And thus Elvenking it is.
Who are Elvenking? Well, they're a folk/power metal band from Italy. They were formed in 1997 by a couple of friends with a love of metal and folklore. Since then they have gone on to acquire a few other members, and release seven studio albums (I own three) and have become one of the most well-renowned Italian metal bands. They draw influence from Skyclad, but they have slightly less puns (although they do have a song called "Miss Conception" on another album).
This is their second album, and is gorgeous. The cover is beautiful with a lovely Celtic border, in the centre of which a tree person heaves himself from the earth. The art is heavily inked and coloured making it appear straight from a storybook. On the back, a lion-headed trunk sprouts from the ground, whilst around it drift autumnal leaves and an eagle soars. Inside the lyrics are white on black overprinted above the cover images, the shadowing effect designed to make them easier to read.
Mine is the Limited Edition version with two bonus tracks, screensaver and wallpapers. I tried, and failed, to install the screensaver. Oh well. This is one of the many albums that I purchased, added to my collection, listened to once (did not even rip onto my computer playlist) and promptly shelved and forgot about it. I'm not even sure where I got it from, but it's probably another Real Groovy acquisition.
The vocalist for this one is a different one from "Heathenreel", his name is Kleid, and I believe this may well be the only album he makes with the band, before the former vocalist returns to reclaim his post. His vocal style is fairly similar, but a little more diverse. I probably should have reviewed "Heathenreel" first, but I felt this one deserved to be listened to. None of the band use their full names on the album cover.
The enchanting "Loser's Ball" opens the album - with acoustic instruments and clapping hands. A female vocalist adds her melodious voice to Kleid's lower tones.
It is followed up by the rather racier "Pathfinders", with fast paced instruments fading into more folk-orientated rhythms. This is a far more power metal number - excepting for the folk touches.
"Jigsaw Puzzle" is an energetic number. Every so often, Kleid's voice will soar off into melodic swoops and dives, before gliding back down and into the faster paced verses, then shouting as we get into the chorus.
Starting with vioin and electric guitar, "The Silk Dilemma" gives us a nifty folk/power fusion. It is quite reminscent of Skyclad. I've been listening to a fair amount of Skyclad recently (in my car, on cassette tape, therefore not yet for this blog) and I can certainly hear similarities between the two bands. Possibly its because there are very few folk/metal fusion bands. It ends with a bang and a clang.
The next track, "Disappearing Sands" is one of the two limited edition tracks. Unlike most bands, Elvenking have buried their bonus tracks in the album instead of sticking them at the end. A rather upbeat start sends us spinning in to this somewhat more metal number. There are touches of Helloween and Edguy here, culminating in chorused voices. Some of the vocals are quite aggresive and snarled.
"The tears in my eyes were like rain come from the gloomiest cloud."
"Moonchariot" gets off to rather a wild and chaotic start, with energetic acoustic guitar giving way to rather heavier guitar and bass, complete with a low and guttural growl and thrashing death drums. Then, as suddenly as it began, it switches into more wild acoustic guitar intermingled with rather gentle vocals. This dives into heavier again, before soaring forth as very melodic and magnificant chorus. The lyrics are quite spellbinding:
"I built a cradle for the Moon and from her chariot she grants my boon - I'll keep my promises, I'm sure she won't betray me."Another fast paced, folk number is "The Perpetual Knot". Good rhythms, litling reels. Some nice melodies.
This sound continues into "Another Haven", along with what sounds a little like wind chimes. The combination of metal and traditional is deftly woven and beautifully constructed, the violin and other instruments adding an otherworldly, forgotten era edge.
"A Fiery Stride", one of the bonus tracks, starts with ethereal acoustic plucking, whilst over it the violins add their sorrowful voice. With a bang, the (not so acoustic) guitars come crashing in. It has all the melody and power typically found in the power metal genre, with its sing-along choruses and powerful vocals. The solo is solid and tightly structured.
A rather heavier number, "Midnight Circus" comes crashing in with fast guitars and slammin' drums. This is pure power, the folk dismissed in favour of more European traditional metal with solid guitar and the occasional lapse into pure melody. There's a bit of piano added into the mix too. Feels a bit like Edguy-meets-Iron Maiden, with a touch of Helloween.
The final track, "A Poem for the Firmament" is the compulsory epic piece, clocking in at over ten minutes long and divided into sections - Dawn, Day, Twilight, Deep Night. It starts with Dawn, the riping sky heralded by gentle acoustic guitar and strings as the sun's pale fingers split the dark asunder and cast their glow upon the land. The vocals are exquisite and accompanied by flurried guitar. Day breaks with dramatic guitars, before rising into a noon of melody and beauty. There are some moments of trilling speed metal.. As night falls, and twilight darkens the land, the female vocalist returns, her voice litling and melancholic. There are actually three different females singing on this album. The keyboards and guitars race in as darkness seizes the land. After a dramatic few minutes of the churning, wild Deep Night, dawn arrives again, bringing us to a soft and gentle end.
What a song! It is impossible not to feel the energy and vibrancy of this band, combined with the sheer diversity and melody. If you want one song to show how changes in pace, volume, intensity and instrument can effect the structure of the song, this would definitely be a high contender. It is the highlight of the album, and certainly deserves several listenings.
I enjoyed this album - and although some of the songs seemed a little similar to one another, I imagine with repeated listenings they shall develop their own personalities. Elvenking are definitely skilled at what they do and, more to the point - enjoy doing it. You can hear their energy and their enthusiasm in their rhythms. The recording is crystal clear and well mastered. It is not as heavy as the previous album ("Heathenreel").
I shall give it an 8/10.
My other albums are: Heathenreel and Two Tragedy Poets.