Review

ELVENKING The Pagan Manifesto

Album · 2014 · Folk Metal
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4.5/5 ·
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The Pagan Manifesto (2014) is the eighth full-length album by Italian folk/power metal act Elvenking. It's the first album for some time that has feature the same line-up as the previous one, Era (2012) and features some guest vocals by Amanda Somerville (Trillium, Aina et al) and growls by former Elvenking member Jarpen.

I count Elvenking among my favourite bands, but despite that I've always felt that they were an act whose career has had its ups and downs, starting with a couple of really strong folk-power metal albums, namely Heathenreel (2001) and Wyrd (2004), the former of which has remained a special release to me to this day, being the first folk metal album I ever owned. I've also always considered it to be their best work despite their music becoming more professional sounding in the years that have followed. In fact I think that with each of the next three Elvenking albums the band put out releases of a declining quality. Wyrd to my ears was excellent, but as the only album in the band's catalogue without usual frontman Damna it can certainly be considered the odd one out. He came back for The Winter Wake (2006), but although that album was catchy and had many great songs, it never moved me the same way as Heathenreel did. The band then hit their all time low with The Scythe (2007), an album that it has taken me many years to find an appreciation for, although I do enjoy it much more now than I used to. The Scythe was the album where Elvenking toned down their folk elements a bit, bringing their music closer to pure power metal.

It was this point in their career that Elvenking did a shocker, ditching metal and producing the mostly acoustic folk album Two Tragedy Poets (...and a Caravan of Weird Figures) (2008). The fact that they made such an album wasn't the shocking thing in itself, although the timing was surprising considering the sound of The Scythe, but the energy the album had was. It was the closest thing the band had come to replicating the magic of Heathenreel and considering at the time I really did not enjoy The Scythe I actually wanted Elvenking to keep playing the style heard on Two Tragedy Poets, which quickly asserted itself as my second favourite by the group. That was not to be, as they returned to playing power metal on Red Silent Tides (2010), and again lessened their folk elements compared to their first three albums. Red Silent Tides did however break some new ground for Elvenking, as it had both traditional metal and hard rock leanings. It was also a solid album in my mind, but quite the major step down again after Two Tragedy Poets.

It was Era, their most recent album prior to the release of The Pagan Manifesto, that became their first release since The Winter Wake that could be called a folk metal album, but the power metal elements felt more restrained on it, making it a very different sounding release to the early work, although I ended up considering it their third best album after Heathenreel and Two Tragedy Poets. A trend had emerged by this point; Elvenking's unfortunate habit of alternating between a lesser album and an excellent one. With The Pagan Manifesto it is again the turn of the lesser album.

Only this is not only the album where Elvenking have bucked that trend, but also the first time that they've matched that special energy that Heathenreel had in a metal context. The power metal elements are again focussed and are actually quite aggressive at times. In fact this album is the most focussed power metal sounding album they've released since The Scythe. Unlike The Scythe and Red Silent Tides they haven't lessened their folk elements though. The sound is direct and powerful. Calling it a back to the roots release wouldn't be wrong. There are differences, there are less growls used on The Pagan Manifesto than on the early albums, although because they are performed by Jarpen it certainly adds to the Heathenreel/Wyrd throwbacks. There are also traces of more recent Elvenking, as the symphonic elements that were also heard on Era make a return, especially in the final song Witches Gather which is like a perfect cross between Heathenreel and Era style Elvenking.

Era was the best metal album that Elvenking had released since their debut at the time, but The Pagan Manifesto easily usurps it. The real difference that sets this album above that one is how much more commanding it sounds. As a fan of the band since the time that The Winter Wake was their current album, my jaw is literally on the floor at how strong The Pagan Manifesto is. Heathenreel will always be a special album to me on a personal level, but sitting back and being objective it's pretty clear to me that Elvenking as an act have come a long way since 2001, maturing as songwriters and producing their most accomplished work to date in The Pagan Manifesto. It's taken them a long time and many line-up changes to do this (Damna and guitarist Aydan are the only original members at this point), but it's most certainly proved worth the wait.

An early highlight of The Pagan Manifesto is the most surprising track on the album, King of the Elves, which is the longest Elvenking track to date at almost thirteen minutes. Most artists tend to stick epic length tracks like this at the very end of an album, as Elvenking themselves did with their previous record holder from Wyrd, A Poem for the Firmament, but this time Elvenking have made the unusual choice to put it second, after a short intro, The Manifesto. It may just be the best song the band has ever done, featuring great folk melodies (including a throwback to White Willow, a song from Heathenreel), those quite aggressive power metal riffs, guest female vocals by Somerville, a symphonic section and more. It's a real statement about the direction of the album and nothing else is really needed to hook the listener in and placing it second is surprisingly effective.

After the epic is over The Pagan Manifesto is an album that keeps on delivering the goods with catchy power metal dominate tracks like the directly following lead single Elvenlegions, less power metal based stuff like Pagan Revolution and a fully folk song in the form of Towards the Shores. As a long-time follower of the band I can say with a certainly that the album embodies all the best sounds of the band's career and also that we're dealing with top quality Elvenking work here. There's absolutely no reason for a 5 star rating is not deserved for this one.

98/100

(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/elvenking-the-pagan-manifesto-t3515.html)
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