Sound — 6
While Scandinavia is notorious for breeding metal bands that could even melt the faces of Beelzebub's minions with brutal metal energy, if you were to travel further south - particularly, Italy - you'd be in an area known for bringing a different, happier vibe to metal. Though Italy isn't the original place where power metal was founded, some of the most established power metal bands hail from Italy - including Eldritch, Labyrinth, Rhapsody of Fire, and Elvenking - that would further inspire the colloquial term "Dungeons & Dragons rock." For Elvenking, it only took them their debut album, "Heathenreel," to put them on the map as an impressive band that portrayed Middle-Age folk music with driving, anthemic metal. Even if it may come off as too cheery for some metalheads (with that ilk snarkily calling that sub-genre "flower metal"), Elvenking has earned respect in the metal world throughout their seven album releases, and have now released their eighth studio album, "The Pagan Manifesto."
Elvenking takes the safe route with the compositions in "The Pagan Manifesto," sticking to what the band knows best and what listeners have heard before, and this time around, it comes off as hit-or-miss. Some songs do a great job of grabbing your attention: "The Druid Ritual of Oak" has some great guitar riffage throughout; "Pagan Revolution" not only does a superb job blending an ensemble of Middle-Age folk instruments with metal, but the swingy rhythm and energetic drums set it further apart from the run-of-the-mill; "Towards the Shores" is a full-fledged bard's tale fit with purely acoustic instruments; "Witches Gather" is the epic, full-bodied finisher that sporadically changes up measurements; and even the fit-to-form power metal tune "Moonbeam Stone Circles" obtains notability with a pleasing guitar solo. Aside from that, the other songs on the album bear the standard Elvenking recipe for their folk/power metal and fail to be very distinctive, which makes a hefty amount of the album feel bland. The beginning of the album is perhaps the toughest part, because the first full-composition track, "King of the Elves," goes on for almost thirteen whole minutes without breaking the mold from other epic-length power metal songs, or even bringing a memorable characteristic to the table in order to make the marathon of a song significant and worthy of its long length. After that, the album's easier to get through, but it's not wholly captivating.
Lyrics — 7
As Elvenking continues using their accustomed folk metal formula, their subject matter in lyrics continues in tandem. You'll either come across uplifting, glory-of-war anthems that hype the listener and inspire them for battle (think Jock Jams, circa 1200 A.D.), or bard-like tales that tell fantastical stories of adventure, legend and lore - though even the songs with more grim topics like in "Black Roses for the Wicked" and "Grandier's Funeral Pyre" still end up being delivered in a tone more uplifting than not. While nearly nothing has changed in Elvenking's lyrical department, there's still a charm in the cheesiness of power metal/folk metal's overly theatrical lyrics and triumphant sing-a-long choruses. Maybe it's the fact that you're only going to find lyrics like these in music like this that excuses the repetitive subject matter, but power metal just wouldn't be the same if its lyrics were depicting other stuff.
Overall Impression — 6
For those that aren't the most dedicated of Elvenking fans or the most fervent of power metal lovers, there are a handful of songs on "The Pagan Manifesto" that are worth a listen, and a few that have good replay value to them, but the album as a whole is a big endeavor - perhaps too big, in this case - and it doesn't feel worth the entire listen. Those that are, in fact, dedicated Elvenking fans or power metal fanatics may be more apt to hear "more of the same" from a high-tier power metal band, but all in all, "The Pagan Manifesto" is a typical-sounding Elvenking album.