After releasing the absolute masterclass Secrets of the Magick Grimoire in 2017 there’s great anticipation as Elvenking’s latest full length Reader of the Runes - Divination rolls upon us like pagan thunder over knotted woodland hills. The Italian folk power outfits’ tenth album, it is apparently the first chapter of an entire storyline and universe to be further developed and expanded upon by the band through their music. Less glaring and extravagant than its direct predecessor, the album plays out more like a slowly opening and rewarding storybook. Its more laid back and guitar driven approach favors the theme and the setting evoked in the explorative narrative that the story unfolds, being the first chapter in a supposed series. Since their conception in 1997 Elvenking have now released ten albums, starting out fairly timidly and dipping with the swing-and-a-miss The Scythe (2007), but since Red Silent Tides (2010) the Italian sixpiece have been showing heaps of progress and with The Pagan Manifesto (2014) definitely found the right output and trappings for their style. Then came the aforementioned Secrets of the Magick Grimoire, cementing the pagan bards as one of Europe’s finest in the power metal genre, always heading into the subject matters with a serious tone, but never taking themselves utterly too serious.
Right off, Reader of the Runes - Divination is a darker album than we’re hitherto used to. More guitar driven than soaring folk melodies, flashing dark riffing from Aydan and Rafahel. Less complex and in your face, but nonetheless equally ambitious in its songwriting as it manages to unfold and evolve naturally through the songs, holding captive the listener through the flashy introductory tracks through mid paced folk tunes in the mid section and through to the epic closing, unlike the band has previously done. There’s a very natural flow the tracks lead into each other and evolve throughout, and as with any Elvenking album there are many standout tracks, but never before has the quality throughout the runtime been so consistent; a testament to the amount work that has gone into the songwriting and the build of the album. There are the obvious singalongs that Elvenking infuse with the folk setting; semi title track Divination, Silverseal and Under the Sign of a Black Star (the singles) get the familiar theme going, while sticking with the darker tone of the album. Elvenking have been no strangers to harsh vocals or extreme metal influences, but with Malefica Doctrina they turn heavier than ever, blending symphonic elements with mean sounding guitars and a touch of melodeath in the rhythm section and fleshy melodies.
The closing title track clocks in at almost 11 minutes and might be the band’s most ambitious tune to date. It’s a progressive piece of art, slowly and atmospherically building, almost hypnotic in unravelling alongside Damnagoras’ atmospheric tenor, Lethien’s hypnotizing violin melodies and some great riffs and hook work from Aydan and Rafahel. It also includes a throwback to the song Runereader from the Red Silent Tides record, much like the album tosses references to previous works throughout, connecting the entire discography back to the earliest albums. Likely a contender for album of the year Reader of the Runes - Divination shows once more the masterclass that Elvenking creates, all the while evolving and expanding. It might not quite reach its predecessors’ level in my own experience, but objectively speaking, this is an album not to be taken lightly, showcasing Elvenking’s masterclass abilites to their fullest while invoking wonderful tales and oaken poetry through a style and sound they’ve mastered and now expanded. The runes are cast and they carry words of pagan purity.
Standout tracks: Heathen Divine, Divination, Under the Sign of a Black Star, Reader of the Runes: Book I