Elvellon - Until Dawn - (9/10)
Published on February 26, 2019
Something was in the water of Northern Europe two decades ago, something that caused a casual member of the extreme metal scene in Finland to chart a very different course right as the pendulum was swinging towards a revival of power metal. This man decided to embrace the basic tone and tenor of this revival, but also opted to not settle for simply reliving the past and decided to bring his own unique twist on it based on his classical training as a pianist and his brief stints as a session keyboardist in Finland’s black and doom metal scene. The initiated will recognize this man to be Nightwish’s mastermind Tuomas Holopainen, and his vision of merging folk, symphonic and an operatic soprano vocal elements with the power metal revival sound of the closing days of the last millennium sent ripples through the ocean of metal that are still felt to this very day. While initially the ascendancy of bands like After Forever, Epica and Delain saw The Netherlands take up this bold new direction next, it has now largely fallen upon Germany to keep up this tradition, with the likes of Xandria, Beyond The Black and Elvellon making the most substantive splash of late. The latter of this trio has proven to be the most faithful to the early spirit of the Nightwish vision, especially when considering their newest contribution to the symphonic metal world Until Dawn.
Like a literal mirror reflecting the past, the album art of a similarly awestruck boy gazing into the watery horizon (though in this case without the poet’s implements, flying birds, and plus mountains and sunset upon the landscape) leaves little mystery as to the era being drawn upon. Their previous EP Spellbound hinted at an almost purely Century Child based influence, but while four out of those five songs made it on here in a rerecorded and subtly reworked fashion, the overall flavor of this album is an almost perfectly even amalgam of every Nightwish album from Oceanborn up to Once, with maybe a slight edge towards the same sound that dominated the aforementioned EP. The chief attraction of the fold is vocalist Nele Messerschmidt, who almost perfectly mimics Tarja’s dramatic soprano, barring her voice being slightly less abrasive and more angelic in quality. Nevertheless, the team surrounding her soaring voice prove to be highly capable at emulating the character of sound associated with the Nightwish style, with keyboardist Pascal Pannen being the dominant instrumentalist, whereas a surprisingly able and complex take on Marco Hietala’s raunchy bass approach is realized by Phil Kohout, not to mention a crazy bass solo thrown into the middle section of the title song Until Dawn.
The array of influences implicit in covering just about every nook and cranny in Nightwish’s seminal area is vast, yet full represented throughout this long symphonic excursion. Those who remember the high-flying adventures of “The Pharaoh Sails To Orion” receive an amped up, vernacular music steeped road to the mystic east via the short prelude “Of Winds And Sand” and the high octane, power metal-infused continuation that is “King Of Thieves”. The equally fast-paced yet darker Gothic-tinged fair hinted at on “Slaying The Dreamer” and fully realized on much of Once has some younger adherents in “The Puppeteer” and “Dead-End Alley”. The mid-paced semi-balladry with beautiful symphonic bluster that would often adorn Wishmaster and Century Child have a few affectionate followers in “Silence From The Deep” and “Born Of Hope”. The folksy balladry that dominated much of Nightwish’s long forgotten debut Angels Fall First and had a more limited impact on the rest of the Tarja era even makes an appearance via the long-winded yet enthralling “Shore Of Aeon”. Even those faster paced rockers that have that heavier, grooving end on much of Once’s faster material intermingles with a somewhat less rough production quality and some keyboard noodling on this album’s closer “Dreamcatcher”.
In a sense, this album could almost be treated like a tribute version of a best of compilation, all neatly packaged into a bombastic yet slight production gloss that manages to embody the swiftness of the 1997-2000 era of Nightwish, yet also the chunkier bottom-end of the period since Marco Hietala’s name became associated with said band. The only thing that’s really missing to make it a full out tribute is Hietala’s occasional vocal foil, which is not actually something to be missed as Nightwish’s chief distinctive feature was the near exclusivity of the soprano voice rather than the cliche beauty and the beast duet style that had already been popularized by Theater Of Tragedy in the mid-1990s. This is in the same league as what Xandria has been putting out since 2012, and it is a bit less commercial in character than Beyond The Black, but all three of said bands deserve a degree of credit in reviving some of the credibility in this style that has been lost since Nightwish and Tarja parted ways and Tuomas wanted to score films with his albums rather than make power metal. Elvellon’s place in all of this is as the most faithful and multifaceted emulator of the bunch, and a single listen to this massive collection of enthralling anthems should allay any doubts of that.