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The Winter Wake; Elvenking's third full-length offering is an exceptional album which features what would become Elvenking's first line-up to hold up for more than one release.
This Italian quintet is in fine form here, with Damnagoras giving a passionate vocal performance, simple-but-catchy rhythm and tasteful melodic leads from Aydan (as well as Elyghen) and very solid drum work from Zender. Not much to be said about the bass, frankly.
Typical of a folk metal band, there are indeed acoustic tracks, two in fact; one being an upbeat, almost bouncy piece featuring Laura de Luca in a duet with Damna ("On the Morning Dew") and the other being a more mid-tempo, yet just as jangly song led by an acoustic guitar and Damna's vocals and reflective lyrics ("Disillusion's Reel"). The latter serves as the album closer, and not only serves the role, but works so well it earns a spot among the highlights. It'll stick in your head for days.
There are some definite gems on this album that no fan of the band should pass up. The title track features Destruction's Schmier and also a guest solo by former band member Jarpen. With an attention-grabbing keyboard intro that explodes into a heavy mid-tempo section, contrasting vocals between Damna and Schmier, an infectious chorus, a violin lead and two great solos, this is one of the best songs in EK's catalogue. "Devil's Carriage" is a blazing track, one of their fastest and more in the vein of power metal than folk. The violin mostly takes a backseat and the drums get a nice workout. There's a little wind/string section in the middle that somehow fits in very well, adding a little sugar to an already spicy track. I also have to point out "The Wanderer", a fast song with uplifting lyrics, clever bridge sections, nice snare/double-kick work complimenting a violin lead and the best chorus of the entire album.
The rating suffers due to a few minor issues. "Rouse Your Dream" has one of the best vocal melodies and a nice intro, but doesn't really take off and thus doesn't stand out for me, losing my interest before the second verse. It reminds me a bit of "Trows Kind", the album opener, but much weaker. "Swallowtail", though a decent track, feels awkward coming into the first chorus... it takes a very long time, with the verse/lead-in lasting a little too long for its own good. Also, no Jarpen (besides the guest solo) means the backing vocals suffer quite a lot. This also means no more contributions in the songwriting obviously, and based on the fine products of his writing on the debut and sophomore efforts, I think he would've helped make this an even stronger album.
All in all, this is a very solid full-length that should have a place in any Elvenking fan's collection. To new listeners of the band, I'd more quickly point them in the direction of Heathenreel, though this isn't a bad place to start whatsoever.
Stand-out tracks: The Wanderer, The Winter Wake, Devil's Carriage, Disillusion's Reel