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Is Elvenking prolific or second-rate? That’s an easy one. While the group was on a bit of an upswing after bottoming out on “The Scythe,” “Red Silent Tides” and “Era” were unable to become more than enjoyable records. Elvenking is like the little point guard who checks into the game with twenty seconds left when his team is up thirty points—the crowd gives Elvenking a standing ovation when he makes his free-throws, because, well, it’s a miracle the little shit made the team in the first place. Giving select pieces of the band’s discography a proverbial swirly is too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel. I actually like the band, believe it or not, but I’m not bashing them when I say leaping up to greatness has been their biggest obstacle.
“The Pagan Manifesto,” in some ways, changes the game for Elvenking. I’m not going to call the record a masterpiece, because it’s not, but clearly there were huge improvements in nearly every category that needed work. The album’s main source of the goods comes from the clear challenging of the basic Elvenking structure, as these multilayered tracks work well without sacrificing uniqueness. Elvenking’s style of power/folk metal is pretty standard, and while “The Pagan Manifesto” refuses to stray from the straightforward, accessible guitar parts and poppy choruses, it does manage to display the finest hooks and foundations the band has ever created. There’s no grand diversion from the melodies, ideas, and folk themes on previous Elvenking records, but here they sound like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place rather than being forced in by outdated influences or rehashed concepts.
How about this: it’s a mature album. I hate putting it that way, but it’s true; they’ve ripened as songwriters and as performers. The fact that they’re writing longer anthems (one running up to almost thirteen minutes) and expanding their horizons doesn’t hold a candle to the sturdy variables building up and maintaining the album’s integrity. The monstrous “The King of the Elves” is a fantastic slew of folky vocals and elements matching its multiple riffs and sections; it opens “The Pagan Manifesto” magnificently. Busty anthems like “Elvenlegions” and “Twilight of Magic” make the improvements shine clear as day; the riffs, choruses, Damna’s vocals, the whole shebang just sound so much better. The folky ballad tunes, usually shoehorned into an Elvenking record just because, are actually fresh and revitalizing here. In the end, I’d call “The Pagan Manifesto” varied, dynamic, and surprisingly enjoyable throughout.
Amanda Somerville and the harsh vocals of Jarpen, a former vocalist of the group, appear in relevant cameos and add depth to the musical voyage. “The Pagan Manifesto” is both a completely predictable release, for it changes not one iota of Elvenking’s style, and a nice surprise from a band that has improved remarkably since its lesser days. Take any Elvenking release, improve the instrumental integrity and songwriting by a huge magnitude, and that’s “The Pagan Manifesto.” It’s still not a magnum opus of the power/folk metal niche, but for a three-legged dog like Elvenking, “The Pagan Manifesto” is as good as it gets.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
I'd like to start off this review by saying I'm a big fan of Elvenking, and intend on drawing many comparisons between this and their old work. So if this is your first Elvenking record, don't read this yet. Anyways, I could tell just from looking at the album cover that Elvenking was going to try to use this record to drag themselves out of obscurity. And frankly, it worked pretty well. That being said, The Pagan Manifesto was more pop-influenced than some of Elvenking's previous works. Then again, it's not like they had a choice. Ever since The Scythe, Elvenking began to move in a heavier direction. By the time they got to Era, their own song writing got a little bit out of their comfort zone. The songs were kind of bland, the folk aspect was dull, and I'm pretty sure the album had maybe two riffs in total. So yeah, I could tell that they were going to do this. However, Elvenking had also been itching for some more wide-spread recognition in the metal community for a while. With the release of this album, they finally began to get it.
The songs are pretty solid on here. Some are much bette than others, but not a single song on this album is inherently bad. The riffs were catchy, the lyrics were good, Damnas vocals were on cue as per usual, and we had some knee-slappingly fun violin worked in there too. Elvenking also demonstrated their will to evolve on this record. For one thing, they pushed really hard on the contrast of their song lengths. Never before has Elvenking written an epic twelve or eight minute song. They also haven't been as versatile with their song writing like this since The Winter Wake. However, pushing yourself artistically can come at a price. Elvenking's chief talent as a folk metal band is to write light and short jigs that sound like they came out of an Irish pub circa 1655. But that's not what they did here. On albums like The Winter Wake and Wyrd, that's all they did. They wrote short, sweet, and catchy songs. While Elvenking through a couple of those on here (Pagan Revolution, Moonbeam Stone Circle, Grandier's Funeral Pyre, etc.), they also pushed themselves to write more epic, melodic songs. King Of The Elves and Witches Gather are powerful, moving fairy tales that keep listeners interested for a good eight minutes each time around. Elvenlegions was more of a melodic warriors chant reminiscent of Ensiferum. And then they wrote a softer, acoustic song which was Toward The Shores.
