Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
From the battlefields of the frozen North, the roar of conflict is all that can be heard as hordes of armoured warriors fight to the death in steadfast shield-walls.
The deafening clamour of the clash of steel, the cries of the wounded and dying and the croaking of ravens circling the fields of slaughter waiting to feast on the bodies of the slain heralds this most momentous of events: the pending release of Faith Through The Fire, the new album from veteran German Power Metallers, Elvenpath!
Elvenpath clearly worship at the altar of classic 80s Iron Maiden, with the addition of themes and imagery from acts such as Manowar. Images of fur-clad, sword-wielding Viking warriors, blood-soaked battlefields and savage fantastical beasts and demons abound as Elvenpath thunder remorselessly through their ferocious Power Metal assault, with vast swathes of classic Heavy Metal riffery, over-the-top wailing vocals and swirling harmonised lead guitars pulverising the listener into submission.
Somewhat strangely, the album is bookended by ‘Overture of Steel’ and ‘Epiciogue’ which both seem to be short conversations between what I can only assume to be some of the band members. It is in German, a language I do not speak, so I have no idea what the point of either track actually is – sorry!
However, with track 2, ‘Legend of the White Wolf’, the Power Metal truly begins in earnest with uptempo galloping guitars and drums and vocalist Dragutin Kremenovic alternating between the best impression of Bruce Dickinson that you’ll EVER hear, almost operatic wailing and wildly over-the-top falsetto screams – he’s no one-trick pony, that’s for sure. As the shredding guitar solos assail the senses, you pretty quickly realise that this is proper classic Metal and no mistake!
‘Satan’s Plan’ follows and with a title like that I have to confess that I was expecting a colossally down-tuned bilious dredge of Satanic Metal akin to classic Venom. What we actually get, however, is another gloriously OTT slice of Power Metal. Some of the vocals in this track sound really odd – they almost seem to be cartoonishly operatic and I’m sad to say that, for me, they do detract from the rest of the track which is utterly killer and quite frankly eviscerates like a Viking broadsword with more than a few echoes of classic Iron Maiden and I’m even hearing a bit of early 80s Raven (etc) in there too somewhere!
‘All Across The Universe’ crashes through the speakers like an out of control juggernaut, with almost Speed-Metal pace and power. I’m not a fan of the outlandish operatic voices that appear again here and after only 1 minute 21 seconds, the track just ends. It kinda feels unfinished to me – I was expecting more because it was kicking ass most mightily and just doesn’t seem to conclude properly. Maybe I’m missing the point…
This is followed by the oddly-titled ‘Ocras Agus Neart’ which is a bass instrumental track. It’s very well-composed and played, but coming after the Speed Metal onslaught of the previous track, it just feels a tad out of place. There’s no denying the talent involved though and it’s a cool piece but it does break the album up at a point where it needed something a bit special and more in keeping with the overall sound and theme.
The Metal does pick up again with ‘The Famine Year’ but again, it’s a tadfdisappointing. It takes an age to get going and sadly rather misses the mark: its slower pace and simplistic riffs and chord sequences don’t really go anywhere, and the melodies aren’t strong enough to lift it above the ordinary. The fact that it’s almost 10 minutes long doesn’t really do it any favours either. To be fair though, the guitarists do their utmost to inject some fire into the soloing and there is a VERY cool Celtic-influenced section towards the end which sounds like Iron Maiden doing a Thin Lizzy cover from the Black Rose era. This is by far the most exciting part of the track and for the guitarists amongst us, is a great listen! If only the rest of the track could have been like thts!
‘Faith Through The Fire’ follows and I’m very pleased to report that it gets things back on track very nicely with a very cool and laid-back harmonised guitar introduction before the huge swathes of power chording and riffery kick in on a highly melodic track that once again conjours up images of blood-drenched battlefields with heroic knights slaughtering the hordes of evil by the thousand. It is a really great track and is probably this reviewer’s favourite track on the entire album.
This theme continues with ‘Hail The Hammer and The Warrior Wind’, which might win the ‘Crazy Song Title Of The Year’ award, but also stands loud and proud on a lightning-stricken mountain top with steel broadsword held aloft in the very best Heavy Metal tradition as guitars chug, shred and harmonise around the operatic wailing, chanting and battle cries in the lyrics. True Metal indeed!
The name of the track ‘Silesian Winter’ may well conjour up images of bleak snow-laden forested landscapes, but the beautiful acoustic guitar arpeggios and subtly delivered melodic lyrics that begin the track are anything but bleak.
This is another epic track, clocking in at over 9 minutes in length. This time, however, Elvenpath have gotten it exactly right: the track builds with the emphasis on melody and dynamics. There is a delightful piece of harmonsied guitar that heralds the up-tempo second section of the song.
It absolutely sings and sounds like it could have come off the debut Iron Maiden album – yes, it’s that good! The story-telling lyrical approach that has been in evidence throughout the album really works here too and the lyrical delivery is much more consistent and there are some mightily impressive screams amongst the melodies too as the track kicks into gear with galloping and chugging guitars thundering along at one helluva pace before the track then returns to the delicate acoustic guitar picking of the introduction to bring the tale to its frankly glorious conclusion. Another standout track for sure.
The quality remains high on ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ which is a huge Speed-Power-Metal romp that roars along on galloping guitars and frantic drumming, with the majestic lead guitar melodies once again bringing us back to the visions of battlefield slaughter that have pervaded much of the album. It’s another excellent and hugely powerful track and is a great way to end the musical part of the album before the odd (and aforementioned) spoken word epilogue.
This is an odd album. When it’s good, it’s absolutely fabulous and I’ve found myself grinning from ear to ear at the sheer OTT majesty of the best bits of it, but it has its oddities (the first and last spoken word tracks and the bass solo track) and its inconsistencies in the quality of the songwriting, especially in the middle of the album where the quality does drop a tad, although Elvenpath redeem themselves mightily with the closing brace of songs which are utterly fabulous.
Also, you do have to get used to some of the more outlandish vocal stylings which won’t be for everyone. What is absolutely beyond doubt though is the quality of the performances and the overall production and mix. The album sounds great and the everyone involved absolutely plays and sings out of their skin! It certainly sounds like they had a lot of fun making it!
So, although it’s a bit of an album of two halves, fans of European Power Metal, of classic Iron Maiden and classic early 80s NWOBHM might well find a lot to enjoy here. Go on – don your armour and your fur loincloth, sit astride your flame-eyed warhorse, grab your broadsword and give the album a spin!