MV, with Seungyeop dressed in white while Romin entices him in dark black. Before the last chorus, a black-clad arm yanks Seungyeop into a mysterious doorway where pairs of members danced mirrored to each other and barely illuminated in the faint darkness.
Clearly darkness and light are contrasting imagery throughout the MV, but what makes the theme enthralling is the progression from the whispered introduction with Wonhyuk in white surrounded by candelabras to the final image of Seungyeop walking back through the door frame, now clad in black and red, with falling stars all around. “Tears of Chaos” is an apt title considering the slow defilement of the members’ daydreams and dueling dance breaks. Facing their reality and perhaps losing a piece of themselves along the way is an interesting and exciting development in their story as artists thus far. There’s a lot more to unpack in the little details, but overall, this is an enthralling, albeit somber addition to their repertoire.
“Dangerous” plays on this darkness with a fierce rap track complete with thumping electronic bass tight, red (leather?) stage outfits, and sensual choreography. While it is a departure from their distinctive sound for most of the track, there are contrasting moments with more acoustic sounds allowing their sound to peek through the texture. Their ability to rapidly switch genres, timbre, and imagery is striking, especially considering they do not lose their identity or signature sound. It is also deeply satisfying as a listener and viewer. This giving into the darkness allows the listener a chance to experience a new, fierce side of E’last while also showcasing their own versatility.
The last two tracks “Present” and “Because of You” are a major downshift from the rest of the album. Both are delicate, pop-forward songs with the return of strings, stacked vocal harmonies, and lyrics about love and longing. “Present” is the most balladic track on the album and balances soft vocals and lyrical rapping. It is simple in its sound and construction but allows the members’ vocals to take center stage. If the rest of the album was a flex of their musical prowess, this one clearly demonstrates their vocal prowess as well.
“Because Of You” is similar, but with more forward momentum, synthesizer and digital piano instead of acoustic, and digital audio flourishes. At first listen, these last two tracks do not seem to fit into the central concept of the album stylistically or musically. Did the members actually lose themselves in the first three tracks or did they prevail from the “chaos” and find themselves (and their sound) again? “Present” and “Because Of You” may be predictable for the group, but they are beautiful additions to round out the album.
Awake is a brilliant addition to E’last’s discography. It experiments with a dark side of the members without losing their identity. One thing that is striking about this group from debut until now is their balance of unique timbre and instrumental tracks, incredible vocal prowess, and incredibly aesthetic concepts and visuals. In their debut album, I remarked about their refreshing reclaiming of fantasy, soft concepts, and the fact remains that E’last are authentically themselves. Despite being rookies, they are memorable, unique, and satisfying to listen to, no matter how they subvert expectation.