Elvenking – The Pagan Manifesto
Reviewed by Arno Callens
Elvenking is the kind of band that has been through more than one identity crisis. After three albums of frantically attempting to blend power metal with folk elements, it went in the completely opposite direction with an album that was received so horrendously, it was dubbed “powercore”. And we all know that’s the worst label you can get in this genre. After a semi-revival in the form of an acoustic record, they struck gold again with the pop-infused Red Silent Tides, and that’s where things got really good. Follow-up Era expanded the scope a little bit, and now The Pagan Manifesto has arrived to seal the deal once and for all: this is who Elvenking wants to be, and it’s by far the best version of them in their tumultuous career.
Personally I’ve always found Heathenreel and its kin to be rich in ideas, but poor in focus. Red Silent Tides focused on shorter, punchier songs, without losing the rich folk arrangements that have always characterized this band. Era was, as said, a slight step forward, but on The Pagan Manifesto I feel that Elvenking has finally achieved what it set out to do so many years ago: create a coherent, tight, and catchy-as-all-hell mélange of power metal, folk and poppy melodies.
With Red Silent Tides, one could have argued the music had very little to do with power metal. With The Pagan Manifesto and its plethora of crafty riffs, which are not just there for rhythmic support, there can be no doubt about it. The guitars are just as important here as the various other instrumentation, which has grown admirably into the role of lending the songs a richer texture, a signature that sets Elvenking apart from its peers. The joyful folk ditties do not steal focus from the rest of the songs, contrary to many other “folk metal” acts, where everything is in service of drinking and dancing to some hyperkinetic violin tune. With guitars providing the heavy edge, that leaves Damnagoras’ ever-improving vocals to strike a nifty balance between the pop sensibilities of Pellek and a slightly rougher approach, belting out one ear-worming vocal line after another.
Take single “Elvenlegions” as a prime example of the things this album does so well. It grabs your attention instantaneously, sinking one hook after another into your skull, and never lets down. The rest of the album is very much the same, and the Italians only grant one moment of reprieve with the touching ballad “Towards The Shores”. Then “Pagan Revolution” hits, and we’re back in the middle of grandiose, spirited, cheerful power metal once more.
Testament to Elvenking’s growth is the whopping near-thirteen-minute-opener “King Of The Elves”, which would be an alarm bell on any album. No need in this case, since it’s a blastbeat-heightened romp through all that makes Elvenking so great, and all that the band has been trying to accomplish ever since Heathenreel. No wonder “Elvenlegions” makes plenty of references to past works, this one is the crown on all of them. I can’t testify as to how pagan it is (probably a gimmick for sales), but it is a manifesto indeed.
4.25 // 5