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When Elvenking vocalist Damnagoras declared in an online musician's poll that My Chemical Romance's 'The black parade' was his favourite CD of 2006 the alarm bells started ringing. But in reality, the warning signs were actually there on Elvenking's own 3rd CD from that year, 'The winter wake'. Before a note was recorded, the announcement was made that the guitarist and harsh vocalist Jarpen had left due to the old 'musical differences' adage, this coming just a few months after the return of the erstwhile Damnagoras.
'The winter wake' was a good to be sure, but features some distinctly dubious moments along the way, not least from the input of Damnagoras – his own harsh vocals were more a yelping scream than the rolling growls Jarpen had provided, and on more than one occasion a vocal melody (most notably the pre-chorus of "The wanderer") sounded like it owed more to emo than power metal.
Well, prepared or not, 'The scythe' is here, and it sadly has to be reported that it is a stinker. The influence Elvenking have taken from trendy American alternative metal is unreal, with the sound of their first 2 CDs almost completely gone. Unbelievable as it may sound, there is exactly one power/folk metal song on the CD. Sure, violin player Elyghen is still a notable presence throughout, but it takes more than a stringed instrument trilling away constantly in the background to make folk metal.
Right from the get-go, the opening title track gives a taste of what is to come, with the very polished, modern production and chugging guitars a clear indicator of what the rest of the CD will sound like. But it is only with the 2nd and 3rd songs that things really start to nosedive. Replete with vocals that run the full gambit (nasal whine, tough-guy growl and 'creepy' whisper), chugging breakdowns and hellish buzzing keyboards, things simply never recover from this woeful pairing, and in fact somehow conspire to get even worse in places. The seemingly never-ending 8-minute "Romance and wrath" is nothing short of torture, with Damnagoras turning in a shameful, career-worst display as he strangles a duet with a female vocalist. Elyghen's attendance on this song is particularly forced, and by the end, the shrill wails of his violin reduce the song to an ear-numbing cacophony.
Every song is opened with a short rhyme (delivered in a perfect American accent of course), all of which could easily have been culled from the pages of a malcontent teenage goth's diary. "Of hugs and lashes" indeed. Ignoring even how dreadful the lyrics are here, the sheer repetitiveness of having one of these pieces of doggerel sandwiched between every single song is simply devastating.
Credit, unfortunately, has to be given where it is due. That lone folk metal song, "A riddle of stars" is actually a good one, cut from the same cloth as the Elvenking of old. Similarly, the acoustic interlude "Totentanz" would actually be a nice diversion if the high school poetry wasn't extended to last through the entire song. The guitar solos are mostly very good as well, probably the best Elvenking have actually recorded, helped in no small part by the presence of King Diamond axeman Mike Wead as a guest on 2 tracks.
The end result, however, will surely rank as the greatest disappointment of 2007. Whether Elvenking's shift in style is a financially motivated one, or whether they genuinely believe they are pursuing a more worthwhile musical avenue is known only to the members of the band, but in the end it makes no difference. For whatever reason, this once-promising act have decided that mall metal is the stuff for them, and an experienced Italian power metal band should simply know better.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)