Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Elvenking - Era (2012)

It's a plain and simple fact of life; even the mightiest will fall. Italy's Elvenking had been riding the wave of pure greatness for thirteen wonderful years. But in 2010, with the release of their six studio album, titled "Red Silent Tides," it seemed as if their time had come to an end. The band had fallen into arena rock stereotypes on that disc, with a certain writer comparing it to Bon Jovi. That writer, the same one sitting at the helm of the keys now, thought it may all be over. Some two years later, a new album is waiting. There have been changes in the Elvenking world, both in members and in determination. With the release of "Era," the Gods of folk infused power metal give any and all of their detractors a piece of humble pie that tastes so damn good.

The first single from the album, "The Loser," leads off with a thunder of percussion and wailing guitars. In the first few seconds, you are treated to so many things that were lacking on the last effort. The guitar lines become tangled together with the violins, twisting and turning up and down. Not to be lost in the mix, the bass line is tremendous. Vocalist Damnagoras has found his voice again, filling the room with his booming sound. Blistering drums are aplenty, pounding away at your skull with speed and precision. All of the folk melodies of old are back, condensed into one monster wall of sound, complete with hair raising guitar solo. Without skipping a beat, "I Am The Monster" fades in with a light piano melody. There is an extra bounce in their step here, one that separates their sound from any other. There is even an added focus on lyrical quality to be had, delivered alone or in gang style. The backbone of the signature sound, the violin, is in full force, leading the band on a series of tempo and tone changes. Just when you think the ballad bug has sunk is teeth into you on "Midnight Skies, Winter Sighs," a booming assertion of percussion rescues you. There are far more harmonizing vocals here than before, giving an added depth to every verse and chorus. Even when the classic arena rock sound starts to creep in, it is fought off by the sheer density of the guitar work.

If ever there was a interlude that could be used a icon for Elvenking, "A Song For The People" would fit the bill. Clocking in under two minutes, this folk inspired short is enchanting, with a simple blend of strings, flutes and drums, all topped with a combination of male and female voices. Contrasting well, "We, Animals" adds a synth melody that is sure to launch a thousand blogs. The drumming is once again impressive, with fills and rolls that could fill an album all their own. In their booming kicks and snares, their is a declaration, carried in the repeated lyrics "we are just fucking animals;" a line which is an assertion of humanity, not of bestiality. One of the most solid instrumentals on the album comes in "Through Wolf's Eyes," with all of the pieces coming together in a perfect blend of folk and power metal. There is a wealth of violin work on display, most of which would make Charlie Daniels hug his fiddle with pride. The bridge section is a killer, filled with the sizzle of cymbals and distorted guitars. And while "Walking Dead" may share a name with a hit TV show, the similarities end there. This track is full of life, marching ahead on energy alone, erupting in catchy choruses. It's as if a new band sprouted from the opening riffs here, pummeling you into glorious submission. The breakdown is joyous, sure to bring a smile to the face of any fan young or old.

The female whisper that open "Forget-Me-Not" may have tipped you off that this is, indeed, a ballad. And while tracks like this are a given, there is no rule as to how sappy that have to be. For their part, Elvenking have given this installation a heartfelt nature, rather than a fake emotional investment. The vocals are smooth, alone or together in a delicate harmony. What is interesting is that the two halves are parts of the same whole. The first, a soft, vocal heavy piece, while the latter adds an injection of metal guitar work and assertiveness. The best part of a ballad, however, is what comes after. And even though "Poor Little Baroness" starts with a solemn guitar, it isn't long before it explodes forth. A dizzying array of drums fills the air, demanding your attention. What grows from those base beats is a track that sounds so huge, through production and execution. The violin continues to tie it all together, like the single string on a corset; it forms a bridge between guitar, vocal, bass, and drums. And united, they pour through a bridge that features some of the best guitar work the band have produced. Not to be confused with the Green Day track, "The Time Of Your Life" is the most emotionally haunting song on the album. Through the somber vocals and light instrumental, you are taken into the minds of these musicians, a rare treat. Simplified, a single lyric says it all: "it's like reading a letter, addressed to someone else, saying that everything will be alright."

Clocking in uncharacteristically close to seven minutes, "Chronicle Of A Frozen Era" is a monster of a track with a whole lot going on. Wherever you focus your attention, there is something to open your eyes. The guitar work is not only powerful, but it tangles with and mimics the violin at times, forming a beautiful pair. This all paves the way for a bass line that might as well be a lead. In the high speed chorus, the drums are the rolling thunder that keeps you at attention. A grunting bridge takes an amazingly progressive approach, one that is impressive beyond belief. The weight of the distortion is mind-blowing, forming the bass heavy foundation for a blistering solo and subsequent acoustic portion. Knowing full well that the end is near, you would be mistaken to think the best is behind you. "Ophale" is an instrumental you may never forget. The chills that creep up your arms and down your spine are the best kind, the ones that will form bright memories in years to come. Flutes and acoustic guitars are all you need to induce a tear. And after that beautiful display, who would ever think that the heaviest trackn on the album would follow? The initial blast on "Khanjar" blows you back into your seat, with simultaneous downstrokes on drums and guitars, a dark resonance. What evolves from those first notes is amazing, twisting and turning into a masterpiece of string and drum, without even a trace of vocal. In these last four minutes and change, Elvenking have launched a thousand ships.

On April 7, 2011, my review of the last Elvenking album concluded by saying that their dreams may be "truly drowning in "Red Silent Tides."" After thirteen tracks of in your face, heart pounding, folk inspired power metal, I can proudly say I was so very wrong. Everything that had been missing from that album has not returned. It has been reborn, with all of the energy and dedication of a band ready to prove they are only growing. Not only have they shown that they can still craft an album that is worthy of their moniker, but they may have, in fact, outdone themselves. For a band that is in their fifteenth year of existence, that speaks volumes. The new journey has begun, and "Era" is the perfect album, and title, to start things off.


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