While Elvenking didn't make a perfect record here, they did make a really great one, and they really pushed themselves as musicians which I really respect. If you're a fan of folk metal or Elvenking's other records, you'll love this. If you're a death metal fan trying to see what all the fuss is about folk metal, save this for later. If you like rock music, pick this up. It's not as intense as most other metal records. I look forward to Elvenking's next record which I'm sure will be like this time ten now that they've expanded their musical vocabulary.
After eight albums to their credit now, Italy's Elvenking have quickly been establishing themselves as one of the forerunners of the folk metal scene. On this CD they pull no punches and whether its the folksy power of lead single Elvenlegions or the ballad sounds of Towards The Shores or the full on folk attack of Moonbeam Stone Circle, they are dedicated to really show they are ready to deliver on all counts.
Yeah Elvenking is a bit on the cheesy side at times and the cheese still rises to the top a bit on this CD, but that is to be expected in the style of music and their cheese has a certain amount of innocent charm to it. What do you expect with such titles as Druid Ritual Of Oak or King Of The Elves? Folk metal is not meant to be taken seriously anyway, it is sheer unadulterated fun, pure and simple.
I would say if I were to gripe a bit about this CD, I would say my two biggest complaints are the mix and the safe feel of the album. First off the mix is a bit perplexing as we start off with a nearly 13 minute epic track after the obligatory intro. This does not make it easy to really get into this album right away as a shorter uptempo track would work much better here. Secondly a few of the tracks just sort of are there without being completely smoking as they could be. The aforementioned The Druid Ritual Of Oak is a good example here of a track that has a ton of potential but just falls a bit short.
Still overall not a very shabby release by any means and naysayers stand aside for I enjoyed this CD and had a lot of fun listening to it, what more could you ask for??
(originally published at www.truemetallives.com)
When I started to listen to metal music, I was mostly into folk and power metal and that’s how I came across Elvenking. My tastes evolved since then but so did Elvenking’s music. Yes, I liked the enchanting and epic debut “Heathenreel”, the more progressive follow-up with new singer Kleid “Wyrd”, the upbeat power folk record “The Winter Wake” that marked Damna’s return and also the darker and more modern conceptual release “The Scythe”. The acoustic release “Two Tragedy Poets (…and a Caravan of Weird Figures)” wasn’t really my cup of tea but still a welcome experiment. The last two albums “Red Silent Tides” and “Era” were quite good but sounded a little bit too alike after all. It was gripping power metal with folk influences crowned by catchy hooks and a few small experiments here and there. I liked these albums but I felt that a change was needed for the band’s next record to continue to evolve and give some new inspiration to the band.
Sadly, “The Pagan Manifesto” offers nothing new to the Elvenking universe despite some darker outfits and the promising album title and promo videos. The new record is once again power metal with folk influences focused on catchy hooks. This mixture has become a trademark of the band but it doesn’t sound inspiring anymore. I do like the acoustic folk pearl “Towards the Shores”, the speedy feel good track “Pagan Revolution”, the darker parts and the gripping growls in the classic beauty meets the beast approach of “Grandier’s Funeral Pyre” or the extremely catchy hooks in “Black Roses for the Wicked One” that would make an excellent single. The problem is that these songs are nice but nothing more. I’ve been saturated with this kind of music and it simply doesn’t touch me anymore. Elvenking really starts to repeat itself.
The other songs on the record basically sound like a mixture of the four aforementioned tracks in more or less convincing ways. “King Of The Elves” starts very badly with stupid male choirs and unnecessarily speedy riffs that don’t harmonize with each other at all. After a few minutes, my worst fears are becoming reality. This song desperately tries to be ambitious and epic but it’s just fails. This piece of music is overlong and pointless. The song is a disappointment. Amanda Somerville’s guest vocals are also rather annoying as she has been present in too many projects lately. This particular song indeed sounds like an attempt to sound a little bit like Avantasia. It’s probably the worst song on the album and the band didn’t do well to open its record with this track.
