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Adrift on a Crimson Sea - 73%

hardalbumreview, December 2nd, 2019

Well risen from their grave and way past their mid-and-late-2000’s nadir, the Italian power folk metal sextet is back with what seems to be the first in a series of several concept albums to come. Reader of the Runes – Divination is intended to follow its two preceding albums, Pagan Manifesto (2014) and Secrets of the Magick Grimoire (2017) which were able to redeem the band’s tarnished reputation; but is it the next step on the road to grandeur or is it just an album to announce they are still there and working?

It is NOT top-notch power folk metal, that is for certain. It seems to be an ambitious aspiration for the band to prove themselves, ten albums into their career, as a staple name within the genre. And that is estimable. However, ambition alone will not get you far. It takes greatness of soul and an insightful vision coupled with tremendous skill and courageous determination to propel one to the top and keep them there. This is what Elvenking’s contemporary power-metallers, Sabaton, have had and year after year, and album after album, they garner praise and extend their fandom. Reader of the Runes – Divination only hints at, and at times reveals instances of, the prodigious notion the band have had in mind.

The album kicks off with a short folk intro and leads to one of the highlights of the album with a catchy riff and a fast-paced, symphonic force that lifts the audience and establishes the band’s work as substantial and intriguing. Then you can skip the title track and its violin-driven and excessively folksy tune as well as that of Silverseal and get right to The Misfortune of Virtue, the second noteworthy track on this album. This is where the piano sits best within the fabric of metal on this album; this is also the song on which tempo shifts strengthen the impact of the album and a robust chorus pushes it even further forward, not to mention the acoustic intro and the acoustic passage which worked well on this song. First part comes to an end then with Eternal Eleanor, one of the pitfalls of the album.

Right after the mid-album transitional break, Diamonds in the Night, comes Under the Sign of a Black Star. It is yet another lackluster song and even its heavy, headbangable ending riff hasn’t had enough exertion to salvage the song. The third and sadly last highlight of the album, Malefica Doctrine, is up next. It opens in the same vein as symphonic black(ened death) metal acts, and it transforms to an oriental metal piece, similar to those of Orphaned Land. This track has Elvenking’s guitar-work at its peak and in particular the solos are surly a feat. Sic Semper Tyrannis and Warden of the Bane follow with some fiddle solo and bass guitar breaks. The curtain closes with the nearly 11-minute-long Reader of the Runes - Book I which paraphrases the whole album in one song. This closer is the album in a nutshell, fascinating and catchy on the surface, likeable in parts and with a few nuances of musical proficiency, yet failing to leave a lasting impression on the listener.

Had it not been for the overuse of the words “runes” and “pagan,” which are exhausted throughout the album, the lyrics would have been even more inspiring as the band’s intention to create a narrative with which ancient tales are told and mythic threads of fantasy are woven is commendable but left unaccomplished. They have proven to be capable story-tellers but restrained by the yoke of music and unable to reconcile these two driving forces; and the result is a well-intended but average-looking lyrics. The artwork on the other hand, is top-drawer. It evidently communicates the album’s message; it actually translates the title visually and is particularly nuanced and thorough.

My problem with this band, on the next level, is an existential one. They look overwhelmingly badass, sound sort of generic and act pop, especially their vocalist Davide "Damna" Moras; take the music video of Silverseal as an example of said claim. It is, nonetheless, no wonder for a band whose influences are named to be Lady Gaga, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Simple Plan (please accept my apologies for taking this piece from their Wikipedia page), and surely to them being merely pop-y and dance-y wouldn’t be an insult. Maybe, just maybe, this is what they subconsciously aimed at.

Having its artwork and lyricism on a higher level than its music can be an ill-omen for any music album and the band alike; so is having your image more formidable than your sound. Such omens are certainly applicable to this album and this band. Reader of the Runes - Divination falls somewhere in the middle of this commonplace band’s discography. They have had better and they have had worse. Since it is the first in a sequence, it just leaves us hoping the next one would give a facelift to the band’s image and reputation. I for one, don’t expect much from these guys. May time prove me wrong.

Highlights: Heathen Divine - Malefica Doctrine - The Misfortune of Virtue

Rating:
Lyrics: 8.0
Artwork: 8.5
Musicianship: 7.0
Vocals: 6.0
Overall: 7.3

Originally published at Noobheavy.com