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Italy's premier power metal slash folk metal act, Elvenking, has had its share of ups and downs over the past fifteen years. From the critically acclaimed, folk infused melodic power metal fest that was “Heathenreel” in 2001 to, what many call an abomination, the melodic death metal inspired “The Scythe” in 2007, Elvenking has had a bit of an identity crisis over the years. The only element that seems to remain constant is the persistent meddling with folk instrumentation, and 2012's “Era” is no exception.
No doubt, those who enjoyed Elvenking's “Heathenreel” and “The Winter Wake” will enjoy the tunes here, as “Era” bounces back into the realms of what they are best known for, folk infused power metal. The core duo of Damna (vocals) and Aydan (guitars) return to the fold bringing four members who entered the band in 2009 or later (yes, two thirds of the band has been here for less than three years). Sometimes it just takes new blood to get a band back in line.
The base style on “Era” is a very melodic power metal sound. There's enough spunk and pop to make any Helloween or Freedom Call fan happy. Despite the relatively depressing lyrical themes, the mood is kept light and airy throughout the entirety of the album. Damna's vocals, for the most part, remind me of Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) or a more Metal version of Bon Jovi, both which are huge compliments. The melodic mid-range vocals fit the light atmosphere perfectly, and Damna truly shines with his energetic delivery. Female vocals are thrown in a little, and seem to perfectly accent Damna's voice. Even more spectacular is the pairing of Damna with legendary Savatage vocalist Jon Oliva on two tracks. Oliva's powerful, gruff delivery is the polar opposite of Damna's approach, and adds an element of darkness to the otherwise sappy atmosphere.
The guitars range from standard, middle of the road power metal riffs to acoustic segues. The guitar lines and riffs aren't earth shattering, but they get the job done. The drums blast away, replete with running on the double bass and a speedy double kick rock beat. The bass is pretty much follow the leader with the guitars for the entire album, as no bass lines really stick out as spectacular. The core instrumentation is nothing groundbreaking, but there are some exceptionally catchy moments, with huge hooks on just about every chorus and crunchy bridges with scaled riffs and groove laden drumming.
The true standouts on “Era”, aside from Damna's vocals, are the folk instruments. The violin lines rarely cease throughout the entire album, but that's one of the reasons that “Era” works so well. Rather than the more traditional approach of “Red Silent Tides”, Elvenking go straight for the sound of their more folk oriented works. The violin work ranges from uptempo and Celtic inspired to a more somber sound, similar to chamber music. Guest flutes and pipes are provided by Maurizio Cardullo, who has been around the block when it comes to folk instrumentation. Elvenking shines the brightest during the uptempo sections with the violin blazing, creating a more power metal-esque version of Skyclad.
“Era” is Elvenking at their best, folk infused power metal. This is one of the better examples in a seemingly ever-growing genre. The over saturation of folk metal bands in recent years has led to a stagnation of sorts. The melodic power metal base of Elvenking with the folk elements invokes memories of the poppier sounds of Skyclad's mid-era. Catchy choruses, great folk instrumentation and an energetic delivery make “Era” an absolute winner. Not an essential listen for everyone, but if you're a fan of power metal and of folk metal then you owe it to yourself to buy this.
Written for The Metal Observer