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Elven Tales - A Journey Through Middle Earth - 95%

moreoffirethanblood, April 18th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2018, Cassette, Fólkvangr Records (Limited edition)

“Dwarrowdelf is a one-man studio project from Southampton, UK, walking the utterly untrodden path of Tolkien-based epic black metal.“

Clearly written with a wry sideways smile, the self awareness in that promotional blurb is refreshing. This has all been done before, yes; but Dwarrowdelf‘s debut album ‘The Sons of Fëanor’ proves itself more than a mere emulation or adherence to a proven formula. No, this is this individual’s own personal take on the saturated sub-genre, and you can tell he loves what he does.

Don’t let that little self-deprecating jibe mislead you about the album either. There are no jokes or jolly jaunts found here, this is some serious Tolkien worship and a massive slab of truly superb epic black metal that constantly surprised me throughout every twist and turn of its hour-long journey. Main man Tom O’Dell stated in a previous interview that Michał at Wolfspell Records offered a deal within hours of receiving the record; the only reason I can imagine as to why it took even that long for him to respond is that after hearing the album once, he had to play it through again to believe what his ears were telling him. And then again after that.

Whereas his previous EP ‘Of Darkened Halls’ was moreso centred around the Dwarves of Tolkien’s work, here the focus is squarely on the Elves of ‘The Silmarillion’. Seven songs; seven tales to tell the story of the seven Sons of King Fëanor and their oath to recover his jewels (the ‘Silmarils’). It admittedly has been a long time since I’ve read the source material but it’s clear Mr. O’Dell knows the lore and tells it well with not only a great lyrical interpretation but musically too, being quite adept at composing the perfect emotional sonic accompaniment to each chapter of the Elves’ tragic saga. The darkness in opening chapter ‘Amrod’ is delicate and exquisite, while stirring teaser track ‘Caranthir’ is utterly enthralling and the sorrowful solemnity throughout the subterranean ‘Curufin’ draws you in and contains just the right amount of mystery and wonder. Special mention for the keys in this too, they’re particularly well done and are utilised to enchanting effect.

The vocal performance is solid but in my opinion his cleans are the surprise, restrained and the perfect tone for the material. Guitars are great; this man can riff, and he certainly knows his way around a tune as the songwriting skill on display here is fantastic (check out the killer ‘Amras’ for proof of both of those points).

The only very minor qualm I have with this release is unfortunately and often unavoidably a common one for one-man projects: the programmed drum sound. It isn’t bad by any means; I just kinda hope he somehow gets to work with a live drummer one day as his epic compositions deserve much more of a human, earthy feel than the sterility of programmed drums can provide. As it is, it serves only a mild distraction at times and doesn’t overly detract from the listening experience.

Grand in scope and executed to near perfection, Dwarrowdelf has added its unique voice to the throng of epic black metal artists and it’s a voice that rings strong and clear, rising above the multitudes. If you’re at all a fan of folky, epic black metal you’d be doing yourself an injury to not pick this up.