Is Elvenking prolific or second-rate? That's an easy one. While the group was on a bit of an upswing after bottoming out on "The Scythe," "Red Silent Tides" and "Era" were unable to become more than enjoyable records. Elvenking is like the little point guard who checks into the game with twenty seconds left when his team is up thirty points-the crowd gives Elvenking a standing ovation when he makes his free-throws, because, well, it's a miracle the little sh*t made the team in the first place. Giving select pieces of the band's discography a proverbial swirly is too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel. I actually like the band, believe it or not, but I'm not bashing them when I say leaping up to greatness has been their biggest obstacle.
"The Pagan Manifesto," in some ways, changes the game for Elvenking. I'm not going to call the record a masterpiece, because it's not, but clearly there were huge improvements in nearly every category that needed work. The album's main source of the goods comes from the clear challenging of the basic Elvenking structure, as these multilayered tracks work well without sacrificing uniqueness. Elvenking's style of power/folk metal is pretty standard, and while "The Pagan Manifesto" refuses to stray from the straightforward, accessible guitar parts and poppy choruses, it does manage to display the finest hooks and foundations the band has ever created. There's no grand diversion from the melodies, ideas, and folk themes on previous Elvenking records, but here they sound like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place rather than being forced in by outdated influences or rehashed concepts.
How about this: it's a mature album. I hate putting it that way, but it's true; they've ripened as songwriters and as performers. The fact that they're writing longer anthems (one running up to almost thirteen minutes) and expanding their horizons doesn't hold a candle to the sturdy variables building up and maintaining the album's integrity. The monstrous "The King of the Elves" is a fantastic slew of folky vocals and elements matching its multiple riffs and sections; it opens "The Pagan Manifesto" magnificently. Busty anthems like "Elvenlegions" and "Twilight of Magic" make the improvements shine clear as day; the riffs, choruses, Damna's vocals, the whole shebang just sound so much better. The folky ballad tunes, usually shoehorned into an Elvenking record just because, are actually fresh and revitalizing here. In the end, I'd call "The Pagan Manifesto" varied, dynamic, and surprisingly enjoyable throughout.
Amanda Somerville and the harsh vocals of Jarpen, a former vocalist of the group, appear in relevant cameos and add depth to the musical voyage. "The Pagan Manifesto" is both a completely predictable release, for it changes not one iota of Elvenking's style, and a nice surprise from a band that has improved remarkably since its lesser days. Take any Elvenking release, improve the instrumental integrity and songwriting by a huge magnitude, and that's "The Pagan Manifesto." It's still not a magnum opus of the power/folk metal niche, but for a three-legged dog like Elvenking, "The Pagan Manifesto" is as good as it gets.