Release DetailsLABEL Candlelight
RELEASED ON 11/6/2007
posted on 3/2008 By:
I hadn't heard Elvenking before, but I had heard that they were a formidable folk metal presence and as a folk metal lover that was enough to sign up for this review. So imagine my surprise when I press play and hear a very polished and modern-sounding power metal album with just occasional folk flourishes. It turns out that this is Elvenking's big departure from their folk past, meaning those of you hankering for folk metal should probably stop reading now. If you've traded your bow for an axe (the shredding kind) then you may not be too disappointed after all, though I doubt these Italian guys will completely win you over with their new sound.
What first strikes me about this album is how aggressive it is. The lead title track opens with all cylinders firing before launching into one of the album's juiciest choruses - a sign of things to come. The heavier moments of "Poison Tears" and "Dominate", could easily sit alongside tracks by melodic death metal bands like Mors Principium Est or Children of Bodom. The former comes to mind because Elvenking shares its heavy-handed use of keyboards; the latter fits like a glove because Alexi Laiho and lead singer Damna both wear eyeliner. But seriously, Elvenking's new sound is very Bodom-esque, especially Ayden's soaring guitar work. The CoB comparison shouldn't be surprising, given the melodeath Finnish band's power-cheese tendencies and Elvenking's power metal roots and newfound love for heavy riffs.
The folk elements that remain in Elvenking's sound - Elyghen plays the violin and keyboards - mesh well with the music, and I'm glad they're there because they help distinguish the band from other contemporary verse-chorus-verse power metal groups. They also do a good job sustaining a healthy amount of melody in an album whose heaviness could have overpowered itself and drowned the verses in guitars, making the choruses stick out like sugary sweet candies in a chicken pot pie. (Also, as I'll discuss later, the worst parts of The Scythe are those that try too hard to appeal to the non-folk, aggressive metal audience). As it is now, though, the listener is in store for a very melodic affair punctuated by moments of brutality. The melodies are, as expected, sufficiently sweet and the choruses over-the-top, and that's just fine. And when the band is in a heavy moment, the riffs usually carry their own.
This review so far paints a pretty picture of The Scythe. But you haven't heard the spoken word passages that pop up between every song. They're terrible, they add nothing, and they're actually quite embarrassing, so that's worth at least one point in the songwriting department. As I mentioned earlier, the album's worst parts are experiments in modern heaviness gone too far. There's no better example than "Infection." After two great tracks, the listener is bound to think that Elvenking has blown their load in the first ten minutes, because the third track employs some stop-start chugging riffs and almost nu-ish angsty vocals contrasting breathy whispers and shouting to ill effect. They break into a forced if catchy chorus (again) prematurely and the song just sounds like a weak attempt to win over an American mallcore audience. The break from 2:43 to 3:24 is probably the worst part of The Scythe even if it is followed by a cool lead.
The problem with The Scythe is that it can't completely pick itself up from this early trip-up. The following track, "Poison Tears" is among the heaviest on the album and its chorus is über-catchy, yet somehow the arrangement makes it nothing more than forgettable. I like the next three tracks ("A Riddle of Stars", "Romance & Wrath", and especially "The Divided Heart") but they aren't that good, so the blemishes of the earlier tracks and the too-long closer "Dominate" (it's 8:57 minutes long and I have no idea why it needs to exceed 4) hold Elvenking back from succeeding in their goal to make this catchy, heavy, folk-tinged power metal album essential listening.
Where The Scythe does deliver is in the chorus department, so if you're looking for some straightforward catchy metal and you don't mind sitting through some down moments that border on the ridiculous (see the spoke word passages, which are so bad they're worth another mention) Elvenking will deliver in spades for you. Plus, you'll get a taste of competent folk metal and even some cool heavy parts. If your bar is raised a little higher (that is, if you're a Blind Guardian fan) this falls short on some levels, but even for power or folk aficionados I bet this will be an enjoyable listen, though definitely not a necessary one.
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