REVIEW: ELVENKING – “Secrets of the Magick Grimoire”
Everyone who met me, ever, knows I’m a sucker for power metal. So, growing up to tales of fantasy, magical creatures and worlds and cheesy and epic song choruses, and adding the fact that I also find the folk and pagan sides of metal extremely relevant and interesting, Elvenking – especially the ‘Heathenreel’ and ‘Wyrd’ albums – was a no-brainer for me when I wanted some cool tales of paganism and some violins here and there in my dose of the genre.
The Italians haven’t strayed too far from the sound of their debut over the years, but there was a clear loss of quality along the way, until they completely obliterated the criticism with the wholesome ‘Pagan Manifesto’ three years ago. Following the same formula – and seeming to have achieved a perfect harmony between the classic and the new – the forest-dwellers go strong again with ‘Secrets of the Magick Grimoire’, their 9th album.
Like many of the power/folk acts out there, Elvenking have always used the frivolous atmosphere of the genre to write unpretentious and carefree songs, which can be found here as well. Starting with a bang in “Invoking the Woodland Spirit”, they set the pace right from the first verse of the track, which switches from a folk anthem to fast-paced power hymn during its course.
The first half of the album, for that matter, abuses of that formula really well, with songs like the melodic and catchy “Draugen’s Maelstrom” and the fanfare-like “The Horned Ghost and the Sorcerer” – this last one slower in the verses and bridge but epic in the chorus – holding up to the high quality of the effort.
The melodic vocal lines of frontman and leader Damna suit perfectly with each song, as he’s able to transition from melodic and lower parts to characteristic high-pitched power metal screams with ease. The backing vocals provided by the whole band, especially guitarist Aydan, and the harsh vocal appearances by Nekrokraft and Witchery vocalist Angus Norder complement Damna’s singing perfectly, especially in songs like “A Grain of Truth”. The legendary Snowy Shaw (Denner/Shermann, Notre Dame, ex-Mercyful Fate, ex-King Diamond, ex-Therion) also provides a really cool vocal performance in “At the Court of the Wild Hunt”; these all help with the album’s proposal of being magical and diversified.
As I wrote above, the Italians manage to successfully mix the classic songwriting, full of breakdowns and epic builds, with newer elements – especially in the riffs and drum parts (I suspect that the debuting member Marco Lanciotti, which also currently plays for Hell in the Club and has been a part of DGM for some live shows, has something to do with the latter); this becomes more evident in the second half of the album, as songs like “The Wolves Will Be Howling Your Name” and “Straight Inside Your Winter” are constructed a bit differently.
The writing is what you would expect from an Elvenking album, with lots of fairy tales of spells, dark forests, sabbaths and magic books. Not erudite or genius in any way, but well worthy of picking up the booklet and reading the lyrics. The production is also one of the high points of the effort, with the duo Aydan and Damna taking the producer credits and legendary producer and DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni taking the mixing and mastery roles.
It seems to me that Elvenking have found their path across the dark forests of creativity once again and consolidated the new musical approach started with ‘The Pagan Manifesto’. Embracing the band’s true essence from the heydays and adding some new layers and arrangements to the arsenal, Damna, Aydan and company have once again managed to make melodic power metal and traditional folk music to coexist. ‘Secrets of the Magick Grimoire’ is not as impactful as its predecessor, but it’s definitely an album worth checking out. Highly recommended.