I’ve been meaning to write this review for quite a while. About since the album came out in January, actually. Originally, when I first heard of ELVENKING, I figured they’d be some dull Power Metal group singing about J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth that I’d listen to once and forget. Fortunately, “Heathenreel” proved me wrong by combining Power Metal and Folk Metal in a way even more energetic than the accepted masters of the style MÄGO DE OZ.
So how does “The Winter Wake” stack up? Excellently. Best ELVENKING album yet. Damnagoras (vocals) is back after he had to briefly leave the band (he wasn’t on “Wyrd”). Guitarist/growler Jarpen is also gone (though he appears on the album as a guest musician), replaced by Aydan. Apparently the changes are for the better, as this album is much better than “Wyrd,” which I found to be a little forced. If you want something incredibly energetic and enjoyable, though not terribly challenging, “The Winter Wake” is where you want to start.
The energy is practically crackling as “Trows Kind” starts up, with its big sing-along chorus and fast tempo. There’s a whole mess of guest vocalists that contribute as a chorus, most noticeably in the choruses. The chorus of the title track, which is a stomping pseudo-anthem dominated by raspy vocals in the verses, is gargantuan, if a bit unwieldy in its length. They also make a memorable appearance in “Neverending Nights,” the best track on the album and one of the better songs of the young year. Varied and bordering on progressive (the adjective, not the genre), it also features a great chorus that actually sounds better for its somewhat awkward segregation of the male and female vocalists.
The folk elements fly fast and furious. You don’t have to wait long to incorporate a violin as seamlessly integrated as another guitarist and an occasional flute/pipe (I’m not good with wind instruments), while a string quartet appears consistently throughout. “Disillusion’s Reel” is almost a traditional dance bemoaning the futility of motherhood (eventually the children will learn). The cover of SKYCLAD’s classic “Penny Dreadful” is a real treat as it shows the band in all their sides. They take the song and make it their own—it’s less bitter, but more energetic.
Alas, I have a confession to make—usually when I listen to this disc, I listen to “The Wanderer” or so and skip ahead to “Neverending Nights.” The best songs definitely bookend the album and the material in between, while not bad or that mediocre, doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the best stuff. Not much of a complaint, as these tracks still beat “Wyrd.”
The Japanese and Korean editions have the bonus track “Petalstorm.” (Online April 20, 2006)