The other epic in form of the closer “Witches Gather” has at least some more atmosphere and the song writing feels more coherent but the track is still too long and good average at best.
“Elvenlegions” and “Moonbeam Stone Circle” (the song titles are also getting more and more exchangeable) try to be the new band hymns but they sound too calculated on one side and aren’t constantly catchy enough on the other. They are not utterly bad songs but exchangeable Elvenking standard tracks. At some points, Damna’s vocals in “Elvenlegions” are not only slightly nasal and whiny but also androgynous. At the end of this track’s bridge, I really believed for a few seconds that Amanda Somerville was singing again but that’s not the case. I always defended Damna’s unique vocals but his vocal performance is rather getting worse than improving over the years in my opinion. Recent live footage seems to prove me right but I wished I was wrong.
The album goes on this way. It all sounds like a routine job with less passion and ideas than on the last records. Most of the songs are not offensive or bad. It’s maybe even worse because they are dull, unimpressive and have noticeable lengths. I really prefer a controversial record like “The Scythe” to such an exchangeable release like “The Pagan Manifesto”. In my opinion, it’s the band’s weakest album to date and my rating is still quite generous. This record is only for fans that want Elvenking to sound the same and like classic Elvenking all the time.
Italy's most recognizable purveyors of folk metal have returned with their eight full length album, The Pagan Manifesto, in spring of 2014. The band's debut album, 2001's Heathenreel, remains one of the benchmarks that folk metal albums are judged by and, despite a brief dip in quality during their middling years, Elvenking have forged their sound into a unique combination of folk melodies and melodic power metal. After two well received albums in 2010 (Red Silent Tides) and 2012 (Era), you could pretty much surmise that Elvenking has been on cruise control these past few years. The Pagan Manifesto is a solid continuation of Elvenking's tried and true sound with , dare I say it, a more mature approach than previously presented.
As silly as it sounds calling an album with track titles like “King of the Elves” and “Moonbeam Stone Circle” a band's most mature, I have to firmly put my foot down; Elvenking has grown up, a bit. The band's solid mix of heady power metal and tavern-styled folk music is still present. Hell this is a more folk-driven album than anything the band has put out in years, but the solid interplay between driving rhythms and classy melodies is more focused and dynamic than before. Perhaps the frequent segues into balladry, like the solid duet with Amanda Somerville during “King of the Elves”, replete with melodic clean guitar patterns and restrained instrumentation or the heavier riffing and more engaging guitar rhythms like on “Witches Gather”, help push Elvenking into the realms of a more mature sound.
Like on Era the melodic, sing-along choruses are still Elvenking's bread and butter. Nearly every track moves into some type of ultra-catchy, fist pumping vocal hooks. Damna's voice has surely improved with age, as his vocals this time around range from poppy melodies to his higher register, power metal style that seems to exude confidence. The same could be said for the rest of the band, as the guitar riffs are chunkier and more driving than before, like on “Grandier's Funeral Pyre”, but they still retain the solid interplay between the folk instrumentation. Tracks like “Moonbeam Stone Circle” and “Pagan Revelation” show that the band has not left their folk metal roots behind. There are plenty of upbeat folk rhythms and violin led melodies throughout the album, but it's not exactly the main focus. Songs like “Black Roses for the Wicked One” show that Elvenking has learned how to utilize folk instrumentation in a way that doesn't sound like a hokey tavern jaunt, as light keys and violin notes back a multi-tracked vocal approach with an extremely catchy chorus.
Before you get all up in arms about this being a rightful, mature album, just remember that this is Elvenking. The vocals and choruses are still layered with all of the cheese and poppy Gammaweenery you can swing a sword at. I really don't mind the cheese, as it makes for some extremely catchy moments. In fact, my only real complaint is that The Pagan Manifesto seems a tad too long for its own good. A little over sixty minutes of folky, melodic power metal is a somewhat overwhelming. I feel like if the band trimmed the edge a bit, it might make for more powerful release. Regardless, Elvenking's eighth opus, The Pagan Manifesto, serves as the band's most mature release to date, encompassing all of the traits that made them so memorable in the past. Love them or hate them, Italy's most popular folk metal merchants write catchy songs and The Pagan Manifesto is no different.
Written for The Metal Observer.