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Elvenking – Reader of the Runes – Divination (Album Review)

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Where the runes of power metal speak

While most of the early adherents of the folk metal craze were either obsessed with the exploits of Vikings or approaching Celtic lore from the standpoint of historic events, Elvenking stood apart from the pack by coming off as more of a jolly band of bards recounting the fantastical side of things in a festive manner. However, at some point in the mid-2000s, and coinciding with a rather drastic shift in the overall power metal paradigm no less, front man Damnagoras became infatuated with the drab emo nonsense that was burning up the rock charts of the day and steered this formidable power/folk pioneering act straight off a cliff. The road back to former glory proved to be a gradual one as a series of better yet largely average offerings still locked into a more mundane mode of expression followed, until the former glory that had been achieved during the days of Heathenreel and Wyrd arose with the release of 2014’s The Pagan Manifesto.

The subsequent years that have rounded out the 2010s have proven highly advantageous for this Italian adherent to all things Celtic, as a streak that continued in like for with another powerful work of folksy power in 2017’s Secrets Of The Magick Grimoire has been continued with another massive offering this year in Reader Of The Runes – Divination, the first chapter in what may prove to be an involved series. The latter was perhaps destined to match wits with the former given that no changes have been made to the band’s lineup, though the format here has shifted into a slightly more storybook model in line with Heathenreel where brevity is more of a factor where individual songs are concerned and the overarching atmosphere of the whole takes greater precedence. Perhaps the best way to describe how things contrast with the past couple outings is that things have gotten a bit more methodical, culminating in an album that flows a bit more gradually and transitions a bit more seamlessly between songs, though without skipping up on the occasional fit of extravagance.

“Reader Of The Runes – Divination” Album Artwork

Things basically walk a tightrope between the epic splendor often inherent in the power metal style and the more humble melodic trappings of Celtic folk storytelling, though the walker definitely leans a bit more towards the epic side of the coin in a manner not all that dissimilar to earlier offerings out of Ensiferum and Suidakra. Following a dreamy, atmospheric intro turned driving cinematic overture dubbed “Perthro”, the festivities in this grand tale told by music consist largely of driving anthems that could pass for fanfare if it were in a more straightforward sub-genre. Bangers after the heart of Rhapsody Of Fire and Equilibrium such as “Heathen Divine”, “The Misfortune Of Virtue” and “Malefica Doctrine” present an epic largess and kinetic fervor befitting the power metal label, further bolstered by Damna’s lofty tenor voice and a massive barrage of orchestral pomp. This more triumphant air is elongated into a massive 10 minute closer in “Reader Of The Runes – Book I” that is arguably the most ambitious offering that this band has undertaken since “A Poem For The Firmament” off the Wyrd album.

Nevertheless, this band’s signature approach of trotting out mid-paced sing-along numbers that would work well in any tavern, populated by man or mythical creature alike, is on full display throughout its 52 minute duration. It is little surprise that punchy anthems like “Divination” and “Silverseal” were among the promotional material that preceded this album’s release, as they showcase that sort of mainline rocking demeanor that this band carried even through their low mid-2000s period, amped up with a brilliant display of fiddler’s passion out of Lethien, while also making room for some impressive guitar shredding and a few riff happy moments. Even the most straightforward of this album’s singles “Under The Sign Of The Black Star” manages to few thrash-happy riffing moments during its otherwise wholly hook-driven approach, while the equally catchy yet somewhat more technically ambitious “Warden Of The Bane” showcases some of the fanciest lead guitar handiwork ever heard out of this outfit.

Trends may come and go, and Elvenking has not been immune to hopping onto one to the point of losing the implicit identify of their name, but rock solid offerings such as this showcase that if something isn’t broke it behooves one not to try and fix it. This isn’t to say that every band need to go the way of AC/DC and simply trot out the same basic album over and over from one decade to the next, in fact, most metal styles offer a wide array of possibilities for growth even when sticking to one specific sub-genre. No one with any degree of intellectual honesty could compare the 2019 version of this band with their early 2000s beginnings, yet the same basic spirit that molded those more stripped down older classics informs this larger, more forbidding continuation. Those stalwart fans of all things melodic, folksy and riff happy will definitely find cause to raise their tankards in a toast both for what has been accomplished here, and in hope that the following episode(s) of this series either match of surpass it.

Label: AFM Records
Release Date: August 30th, 2019
Genre: Heavy Metal

Band Members: 

  • Damna / Vocals
  • Aydan / Guitars
  • Rafahel / Guitars
  • Jakob / Bass
  • Lancs / Drums
  • Lethien / Violin

“Elvenking – Reader of the Runes – Divination” Track-Listing:

1. Perthro
2. Heathen Divine
3. Divination
4. Silverseal
5. The Misfortune Of Virtue
6. Eternal Eleanor
7. Diamonds In The Night
8. Under The Sign Of A Black Star
9. Malefica Doctrine
10. Sic Semper Tyrannis
11. Warden Of The Bane
12. Reader Of The Runes – Book I

8.8 Excellent

The olden bards of elvish lore weave another series of enchanting tales, continuing the streak of powerful opuses that began with their 2014 return to form, and kicking off a new series for those who crave folksy storms and woodland charms

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5
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