ELVENKING seems to define their career by their inconsistency in output. They essentially set the mark amazingly high with their debut “Heathenreel”, then went through a series of shifts in sound, back and forth through each album. Although the Folk trappings and violin melodies always endured, the quality did not and eventually they found themselves flirting with a Metalcore variant of the Power Metal genre that has since made mince meat of formerly great bands such as HUMAN FORTRESS and LABYRINTH. In the aftermath of this, what better way to throw yet another curveball into the mix than to do an almost entirely acoustic album and take their Folk sound to its logical conclusion.
While a complete return to form might have served this band better, the end result of “Two Tragedy Poets (…And A Caravan Of Weird Figures)” is actually pretty enjoyable for what it is. Mind you, this is not a Metal release by any standard, but a mostly acoustic Folk album that somewhat resembles BLACKMORE’S NIGHT, but with a compositional style that actually listens like an unplugged version of their Power Metal beginnings. Several of these songs are up tempo to the point of sounding like upper tempo HAMMERFALL, while the general character of the melody lines is pretty animated. But for the most part, the strength of this lies in Damnagoras’ vocal delivery. He has one of those plainer sounding tenor voices that are not normally associated with Power Metal but rather with Punk Rock, but it works really well here despite the more stripped down arrangement.
There are some really solid songs on here that, barring a somewhat hit or miss set of lyrics, shine through and make you forget some of the missteps the band has taken in the past. “Another Awful Hobs Tale” and “Ask A Silly Question” are pretty solid up tempo songs with very catchy hooks and plenty of violin showmanship to compensate for a lack of lead guitar moments. The vocals often resemble that sort of angry gang chorus model that is common among Punk bands and was also picked up by ANTHRAX in the mid 80s. “The Blackest Of My Hearts” really turns up the Celtic influences like no tomorrow, pouring lovely flute and pluck string lines overtop of a droning drum line that only occasionally changes up. But the true highlights are the acoustic remakes of the songs off “The Winter Wake”, which have been heard in a somewhat similar fashion at live performances for the past few years. The songwriting was definitely a bit stronger 2 albums back, and although the new stuff on here is definitely a sizable step above “The Scythe”, its such a different medium that this doesn’t compare too heavily to the band’s previous efforts as a whole.
Although a pretty solid collection of songs, this is something that will likely cater exclusively to fans of this band, though some with an interest in Folk Metal in general might take to it as well. The songs are well constructed, although the lyrical content sometimes seems to revert back to the Metalcore influence that the band adopted on the last album and occasionally gets a bit ridiculous. The remake of the BELINDA CARLISLE song is also kind of sappy and out of place among the other songs on here, but otherwise this is something that I can justify owning. It’s the sort of thing that the band probably should have done as an EP rather than a full length because it comes off as a side-project outside of the main sound of the band, but functions well enough as a full length album to be enjoyable.
(Online August 31, 2009)