Folk music has for many years been pushed to the unfashionable margins as if it were some kind of adjunct to the excesses of morris dancing, guilty by association with middle aged men covered in bells and wielding hefty sticks (that’s in Britain at any rate). The fact that it is a link to our collective past -history written not by intellectuals and edited to suit the dominant ideologies of the day – is often ignored. As historiography goes, it’s just as valid – not to mention often more accessible – as much of what adorns the shelves of our ever-decreasing libraries.
We metal folks, of course, have always been more open minded: we appreciate music for what it is, rather than whether it is ‘fashionable’ or not. Hence the increasingly complex connections that our music is forging (or, in many cases, re-forming) with other genres. “Era” by Italy’s Elvenking is a perfect example of those connections: they set out in 1997 to combine power metal and folk, Something they have pretty much nailed. There are clear elements of power metal here: big choruses, big guitars, big production and a liberal use of major keys; and there are also definite folk underpinnings by a band that includes a full time violinist in its line-up. It’s a style they have been working on now over seven albums so they can be considered really rather good at it.
What is interesting is the way the band varies the inclusion of the various metal/folk elements depending on the song. ‘The Loser’ is a fast-paced song that wears its power metal credentials firmly on its sleeve, but which nevertheless uses the violin to give it a definite folk flavour, something that is maintained and explored in ‘I Am The Monster’ and particularly ‘A Song For The People’ which is a short and acoustic, dispensing with the metal parts of Elvenking’s sound. ‘We, Animals’ adds some ‘80s electro-style keyboards at intro and outro to its big, sing along chorus. Elvenking clearly owe something to Skyclad, but there are also echoes of good old ‘80s rock too.
As the album heads towards its climax, Elvenking throw in the curved ball of ‘Chronicle Of A Frozen Era’ which, as well as a Maiden-esque intro sees their sound move very much into prog metal territory with an interesting, almost jazzy mid-section and guitar solo that really tears it up, Petrucci-style. The violin also becomes something quite dramatic, used as it might be in the soundtrack music to a film.
Closer ‘Ophale’ is fully acoustic and unapologetically a folk instrumental, Elvenking’s love of the music shining through in a joyous performance. Once again Italy has shown itself to be the home of some very fine music, as Elvenking fly the flag with their perfect combination of influences past and present that we can all relate to, and in which we should all acknowledge our collective interest.