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It’s official, there will always be two Elvenkings. One is the pre-‘Scythe’ incarnation of their sound and one is the direction thereafter. None of which, incidentally, has anything to do with the actual line-up of the band. Not really anyway.
Up until ‘The Winter Wake’, the spine and heartbeat of the band was all folk, and the flesh and blood was a power metal Frankenstein that did what it was told. It worked. It really worked. Then came ‘The Scythe’. And rarely has a style over substance failure been so pronounced. The archives (and web at large) contain a million reasons about what went wrong. But I’m still sticking to my two word theory – no hooks.
‘Two Tragedy Poets’ was a magnificent (if low key) little bounce back, but the damage was done. Any other band would and maybe should have self destructed. Not Elvenking. Instead they came back with one, and now a second release stamped with a sound that’s has no choice but to be cruel to be kind. Or to put it another way; straight power metal with a folk scar here and there.
“The Loser” is a perfect opener. It’s catchy and up tempo to the point of double kick 101. And the lyrics mash together rebel with grown up just long enough to keep you interested. It’s the album single and is chart worthy from start to finish. But although there’s a violin in the band line-up, one violin does not folk metal make.
“I am the Monster” picks up on the theme of the outsider from the opening track, but in many ways takes it further and in a more musically originally direction this time. There’s a real drama to the words and the music as they spell out struggle and torment. The verse melodies also introduce one of the most unique aspects of the album as a whole; verses that are just as (or even more) catchy than some of the choruses.
Incidentally, Jon Oliva guest vocals on the track above, but would it really matter if he didn’t? The bonus track is even the same song without him. If I may be allowed a rapid fire rant, metal is getting a bit top heavy with guest artists doing a Kiske. Unless you help to actually write something, you really haven’t done that much. Seriously.
“Midnight Skies, Winter Sighs” is a masterpiece of soaring power metal passion in terms of music, but the words are text book folk of the kind the band used to set with their eyes closed. Hell the words actually, literally look like a best-of lyric compilation from each of their albums! But again, violin or no violin, the forest is long ago and far away now.
“A Song for the People”, for all of its one minute and forty five seconds, is in fact the purest and truest folk in sight. My only question though...where’s the rest of it? Just as the fog lifts to reveal a cast of intriguing characters, the spell is broken. But you won’t have time to mourn because of what happens next.
“We, Animals” might very well be the best thing on this release, which is kind of what you expect when guitarist Aydan puts pen to paper. This one yells at a world that still can’t get it right. Fortunately the yelling is done via a riff that shreds its way through a chorus that I dare you to listen to without blowing your speakers, earphones or eardrums.
Now if you’ve been reading carefully enough, you’ll have worked out that the bad news of the review title is the demise of the folk element in what Elvenking do. In a sense, it’s not all that bad. But as per the review title, there is good news, too. Damnagoras is back. The band has always pretty much split the songwriting duties, and although Damna is no Aydan, he can and has written a classic or two.
“Through Wolf's Eyes” is every bit as powerfully hook laden as “I am the Monster” (Damnagoras’ other standout track), but it’s the lyrics that give this one the wicked edge.
As the song title pretty much says, it’s the Little Red Riding Hood story from the point of view of the Big Bad Wolf. Except that he’s in love with her. And eating her grandmother is the only way to get closer. Sound nutty? Maybe. But when Damna belts out the line “I won't be the same in the arms of my Love”, you get a glimpse of salvation and redemption that’s a universe away from the masturbation metal trash he’s been doing in recent times with bands like Hell In The Club.
I won’t continue with the track-by-track roll call because it’s all worth owning. Even the boring hard rock ballad. Because by the time you get to the astonishing and explosive theatrics of “Chronicle of a Frozen Era” at the tail end of the album, you’ll have worked out what the band hopes you’ll have worked out. That they never went away, they still write incredible music, and even if they should probably have broken up, aren't you glad they didn't?