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Elvenscroll - Never To Be Mourned

Never To Be Mourned
by Kira Schlechter at 04 January 2021, 12:53 PM

Drawing heavily from the sagas of Scandinavia comes the Finnish folk metal band ELVENSCROLL with “Never To Be Mourned,” their first EP since the formation of their new lineup in 2017. The band’s knowledge of their topics is unquestionable, as is their musicality and their ability to keep tracks well-paced and succinct. But the issue that plagues the EP throughout quickly becomes apparent from the hectic opener, “Relics.” The melody is brisk and satisfying, but when the vocals start, the mix becomes so blisteringly high-end that you can’t make out the vocals at all past the constant crashing of cymbals and blast beats (Janne is inhuman on drums, by the way). A pleasing guitar melody in the chorus and a very nice acoustic bridge (whose sharp, tight marching tempo segues effortlessly into a 6/8 lilt) are highlights, but the overall mix is in serious need of more depth and resonance and low end. Jussi has a rasping harsh vocal bordering on black metal in style, but because his voice is relatively unchanging, the mix really needs to help him, and sadly, it never does.

And this is a great story, telling what seems to be the familiar tale of Sigfrid the hero and Ragan the smith and the quest for Fafnar’s gold (the line about “buried deep beneath/here in the darkness, they wait/untainted/a maddening gleam provoking the fools,” and the reference to “towards ascension with relics in my hands,” the “relics” being the treasure). It describes how Fafnar the dragon and Sigfrid battled each other as shapeshifters (“their form distorted/entwined and as one”), and how Sigfrid kills him (“and one emerged unscathed/his hands burdened with blood”) – it’s well done, with just enough detail to sketch the rough outline of the story but not tell it outright.

Ismo’s keyboards provide the atmosphere and melody atop Jukkapekka and Janne’s diligent riffing and Janne’s drumming in “Return To Valhalla” – his unexpected and well-played organ part entwined in the verses juxtaposes well with his other keyboard sounds. There’s a clean vocal section that’s almost choir-like, all set to a sprightly, energetic rhythm. And the bridge section, sung in Finnish, is punchy and masters the speed effortlessly – it’s a longer track, but it never wears on you. It’s fairly self-explanatory as to the subject matter – warriors gone off to meet their fate – focusing on one in particular, it seems, who’s done it many times before (“the rain pouring down/On my weary shoulders” and “a second chance for my honor”). But I just wish you could hear everything more distinctly and with more separation – like the pause into the chorus, as it swells with the choir vocals and the harsh, would be so effective, for instance, if it didn’t just all sound like indistinguishable mush. It’s a stirring battle cry that no one on the battlefield would be likely to hear.

“Statue Of Goddess” has that same breakneck pace in the drumming but the riffing keeps a handle on it. A quieter bridge, with spoken instead of sung lyrics, moves into a bouncing keyboard/drum groove, then into a lovely acoustic melody, changes all done with confidence and ease. It’s fairly clear this is story of betrayal (“A scent of dishonor in the air” and “Make the traitors bow in shame” and “burn the dishonored”), the judgment of the goddess (“as the mark of truth” as “We stood in that holy place”), and the bonds between the warriors reforged (“The pride between brothers/ never to be broken/The mark of the truth, never to be broken/The honor within our blood/Never to be broken”).

The stately, somber keyboard melody that starts “Wayfarer’s Mourning” goes into an equally stately groove with that melody at its heart, which holds throughout. In the repetition of the verses and prechorus, you get the despair of the character, who longs for death to take him (“These fields void of life, were not meant for me” and “Faceless dead now lay there, Forgotten, Never to be mourned” and “Forgotten by kin/Forgotten by time/Never praised/Never revered,” like in death comes eternal memory). It’s touching when he says, “I cursed my life/of empty struggle in vanity/I cursed my life/These fields were not meant for me,” as if to say I should have never fought because it was for the wrong reasons. Later Jussi shouts joyfully and with release, “I yelled towards the sky/For the morning to never come/For dawn to never break/I had found my eden.” There are great sentiments and observations here – if they were only more audible. The clean vocals of the chorus, too, are completely and frustratingly buried, and it’s sad because there’s such moving imagery there, too (“Let your spirits soar high/As the winds of battle have turned/And as my spirit soars high/I wish for morning to never come,” as if to say in the darkness, of Valhalla, I’m happy to stay.

The instrumental “Kaiku tulevan sodan” is the perfect interlude, in sound – a cello plucked softly with a light drone behind that eases into soft percussion and an overdubbed cello that fleshes out the atonal but hypnotic melody – as well as length. The closer, “Wild Hunt,” is as fast and frantic as you’d expect considering its subject – the common motif in Norse lore of Odin leading a group of hunters (spirits of the dead and/or the sleeping, Valkyries, wolves, or elves) in a wild chase across the skies. There are so many musical treats and nuances here – the piano that leads into the chorus; the spooky bridge, in 6/8 time, that sounds wonderful and boasts some wrenching, emotional solo guitar work as it depicts Odin (“A god who lost his familiar aspects/Now leading his company of horrid spectres”); the organ work that accompanies the lilt of the section sung in Finnish – but you strain and strain to hear and fully appreciate each one.

ELVENSCROLL’s storytelling skill is just fine; they are sound musically and are capable players, and their songs are certainly worthy of singing along to. But their next producer and/or engineer needs to take the raw material that’s already there and allow it to be heard – clearly – in all its considerable dimensions.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 7
Production: 6

4 Star Rating

1. Relics
2. Return To Valhalla
3. Statue Of Goddess
4. Wayfarer’s Mourning
5. Kaiku tulevan sodan
6. Wild Hun
Jussi Kangasharju - Vocals
Anni Helenius - Vocals, Cello
Jukkapekka Rusi - Guitar
Janne Karppinen - Guitar
Ismo Honkanen - Keyboards
Ville Kangasharju - Bass
Janne Lukki - Drums
Record Label: Inverse Records


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