Red Silent Tides
4/1/2011 - Review by: Ravana
"Red Silent Tides" marks Italian folk/power metallers Elvenking's sixth studio full-length since their debut "Heathenreel" was released in 2001. They are perhaps rare in that all of their releases all differ from one another immensely. While these records surely possess qualities pointing towards an over-arching Elvenking "sound" (such as singer Damnagoras' unique voice and the extensive use of the violin), each has its own feel that marks a shift from what the band had done previously.
When "Heathenreel" was released, critics were quick to make comparisons to Skyclad, but Elvenking's debut was far more melody-driven and upbeat sounding than anything Skyclad ever released with Martin Walkyier on vocals. "Wyrd" (the only EK album not to feature Damnagoras on vocals) sounded more like a speed-driven power metal album with violins, acoustic interludes, and female vocals supplementing searing guitar-driven melodies and some of the best soloing the folk metal genre has ever seen. "The Winter Wake," EK's first album following Damna's return and co-founding guitarist Jarpen's departure, was more of a throwback to "Heathenreel," but with a muddier guitar sound and more of an emphasis on complex rhythm guitar riffing as opposed to lead melodies. "The Scythe" was perhaps Elvenking's most ambitious undertaking, as here they went in a completely new direction, blending Swedish melodic death and perhaps even a touch of black metal influence with their traditional folk/power sound, unleashing a record that took many aback at first. Damna's frequent use of harsh vocals, coupled with some quick transitions from very soft to very heavy sections within songs, makes "The Scythe" not only unique as an Elvenking album but also as a modern multi-genre metal record. As "The Scythe" left behind much of the folksy, melodic sounds of the previous albums, "Two Tragedy Poets (...and a Caravan of Weird Figures)" was intentionally produced as a mostly acoustic, folk/pop album. Although it sounds almost nothing like "The Scythe," Elvenking in fact returned to their roots here, harkening back to some of the epic choruses and infectiously catchy riffs of "Heathenreel."
And now, "Red Silent Tides," Elvenking's latest album that once again seems to come out of nowhere yet simultaneously exudes the vibe of a logical, natural progression for the band. The poppy, catchy melodies of "Two Tragedy Poets" are echoed to a certain extent, but the overlay of full-on electric guitar work and more prominent violin leads give "Tides" its own unique identity. In moving away from the extreme metal elements that spiced up "The Scythe," EK have incorporated a bit of an 80's glam/metal feel, which doesn't work with every song, but makes things more interesting nonetheless.
As with most of Elvenking's previous work, the majority of the tracks on "Tides" are awesome from start to finish. "Dawnmelting" kicks things off, with the memorable intro riff setting a furious tempo and then leading into a signature Elvenking melody with folk-inspired roots. Another huge plus here comes in the form of the voice-over work; Elvenking have moved away from the individual reading poetry in between tracks on "The Scythe" to someone without a conspicuous American accent and poor speaking voice. "Dawnmelting's" chorus works well on multiple levels, as it manages to remain catchy while avoiding boring riff repetition. "Runereader," another major standout, features a beautiful acoustic introduction that explodes into an eerie-sounding verse (thanks to the chords violinist Lethien is playing). Perhaps the most complete song on the album, "Runereader" also boasts an amazing transition from acoustic interlude to heavy rhythm guitar onslaught in its middle; Elvenking come as close as they do on this album to playing a "breakdown" here, and it works. Its only challenger for best song on the album would be "Your Heroes Are Dead," a song for which Elvenking put out a really entertaining, partially animated music video (if you haven't seen it yet, get your ass on YouTube!). The intro riff for this song is the best Elvenking have written in a while, perhaps since their "Wyrd" album. And, during the song's second half, newcomer Rafahel shows off his chops with a blistering guitar solo, proving indeed that he has what it takes to replace former guitarist Jarpen, who departed approximately six years ago. Elvenking took their time before they announced him as an official band member, and the decision seems to have paid off.
With the good there is inevitably some bad, and "Red Silent Tides" is not without its small moments that will make listeners cringe. One irritating aspect of "The Scythe" was that when Elvenking got more adventurous with their songwriting on tracks such as "Romance and Wrath," some sections and riffs that sound good on their own clashed with one another and resulted in some bumpy transitions. "Tides" has seen a great deal of improvement on that front, but some issues still persist. On softer songs, like "The Last Hour" and "Possession," a certain element of cheesiness creeps in… some might argue that this has always been an aspect of Elvenking's music, but they take it to new heights at times on "Tides." For example, during the lead-in to "Possession," (I have no idea what the technical term for this is) a sparkling/shooting star sort of sound sample ushers in the song, the sort of thing that belongs in crappy pop music and god-awful glam rock ballads. Furthermore, Elvenking once again picked the album's weakest, most repetitive track to release in music video form ahead of the album. Off of "The Scythe" this was "The Dividing Heart," and on "Tides" it's "The Cabal." Unfortunately, there is almost nothing positive that can be said about this track; it gives you the feeling that things are about to explode from the song's mostly quieter, slower parts into something fast and heavy, but this never really happens. It's also the only time on the album where Elvenking have some awkward transitions, and it's the only song that listeners should perhaps consider skipping whilst spinning this disc.
Throughout all of its (predominant) ups and (occasional) downs, one constant on "Red Silent Tides" is Damnagoras' voice. Although he has never put forward a bad performance, at times on "The Scythe" he experimented, pushing himself past his comfort zone, with mixed results. The vocal melodies and patters on "Two Tragedy Poets" were much more within the sphere of what Damna does best, and he shone on that album. With "Tides," that performance has carried over, with Damna quite literally singing his heart out on every track. At times, like during "This Nightmare Will Never End," the instruments are quiet and his voice takes the lead, carrying the song's melody with strength and emotion. When the guitars and drums kick in later in the song he does not falter, but rather continues to lead the way for the instruments, which seem to follow his lead. It definitely helps Elvenking to have a singer who writes a good deal of the music (as opposed to someone who lays vocal melodies and patterns over completed music) as he can envision every aspect of how his vocals will sound in a song as it is being composed. Even though his "image" or "look" has shifted from something metal-oriented to a sort of emo/rock/80's hybrid sort of thing, nothing about his amazing voice has changed. Additionally, major credit to this guy for not being afraid to dress in a way that he feels is right for him and his band, instead of going with the metal mainstream. This sort of thing will not make everyone happy, and it often takes guts to really "be yourself" in the metal world.
Although it may take some getting used to, "Red Silent Tides" is, for the most part, a spectacular album. The rough patches are few and far between, and if you're able to forget about those you are left with eight or nine really powerful tracks (out of eleven) that in a way epitomize everything that Elvenking is all about. In some small way everything EK has done in the past makes an appearance here, and they take more risks and accomplish more musically than they ever have. Given their track record, I can only imagine the surprises they have in store for us down the road!
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