"some music was meant to stay underground..."

Elvenking - "Era" (CD)

Elvenking - "Era" CD cover image

"Era" track listing:

1. The Loser (4:58)
2. I Am the Monster (5:11)
3. Midnight Skies, Winter Sighs (4:33)
4. A Song for the People (1:45)
5. We, Animals (4:47)
6. Through Wolf's Eyes (3:18)
7. Walking Dead (3:44)
8. Forget-me-not (5:39)
9. Poor Little Baroness (5:18)
10. The Time of Your Life (4:19)
11. Chronicle of a Frozen Era (6:40)
12. Ophale (2:46)

Reviewed by on October 15, 2012

"With 'Era,' Elvenking continues to redefine folk metal as we once knew it. Where Subway to Sally and In Extremo branded a 'modern folk sound,' Elvenking decided to 'folkify' good old rock ‘n’ roll."

For years, Elvenking seemed doomed to be forever labeled a Skyclad clone. The first three albums “Heathenreel,” “Wyrd,” and “The Winter Wake” were all phenomenal, and Elvenking would seemingly ascend to the vacant throne in the wake of Skyclad, which has been on the fritz since the departure of co-founder Martin Walkyier. However, in 2007, a sudden change erupted in the sound with the release of “The Scythe.” This change drew as much praise as it was doused in utter hatred. The band threw another curve with “Two Tragedy Poets,” but it was “folkishly safe.” The modernization of Elvenking’s sound really hit its stride in 2010 with the release of “Red Silent Tides.” It was not a moment too soon, as it seemed nearly every week a new blackened folk/viking metal band popped up from everywhere on the planet...all trying to make a mark in a sea of fiddles. With “Era,” Elvenking continues to redefine folk metal as we once knew it. Where Subway to Sally and In Extremo branded a “modern folk sound,” Elvenking decided to “folkify” good old rock ‘n’ roll.

“Era” takes modern rock, folks it up, and adds a power drive. With this blend of commercial rock, power metal, progressive, and folk the band emerged smelling fresh and new and surely the hardcore fans of its early days will be screaming “emo.” The centerpiece of all great folk metal has always been the violin/flute, but as ever present as it is within “Era,” it is almost “second fiddle.” This isn’t to say that Lethien isn’t still the band’s anchor to nature (see “A Song for the People” and the Skyclad opening of “The Time of Your Life”), but “Era” continues to add even more styles to what is now a genre-defying metal band. The end result is a new excitement and a new attitude, which takes the listener on a thrill ride of twists, turns, surprises and also some familiar voices. Despite its occasional speedy driving riffs, I still find it ridiculous that some continue to refer to Elvenking as “folk/power metal,” a description that may have applied six years ago.

It’s hard to describe everything that happens on “Era,” but I can sum it up in a word: glorious. Take a song like “Walking Dead” and it seems like controlled chaos, as if bits of a hundred genres of music were glued onto a piece of crumpled notebook paper like a ransom note of letters clipped from newspaper headlines. Yet through the chaos there is a brilliant melody that ties it all together. “Midnight Skies, Winter Sighs” takes a bunch of competing melodies during the verses, which converge for a gorgeous chorus before then cascading down into a Type B Iced Earth riff at 2:50. Where Elvenking was once predictably folk, the band is now wrought with unpredictable excitement.

It should be noted that with each successive album, vocalist Damna sounds more and more like a less gruff Jeff Keith. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear Tesla went out, hired a violinist and created an album called “The Great Folk Controversy.” Just listen to the second verse and chorus of “We, Animals” or “Poor Little Baroness” to understand my analogy. Of course, he varies his vocals over the course of the album, but the resemblance is a bit uncanny.

Guest stars on the album include the man who should be a required guest on every album, the “Mountain King” Jon Oliva, who lends his distinctive pipes to “I Am the Monster” and “Forget-Me-Not,” the latter a beautiful power ballad reminiscent of some of Savatage’s finest. His mere appearance makes every song so much cooler. In addition, Netta Dahlberg of Amorphis fame also sings on “Forget-Me-Not” in a “truet” with Oliva and Damna, as well as the most folksy song of the bunch “A Song for the People.” Her voice is earthy and lovely and fits perfectly in the folk atmosphere. Wintersun guitarist Teemu Mantysaari lends a solo on “Walking Dead” and the mighty bagpipes and whistles on the album come courtesy of Folkstone’s Maurizio Cardullo, who’s contribution is immense in “Through Wolf’s Eyes.”

It is a new “Era” for folk metal and Elvenking has spawned off on another branch in the ever evolving genre tree. The album is the band’s defining moment. Years from now, people will recognize this as the next plateau for all folk metal bands to achieve. I welcome this era with an open ear, an open heart, and an open mind.

Highs: A defining moment for folk metal. A genre-defying slab of "folk 'n' roll."

Lows: The continuation of change from the bands original sound will disappoint hardcore fans.

Bottom line: Elvenking trail-blazes its own "era," redefining folk as we once knew it.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)