At time of writing, we’ve just received our first light dusting of snow (translated from Canadian: we’re up to our armpits in snow) in rural Ontario. The Christmas season seems to constantly be getting longer, with big-box retailers shoveling out green and red tat insidiously closer to Halloween each year, but this time I think Jack Frost may have jumped the gun with the snowstorms. Surely Autumn can’t be over before Elvenking’s new album is out? Sadly, rather than enjoying The Secrets of the Magick Grimoire while hitting the scenic trails near my humble abode, I’ve spent a good deal of time enjoying the album by fireside, usually with a mug of hot chocolate in my hand. Though they’re not quite the listening conditions I had hoped for, I find it hard to be disappointed since Grimoire has been nothing short of a joy to dive into.
If you’re familiar with Elvenking’s last handful of albums, you should have a good idea of what’s in store on Grimoire. They’re not as corny as some of their peers, but that’s not to say they’re as sullen or luscious-sounding as others. They’ve found a comfortable middle ground, and while there’s certainly no shortage of upbeat melodies, there’s enough heart and conviction to keep it from sounding like a teenager’s fever dream after a rambunctious weekend of Elder Scrolls binge-gaming. That said, there are still some rather cheesy moments that may not sit well with those without the stomach for dairy.
The album starts with one such moment. “Invoking the Woodland Spirits” kicks off with vocalist Damna doing his best Carach Angren impression while literally singing “la la la.” It’s just weird enough to be funny, but I’m definitely laughing AT rather than WITH Elvenking on this one. Fortunately, the song quickly builds into an epic, galloping affair, complete with orchestral flares and violin solos. And when he’s actually singing lyrics, Damna’s got a throat of solid gold. He’s singing like he’s got everything to prove, and much of this album’s charm emanates from him. On the follow-up track, “Draugen’s Maelstrom,” he manages to give a song about mystical murderous maritime monsters some real down-to-earth emotion.
The next two tracks, “The Horned Ghost and the Sorcerer” and “A Grain of Truth” are both equally fun, catchy tracks, but it’s after them that we hit the album’s major speedbump in the form of the three mid-album tracks “The Wolves Will be Howling Your Name,” “3 Ways to Magick,” and “Straight Inside Your Winter.” “Wolves” and “Magick” both seem like filler tracks to me. The former runs for almost six minutes, but makes its point after just two, and the latter commits the crime of having no interesting ideas to show for itself. Neither are truly bad, but I feel like I’ll be skipping them more often than not. “Straight Inside Your Winter,” however, is much less forgivable. Come on guys, it’s (the current year), by now you should have realized that you don’t HAVE to include a ballad track on each of your albums. “Winter” is your typical power metal ballad, and is pretty much the exact opposite of everything I’ve given the band praise for so far. Drenched in melodramatic angst, if you close your eyes while listening to it you can actually smell rose-scented perfume (your experience may vary). It sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly saucy Fabio romance novel. If that’s your thing, more power to you, but as with the two tracks proceeding it, “Winter” gets a skip from me.
Fortunately, Secrets of the Magick Grimoire manages to pick itself up, dust off, and sprint across the finish line. “Summon the Dawn Light” is everything I love about Elvenking’s sound: bright, beautiful riffs complimented by twinkling keyboards dance and build up throughout the song, and the hyper-melodic chorus is just shy of pure perfection. Hot on its heels comes “At the Court of the Wild Hunt,” a song about one of my favourite mythical tales. It’s also one of the album’s folkiest pieces. Over seven minutes in length, it’s the album’s longest song, though it always seems to fly by. Everything on this track clicks, from the keyboards to the orchestral arrangements. There’s even a mid song break where we get to hear backing vocalist/guitarist/keyboard maestro Aydan’s harsh barks take center stage. The song kicks into maximum overdrive in the last sixty seconds, and it’s not hard to picture the Wild Hunt dashing through the northern sky, as Elvenking follow close behind with a full rig of amps and instruments, shredding their hearts out.
The album’s last track, “A Cloak of Dusk” is everything “Straight Inside Your Winter” isn’t. It’s got a beautiful tradeoff between male and female vocals, stirring string instrumentation and no shortage of genuine soul to it. It’s a beautiful way to end such a vivacious album, and before the last note even has a chance to fade, I’m already reaching for the replay button, ready to experience Secrets of the Magick Grimoire again, albeit without the three mid-album tracks.
Elvenking have lovingly crafted a winner of an album here. There’s a lot of easily-perceivable heart in their music, and they’ve clearly poured much of it into Grimoire. While I most definitely enjoyed my time with Grimoire, the simple fact is that it would have been a much stronger album had the three tracks in the middle been left out entirely, and I doubt it’ll take a spot in my top ten list. However, it’s a fun, exuberant album of folky bliss that’s kept me in an Autumnal mood, even as I begin to lose feeling in my blue, frozen hands as I shovel the driveway.
You can find Secrets of the Magick Grimoire at AMF Records’website.