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Elvenking’s finest work is gathered on this demo. Regrettably, the second album (I haven’t heard The Winter Wake yet) could not reach the level of this their first attempt. Heathenreel, the album which came after this demo, would have been even better if all these songs were included. Three of the five songs from this demo reappear on Heathenreel, and “White Willow” and “To Oak Woods Bestowed” are two of the best tracks on there.
The music of Elvenking is Power/Folk with an extremely happy Euro touch to the Power Metal. That can be annoying, but here in the beginning, Elvenking handled it so well and cut some of the cheese. This first demo is full of elegant and energetic, speedy Power Metal with Folk influences. The folky parts are inspired by Central/South European folk music. The song is really high-pitched, as usual with European Power Metal bands, and the singing is perhaps not the strength of Elvenking (the lyrics are a bit hard to understand too, mostly because of an ambition to write more advanced lyrics than their English knowledge can handle) but the occasional growls really contribute to the songs and provide nice breaks from the usual song.
The title track, which is the intro, is a solid intro with a flute and guitars. It fits nicely into the mood which will follow throughout the demo. This will not be a song by song review, so I’ll just say that the rest of the album is full of tempo changes, half-cheesy fanfare-like riffs and folky parts. The choruses are pretty catchy, but the best are often found in the verses. “White Willow” and “Banquet of Bards” are catchy as hell and the best songs on this demo, while “Oakenshield” (which does not seem to have anything to do with Tolkien) is only decent and “Under the Tree of U’sdum” is a pretty nice closer.
If the three songs “Pagan Purity”, “The Regality Dance” and “The Dweller of Rhymes” from Heathenreel together with these songs would have made up the first album, it would have been absolutely awesome, but now it does not quite reach that level.
To Oak Woods Bestowed is basically a shorter version of Heathenreel with worse production. Now, before I continue, it is necessary to explain why I scored this higher than Heathenreel. It is because there is a song on here called Banquet Of Bards, which was not on Heathenreel (go figure). This song happens to kick ass. It boosts this demo's score considerably, because it is probably one of the best folk/power metal songs ever, yet it was forced to dwell in a quagmire of obscurity. Elvenking sure knows how to fuck up when they get a good thing going.
I'll get the bad out of the way first. White Willow and Oakenshield blew cock when they were on Heathenreel. Here, not only do they blow cock, but they blow cock in a poorly-produced, minimalistic manner. We've heard all of this before. I don't know what in the hell a Tree of U'sdum is, or why abyone would be under it, but I wouldn't if I had to listen to that piece of crap while I was under it. These are the songs that aren't worth the plastic they're printed on.
The good? Banquet Of Bards. Holy shit. This song has good riffs! That opening - wow, that is some quality stuff. Then the vocalist comes and and actually DOESN'T SUCK, and it continues for a while. Then the solos come in and move the song into a different direction! This is how this stuff is DONE, folks. I just can't understand why this thing wasn't on Heathenreel, because it completely blows everything else Elvenking has ever done out of the water. Oh, and To Oak Woods Bestowed is a cool intro as well.
Oh man. Elvenking doesn't totally blow after all! Well, about half of this does, but the two songs I mentioned totally make this worthy of finding on Soulseek or Direct Connect.
Now if they would only follow To Oak Woods Bestowed's lead and make a quality album...
I don't often review demos, because they're usually early material (before a band is comfortable with its sound), and the good stuff usually gets transferred into the album. I wouldn't have reviewed this one, either . . . except that the coolest song on here did not make the cut into the full-length release, Heathenreel. Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe all that tree-worshipping addled their brains or something.
Regardless of Elvenking's current mental state, none can deny the excellent Power/Folk Metal sound of To Oak Woods Bestowed. This is some great Elvenking right here, with all of the great riffs, high-intensity (but universally clean) vocals and folksy atmosphere that has made Elvenking the unique and successful band that it is. What you won't find on here is the filler that was written to flesh out the track list for Heathenreel; nothing but solid Power/Folk on this album.
To Oak Woods Bestowed is an introduction that was transferred to Heathenreel, and for good reason; it is damn cool. Here is a pure sound of the ancient paganites; the sound is very Druidic and nostalgic of the simpler days when everybody worshipped Nature, went dancing with dryads, studied the skies with centaurs, sacrificed virgins to their pagan gods on stone altars, and just the general joys of ancient Celtic life. Featured instuments are a Celtic flute, a violin, a tombourine, an acoustic guitar and someting that sounds suspiciously like a bodhran (a type of hand-held drum commonly used in Irish music), although that may just be the bass drum of the drumset. Whatever it is, it adds a nice touch to the beautiful little introduction of the album.
White Willow and Oakenshield also made it to Heathenreel, and with good reason. These are both excellent, folksy tracks that alternate between a pleasant, unassuming single-string lullaby-type playing and a thrashy, riff-filled display of guitar prowess from the excellent guitarists of Elvenking.
Two of the songs didn't make it into Heathenreel, much to my chagrin. Under the Tree of Us'Dum has a huge variety of melodies, riffs and rhythms--enough to keep you on your toes throughout the entire song, because you won't be able to predict what happens next. Finally, Banquet of Bards, the brightest jewel in Elvenking's crown, is not included among the songs of Heathenreel. This is a tragedy. Banquet of Bards is, to be frank, an ass-kicker of the first degree. When the first seven notes of the song already kick your ass, you know you're in for a wild ride (the opening arpeggio of the song is amazing--it's some sort of weird broken D chord that absolutely kicks ass and takes the listener's name upon initial contact). The vocalist comes in with some fast singin, and while you may not be entirely sure what he's singing about, whatever it is must kick ass, because hey, the vocalist kicks ass. The guitar solos go in a completely different direction from the song, with and entirely different feeling and entirely new riffs. But you know what? That kick ass, too.
While you may have a hard time finding this rare demo, it's definitely worth purchasing if you manage to get your grubby paws on a copy, because it is definitively Elvenking . . . much more so than Heathenreel. This is good shit. It takes Folk Metal to a whole new level, and it represents the sound of a band that has inspired many similar-sounding bands to form and attempt to learn what Elvenking has already mastered--the art of kicking ass and being fruity at the same time. It's more useful than Calculus, at least.