Album Title: Reader Of The Runes – Rapture
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 28 April 2023
There’s being late to a party, and then there’s being really late to a party. It’s only taken a quarter of a century and eleven full-length albums, but I have finally dived headlong into the world of Elvenking. And I’m sitting here wondering why I am such a bloody idiot sometimes. Given ample opportunity to take a listen and discover what they actually sound like, I somehow made a decision that the Italians wouldn’t be for me. I have no idea why, except that maybe the combination of their fantasy-styled album covers, and descriptions that included ‘folk’ and ‘pagan’ put me off. I’ve never been the greatest fan of either, so I guess that’s the most likely reason I can currently fathom.
Unfortunately for me, I forgot to read the other bits of their description which included ‘melodic’, ‘death metal’, and ‘power metal’, consigning them to the ‘nah, I don’t think I’ll bother’ pile. Thankfully, nowadays, I’m a little more open-minded (except where the saxophone is concerned!), and flicking through the various promos at my disposal, I finally pressed the ‘play’ symbol against the name Elvenking, and their eleventh full-length studio album, ‘Reader Of The Runes – Rapture’. I now wish it was 2001, and I was taking this action for their debut, ‘Heathenreel’. On the bright side, I have much to catch up on, and I’m excited to do so. But for now, allow me to talk about this latest release, and why it has got me considering a bout of self-flagellation.
For a start, since pressing play, I’ve not listened to a great deal else if truth be told. The sextet that comprises Elvenking clearly know how to play, how to write, and how to warm the cold heart of the most hardened cynic, planting a huge smile on my face in the process. The content of ‘Reader Of The Runes – Rapture’ leans more into the realms of melodic folk/power metal, with only occasional hints at anything heavier or more extreme, but unlike many other bands that delve into the folk realms, Elvenking write melodies, choruses, and entire songs that speak to me, and scratch that certain itch that can’t always be expressed. It’s also an itch that I don’t always know exists either, but when I hear it, I know. And with this album, I know.
And I’m hooked from the first song, too. ‘Rapture’ begins with a dark intro, full of theatrical intrigue, complete with chanted choral vocals, plucked acoustic guitar, and well-placed orchestration. And then, in come some surprisingly heavy guitars courtesy of original member Aydan and newest recruit, HeadMatt. The drums of Symohn offer a couple of flamboyant fills as well, before in comes a vibrant lead guitar line, and a powerful rhythm where bassist Jakob plays an important part in the marching tempo. The chorus is catchy as hell when it emerges, with vocalist Damna out front, delivering a strong, captivating performance. As the song develops, the orchestration builds, and the folk elements come further to the fore. But instead of putting me off, I enjoy them, understanding their place in the overall Elvenking sound. I do like a violin, so the inclusion of full-time violinist Lethien is a masterstroke.
Following the thunderous opener is ‘The Hanging Tree’, a song that’s even more catchy than its predecessor. It sets off at an energetic lick, too, fully intent on building upon the brilliant opening track. The expansive chorus, complete with choral vocals is a memorable affair, but it’s the unrelenting pace and energy that provides the song with its magic as much as the hooky chorus does.
And then, in comes ‘Bride Of Night’, a much brighter and breezier affair, more immediate and less dark in tone than the first two. The chorus is easily my favourite on the entire record, too, as it is just stunning and addictive, part power metal, part folk anthem. I can’t get enough of it, and I’ve often played it back-to-back without tiring of it. Despite this more ‘mainstream’ feel, it’s the first time that we hear the rather savage growls of Aydan, a juxtaposition that I really welcome, enjoying melody and brutality as I do in equal measure.
When I listened to ‘Reader Of The Runes – Rapture’ for the first couple of times, I worried that maybe Elvenking had front-loaded the album with their best material, leaving the record to peter out in unedifying fashion after the strong opening. Not sure what I was thinking though, because the remaining material definitely packs a punch of its own and grows with subsequent listens. I do think that there are a couple of slight dips along the way, but overall, this is a satisfyingly consistent record.
Worth mentioning are the likes of folk-heavy, but catchy-as-hell ‘Herdchant’ which features some intense drumming within heavy passages, but also a quiet violin and acoustic guitar interlude that’s really nice. The ensuing lead guitar solo is easily one of the most mellifluous and passionate on the album, too – I just wish it was longer. ‘Red Mist’ is another sneaky track that has recently caught my attention out of nowhere. It starts quietly and unobtrusively, but releases into a great galloping verse which is then replaced by an insidiously strong chorus that’s made as good as it is by the vocals of Damna, supported by the melancholy tones of Lethien’s violin.
And finally, there’s the stunning closing composition, ‘The Repentent’, which ends the record on a real high. Emotive lead guitars and more flamboyant drumming kick-start the song, which is initially slower and more whimsical in tone, building up to be a real monster of a song. It ebbs and flows beautifully, moving smoothly from heavy and intense, to quiet and introspective, and back again, delivering a great black metal-esque double-pedal laden finale. The song carries with it a slightly melancholy, resigned feel to it, too, but once again, the chorus is a sublime affair, so catchy and beautiful with a wistful air.
What a surprise, and what a hugely enjoyable one at that. I’m thoroughly embarrassed, and I’m kicking myself for never listening to Elvenking before. But I have finally taken the plunge and have been rewarded handsomely for my belated efforts. Aside from the gruff vocals, and the occasional foray into blastbeat territory, I don’t really hear any real black/death metal intent, but that doesn’t matter, because ‘Reader Of The Runes – Rapture’ is a really excellent slab of melodic power metal, with a folk/pagan element that actually enhances rather than detracts. I just hope I now get the time to go back into the Italians’ extensive back catalogue to see what I’ve missed out on over the past twenty-five years or so.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%