Before I begin with the review, I would like to say a few words. I want to dedicate this review to my good friend Maria Rice who unfortunately passed away earlier this year after taking her own life. She was a huge Elvenking fan and I truly wish she could have heard this album. She would have loved it. I also want to give a shout out and a thank you to the band themselves for making a post in remembrance of her earlier this year on their Facebook page with a cover of “The Cabal” and helped direct people to donate and help her family. She would have been thrilled to see her cover posted by the band. If you can, please check out her album ‘Wandering Songs’ under the name Morrowdim. It is a great folk and dungeon synth album that Elvenking fans would enjoy. If you can purchase it too, that would be great as all of the proceeds go directly to her family. Thank you.
Elvenking has always been a staple in the European folk and power metal scene. They’ve been around for about two decades now and have put out nine albums. Hailing from Italy, the band quickly rose to prominence for their blend of melodic European power metal with folk music from various different European backgrounds. Now in 2019, the band returns with their new and 10th album ‘Reader of the Runes – Divination’. ‘Reader of the Runes – Divination’ is the first chapter to a whole new fantastical story called Reader of the Runes that takes place in a brand new world that the band has created. This concept album is meant to establish the world and the characters you will be following in the next albums or chapters of the story. Is this the bright beginnings of a new epic tale?
The album commences with an intro track called “Perthro” which can be seen as a prelude to the story. The chanting, the warm strings, and the drums really set the mood as you begin to imagine a world of magic and fantasy. Then the album kicks into gear with one of the best tracks off the album, “Heathen Divine”. The song starts off with a nice intimate acoustic guitar intro and kicks into one of the best melodic riffs of the album. This song feels like the beginning of a journey. It’s majestic but humble, and it has a dose of excitement and nostalgia like someone is eager to travel across the land. Damnagoras (Davide Moras) does well here vocally showing off some of his smoothest singing yet. The energy and melodic sensibility of this song heavily reminds me of their compatriots’ Rhapsody. This song is a great way to start of the album as it gets you pumped up and energized for the rest of the album.
“Silverseal” is the second single of this album and unfortunately, it is not the best representation of the album. It is one of the weaker tracks of the album as it doesn’t bring you what the rest of the album offers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad song. The main melody is definitely catchy and the chorus is solid (especially the descending vocal line that concludes the song) but the weak rhythm section and verse vocal lines don’t help show the highlights of the album. The mid-tempo element of the song doesn’t help sell you the album either. There are better choices for a lead single for this album like “Heathen Divine”.
“Eternal Eleanor” is definitely a highlight of this album. Out of all the songs, this one definitely leans the heaviest in the folk metal territory. The song contains some beautiful harp melodies and features some of the album’s best folk-oriented melodic riffs. This song might not be the most uptempo song of the album but it has a great deal of energy that produces a dance-like effect. The violin and rhythmic section, especially the bass, really brings that feeling out as the violin delivers some great melodies while the rhythm guitar and bass give the dance-like steps that set the foundation of the song. This song also shows some of the most intimate singing from Damnagoras as he delivers a dynamic and softer performance which is nice to see.
On ‘Reader of the Runes – Divination’, the band does experiment with some new ideas. On the tracks “Diamonds in the Night”, “Under the Sign of a Black Star”, and “Warden of the Bane”, Elvenking explores some darker sounding territories. “Diamonds in the Night” is an acoustic guitar + vocal piece that has a theatrical aspect to it with how the vocals are delivered. It’s dark, it’s mysterious, and it’s brooding. The song is short but it sounds like a monologue that a character would deliver. “Under the Sign of a Black Star” and “Warden of the Bane” continue that sonic direction and gives a dark yet melodic song that heavily reminds me of modern (Tommy-era) Kamelot. They are both good songs off the album despite lacking a lot of the folk sensibilities Elvenking is known for.
Speaking of experimentation, “Malefica Doctrine” is a great but one hell of a surprise song. Ever wondered what Elvenking would sound like if they mixed some melodic black metal and melodic death metal into their sound? This would be it. The song kicks off with a flurry of drum fills and goes into a distorted tremolo-picked melody which heavily reminds me of the start of “Tapestry Of The Starless Abstract” off of ‘Portal of I’ by Ne Obliviscaris. There are lots of blast beats and usage of harsh vocals on this song which gives the song a much more epic sound. Many of the riffs on this song reminds me of riffs you would find in post-2000 Swedish influenced melodic black and melodic death metal bands. On a side note, Finnish melodic death metal influences can also be found on “Misfortune of Virtue” which reminds me of Insomnium. These melodies are interwoven throughout the song which concludes with a nice chant outro. I would definitely want to see more of this mix of sound in the future.
The two best tracks to summarize this album would be “Sic Semper Tyrannis” and “Reader of the Runes – Book I”. “Sic Semper Tyrannis” has it all. Even though it’s not the most prevalent, the folk instrumentation is best mixed in this song. The song contains some good usage of vocal harmonies and panning, good basslines, and a great too. The chorus of this song is extremely catchy which combined with everything else makes this song to be an excellent representation of what Elvenking is. The final track “Reader of the Runes – Book I” is a 10-minute long behemoth. You can expect everything that you like about Elvenking in this song and then some. The folk instrumentation on here is not overbearing and definitely benefits the track. The harp, acoustic guitar, piano, and violin all get to shine here. The chorus of this song is majestic and triumphant like you are announcing that you have arrived which, along with some other parts of the album, reminds me of Theocracy. The vocals soar, especially when they get layered and harmonized. The guitar solos off this song bring even more epicness. The dark experimentation also come back as well with the harsh vocals, blast beats, and tremolo-picked melodies to return in a well-placed manner.
As for flaws in the album, there are only a few. The biggest one I would say is consistency. ‘Reader of the Runes – Divination’ is not an inconsistent album but it is also not the most consistent album either. The album is a little bottom-heavy, meaning that the best parts of the album are in the second half. The rhythm section can be given more to do when it’s lacking in energy, presence, and purpose, which is most notable on “Silverseal”. The mixing can also be refined a little more on some tracks as the folk instrumentation can get buried in the sound and/or the rhythm section becomes too forward in the mix which is most notable with “Divination”. A few of the tracks in the first half could use some more folk instrumentation to enhance them which would help make the album more balanced but it’s not exactly necessary as sometimes too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.
‘Reader of the Runes – Divination’ is one of Elvenking’s strongest albums to date. The album contains some of the bands vocal, drum, and guitar performances with some of the band’s best folk melodies and choruses. This concept album is definitely a good start to the new world and story the band is creating. As all stories go, the first chapter is usually never the best part of the story, but all good stories need a good beginning, and this album is definitely just that. Elvenking shows a lot of great potential by experimenting with new ideas, on ‘Reader of the Runes – Divination’. To say the album did its job of setting up the lore, excitement, and sound for what is to come is the best compliment this album could have asked for. Elvenking fans should not miss the start of a brand new journey.
Wish you could have heard this album Maria and that you could go along this journey. I hope this new Elvenking album reaches you somehow. I miss you. Rest in Peace. Thank you for reading this review, it means a lot and I greatly appreciate it.