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A small "m" masterpiece. - 94%

Metal_Grail, October 29th, 2009

ELVENKING call this album an experiment. They’re wrong. It’s actually the exact opposite. It’s a safe album. It is in fact quite possibly the safest album in the history of metal. They had no choice. The album that preceded it was what you would call a real, bona fide, hardcore, no-holds-barred experiment. The response was a collective nervous breakdown by fans. Make no mistake, it wasn’t a very good album – but no band has ever run in the opposite direction so quickly. Is that a bad thing? Yes and no. Let’s start with the yes.

ELVENKING do power folk better than anyone on the planet. WUTHERING HEIGHTS are on the same level, but they’re different in ways that you’ll have to read my reviews to understand. But back to ‘Two Tragedy Poets….’.

It’s an acoustic album that’s not. Let me explain. Normally acoustic means pared down almost to the point of what used to be called “unplugged”. It’d be truer to say this album is restrained. Like I said, it’s safe. So much so that the opening march like instrumental is basically a re-imagining of material from right across their career. And track two makes the point even clearer with a title that literally spells out the fact that the old days are back: “Another Awful Hobs Tale”. The result is a racing violin riddled tune that starts catchy and then gets catchier.

I won’t do the track-by-track roll call, but I will spell out why this album works. “From Blood To Stone” is the first instant classic of the album. Quiet and anguished verses set the tone for a muted anthem for a chorus – that on any other album would have been the equivalent of ten thousand fists punching the air. Here it’s just done quick and spirited. Stills works though. And the lyrics alone are a masterpiece in miniature.

But then you get a song like “Ask a Silly Question” – which is an interesting little beast of a song. It’s by vocalist Damnagoras, and he’s not fooling anyone. This is no folk metal song, but it’s given the folk treatment because he needs to put food on the table. And the smartarse lyrics hit the mark beautifully. Next comes “She Lives At Dawn”. It’s half a song that has no right to be so short. Haunting is the only word that works here. Or maybe haunting and poetic.

The acoustic version of “The Winter Wake” was always going to work. The song’s a killer full stop. Here it’s playing the part of anchor smack bang in the middle of the album for fans still recovering from the last album. So too is the Belinda Carlisle cover song that turns up next. It’s a worldwide pop standard. Or safe for short.

But it’s about now, on the home stretch, that the band let’s loose with a burst of powerhouse numbers just begging to get their due. This is what the band was trying to do with the last album, and would have done, if they hadn’t taken so many left turns that they ended up going nowhere. “The Blackest of My Hearts” is ruled by a single repeating drum beat and a single soul stirring melody. It’s also what might be the band’s finest moment. It’s by guitarist Aydan and confirms what I’ve always suspected – that this band is at its best when the songwriting duties stay separate. A small point it may seem, but I’m convinced it’s what contributed to the catastrophe that was the last album. It’s all about chemistry.

So yes, this is another killer album for a band that can claim the same thing for 4 out 5 of their releases. So what are they doing running scared? And are they just getting what they deserve from fans that deserve better. Again – yes and no. The answer is pretty simple really. The fans want to be moved. And the bands wants to keep moving. One without the other is a backward step. Which sad to relate, this album is too.