Saturday, June 12, 2004

Review: Elvenking - Wyrd (2004)

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Not your typical Italian metal band, Elvenking falls firmly in the Skyclad school of folk metal - folk melodies and instrumentation combined with elements of thrash and power metal. Having formed in 1997, the band's debut release Heathenreel was an excellent contribution to the folk metal genre by paying homage to Skyclad while at the same time remaining fresh and identifiably Elvenking. Martin Walkyier furthered the Skyclad connection by appearing on stage with Elvenking at several European festivals. The continued association with the founding fathers of pagan folk metal raised my hopes for the new album, which I had hoped would carry on where Heathenreel left off. Instead, Wyrd shows increased power metal elements more typically associated with "folksy" power metal bands such as Dark Moor and Falconer. The melodies are still present in abundance, and the band fully incorporates the violin and flute into the mix, but the symphonic and uplifting qualities found in today's Euro metal are just as prevalent. While this is a moderate turn-off for me, those who hunger for well-played, unique power metal will undoubtedly find plenty to salivate over on this album. What irritates me most about Wyrd  is nothing that is found on the album, however, but has to do with how the music has been described in the media. Celtic influences are referred to in nearly every description of the band and their album, but in reality there is little to do with Celtic melodies on Wyrd. Instead, the folk elements are clearly Mediterranean in origin and tend to encompass Renaissance melodies more so than Celtic ones.

Now that I've got my rant out of the way, I'll get on to addressing some of the highlights of the album. Unlike Heathenreel, the songs on Wyrd don't reach me on a level deeper than being simply enjoyable to listen to. The majority of the tracks, while well-played and technically flawless, tend to float past anonymously and generate only a moderate spark of interest. There are exceptions to this, of course, the first of which is "Disappearing Sands". Listed as a bonus track on the limited edition release, this track is perhaps the strongest on the album. Very little about this song has anything to do with folk metal, excepting the occasional violin and guitar interplay. Instead, Elvenking treats the listener to a rapid paced, galloping barrage of addictive riffs punctuated by operatic female vocals during the choruses. Adding to the vocal variety is guitarist Jarpen who, like he did on Heathenreel, drops the occasional deathish growl to lend a sense of brutality to the composition. Jargen's harsh vocals are used sparingly and are buried in the mix, much like on Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life", but even still they provide a noticeable contrast to Kleid's clean power metal style. The biggest change for Elvenking since Heathenreel is the addition of vocalist Kleid, replacing Damnagoras who left the band due to ill health. Kleid is an archetypal power metal singer, maintaining a mid- to upper-range style with an ability to occasionally soar. Damnogoras, on the other hand, had a limited range and a bit more grit to his voice. With the band's musical direction steering more into the power metal genre, Kleid is well-suited to the style.

The song that I feel best exemplifies Elvenking's style of metal is "Moonchariot". Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, the song is a mix of just about all that the band has to offer. Opening with an acoustic Mediterranean melody, the riff is carried over with meaty guitars and Elyghen's violin - all with pounding double-bass from Zender. Heavy bass from Gorlan provides a backdrop for Kleid's enchanted vocals. Jarpen chimes in occasionally with his growls, while the choruses have an anthemic quality. The song switches tempos frequently without flaw and manages to avoid coming across as sounding disjointed. The final track on the album, "A Poem For The Firmament", has essentially the same qualities as "Moonchariot" but is nearly twice as long - resulting in a loss of interest.

While Heathenreel remains Elvenking's best album to date, Wyrd still has enough uniqueness to set it as a solid, if uninspired, album for fans of folk-influenced power metal.

Track Listing
1 The Loser's Ball 1:49
2 Pathfinders 5:22
3 Jigsaw Puzzle 4:17
4 The Silk Dilemma 4:19
5 Disappearing Sands 4:41
6 Moonchariot 6:49
7 The Perpetual Knot 3:03
8 Another Haven 5:06
9 A Fiery Stride 4:59
10 Midnight Circus 5:04
11 A Poem For The Firmament 12:09

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