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My first contact with Elvenking's music was a rather risky attempt. Out of curiosity, I took a listen to their “controversial” effort The Scythe. While their early discography is more power metal oriented, The Scythe showed a interesting fusion of folk, melodeath, power metal, metalcore and even some emocore/alternative influences around. While some people found it a disastrous effort, I was really pleased with the result these italian guys laid out.
The namesake opener begins after a brief spoken intro with some synth effects, and then we're presented to Elvenking new aproach: the guitars and drums are noticiably melodeath/metalcore influenced, yet showing excellent riffage and drumming. I was actually surprised with lead singer Damnagoras vocal work: while many complain of his “out-of-place-emo-whinning-with-occasional-bad-screaming” I was actually pleased by his delivery. While the folk influences more present on earlier works may be noted in a lesser extent, they're still present in then-keyman/ violinist Elyghen's very good violin lines. Another highlights of this song are the great guitar soloing and the melodic, soaring chorus melodies.
Melodies, we got the point: Elvenking focuses a lot on it. The guitar work here its not impressively technical and challenging, yet focuses on melodic chord progressions, creative and memorable riffing, and some really tasteful soloing here and there (listen to the soli on A Riddle of Stars or The Divided Heart). It's a really guitar oriented album, but other instruments have their own moments. There's a lot of electronic synths adding a modern and nice feel (listen to Lost Hill of Memories, Poison Tears or the intro of Dominhate), piano work, as well as some interesting backing atmospheres, such the interesting break on Infection or the spoken word segues between the songs.
The band's rythm session is not something to die for, but does an effective job. The bass doesn't stand too much, as it serves more as a low-end to the guitar sound and it's not much high on the mix, but it has a nice tone actually. The drumming is good, shows decent fills and nice double pedal work, but overall is simple.
The folk side of this record may be noted in a lesser extent, but when they appear, they show nice results. Most of the songs have awesome violin lines (even the weaker tracks have their moments thanks to it) or guitar-violin duets. The brief Totentanz is the most folk-influenced song of the álbum, but a lot of folk interludes can be heard on various tracks. This detail lowered a bit the score, 'cause their earlier albums had more balance between the folk and the metal side.
Damnagoras, as I briefly commented before, is a controversial vocalist, a really fine example of the love-or-hate type of frontman. His aproach of singing please to some, but grows deep hating on others. He may not have an astounding range, or a incredible versatility, but he shows he can sing. It's hard to find a comparision of his voice, but his poppier style can remind the vocalists of the Finnish Gothic Metal/Rock scene, such as Mika Tauriainen from Entwine or even Ville Valo (the end of Romance and Wrath, for instance), but he occasionaly laids out more agressive vocals (Infection, for an example shows a good diversity of his vocals), fryish voices, whispers and even some harsh vocals. While his harshes are not impressively well-done, they are a good ingredient of their music, and as it doesn't appear as much as his cleans. And a interesting feature is that Damna is very often backed by himself or a group of people (nothing Blind Guardian-esque, but sounds nice).
Probably the weakest point of the album is Romance and Wrath. It has a confusing structure and a lot of different things put together that doesn't flow so well. Vocally-wise, it even reminds me (not positively) of Cradle of Filth a bit, as Damna (tries to?) do black metal screams, lot of fry and even female speaking (in that signature Sarah Jezebel Deva-esque delivery). Noteworthy too it's the absolutely awful guest vocal performance of a first-unknown “thing” to me. I was really puzzled about these vocals as I couldn't know if it was a really affeminate male voice or just a really awful female voice. According to the credits I've seen, it's actually a female called Laura de Luca, but her voice is so terrible that i prefer don't going on details.
Highlights? Well, all the songs have their potential, all have really memorable vocal melodies, violin lines, or guitar riffs. The greatest cuts for me are the namesake track The Scythe, Infection, Poison Tears and the final mini-epic, Dominhate. Overall The Scythe is a really underated gem. It's an extremely enjoyable album, full of interesting musical ideas and pleasant results. On the other side a thing that lowered the score a bit was the noticeable “lack” of balance between the folkier and the metal side, as seen on earlier albuns, and in their newest efforts (Red Silent Tides and at least Poor Little Baroness from Era, as I haven't heard other songs from the album yet). But indeed t's a great album, but sadly underrated, and even more sadly constantly bashed for it's different direction. Well I'm not such an ecletic guy as Damnagoras (heck, this guy even listen to Lady Gaga, according to his profile on the band's site), but I really recomend this album to musically-open-minded metalheads, as such it's a really good record, with really good musicianship, interesting vocal work and a really good amalgamation of genres that apparently, wouldn't be soo good if melded together.