Back to Pagan Roots – An Interview with Elvenking


When Elvenking’s debut Heathenreel came out it was met with tremendous praise. Their beautiful folk melodies empowered by a solid power metal foundation captivated many, and they received overnight fame.Having used this same winning formula for a couple of albums, Elvenking decided to stray from the formula that brought them success, experimenting with modern metal on The Scythe and alternative rock on Red Silent Tides,  alienating some fans in the process.
After, once again, using some folk elements in EraElvenking went back to their roots with The Pagan Manifesto. We spoke to Damna, singer of Elvenking, what inspired them to make this move.

There was a period in our career where we wandered a lot musically and lyrically, and we felt it was time for us to get back to what we started playing in the very beginning. Era was like opening a door and behind the door was The Pagan Manifesto.”

Metal Blast: Your new album, The Pagan Manifesto is out via AFM records. It marks a shift towards the style of Heathenreel, more so than Era which hinted this turn towards your folk metal roots. What inspired you to take this step?
Well, after a couple of albums where we experimented with our sound and our music it was with Era that we started this going back to the roots process. There was a period in our career where we wandered a lot, musically and lyrically, and we felt it was time for us to get back to what we started playing in the very beginning, because that was what motivated us to start playing and form a band like Elvenking.
As I like to say, Era was like opening a door and behind the door was The Pagan Manifesto. We drew inspiration while writing this album from the huge amounts of positive energy we got from our fans in the latest years, especially last summer. We did a lot of gigs supporting Era and made some festivals appearances, playing some big festivals in Sweden, Italy etc. It was a very nice journey and we really understood, saw with our own eyes how much our fans are connected to us. The fans are so devoted to our music and image; they get so excited when we come out with our makeup on. They are really devoted to our message, to our lyrics, and to what we do. It was a fuel for the new album and that’s why it came out like this. We’re all happy about it because it’s a mixture of the will to get back to our original sound and the great positive energy from our fans.

MB: It’s really a good album, it combines the old energy but shows that you’ve matured. It is really a step forward in your career, in my opinion.
Thank you, I’m happy you feel this way.

MB: Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way: the album has already received a lot of acclaim from fans and critics alike. Are you satisfied with the reception so far?
Yes of course, we are very satisfied because by reading the reviews and the things the fans are writing we saw that they all agree on two things: that this is probably the best album we’ve made and that this “back to the roots” thing is not something you say to attract people. It often happens that bands advertise their new material, saying “hey guys, we sound like on the first album, buy it” and when you do listen to the album it is quite the opposite. They all agree that The Pagan Manifesto isn’t like that, because we were sincerely motivated to get back to playing the kind of music that inspired us in the beginning.
Before the songwriting process Aydan and I, the main songwriters in the band, were listening to old cassettes we used to record in the very beginning, with all the ideas that were never fully developed. They were a big influence on us and we were so excited to listen to all these recordings. A lot of them were really shitty but it was so cool to feel that energy again. They were full of us talking, recording takes and singing shit and it was so cool. Just hearing how enthusiastic we were about the music gave us a lot of positive energy.

MB: Did you listen to some of old albums from the bands that influenced you to start Elvenking?
D: Yeah, sure. I have these periods when I listen to old power metal from the ’90’s for a whole month, stuff like Gamma Ray, Helloween etc. And it all matched, because during the period we started recording the new album I was really into bands like Blind Guardian again, who were our main influence back when we formed Elvenking. So everything was in place and I feel it’s a complete album. I really enjoy it, and there’s nothing I would change on it.

MB: The sound of the album has a strong old-school vibe to it, particularly in the production which is much more straight-forward and natural compared to Era or The Scythe, which were a bit more modern. Who handled the production this time and what was the recording process like?
D: It’s true and it was our goal for The Pagan Manifesto to sound like the great power metal albums of the ’90’s. One of the references was the first Gamma Ray album, Heading for Tomorrow, especially the sound of the guitars and the approach to mixing. Times have changed but we really enjoy that meticulous approach to the sound of every instrument and wanted to have that back in 2014.
This time we went to San Marino, a small country within Italy. We didn’t want to fly abroad, we preferred to record in this great studio near home, where we could stay for two or three weeks. Simone Mularoni is the man in charge of the studio, and he understood our attitude and wanted to work with us towards achieving this kind of sound. He really understood what we wanted, and you can hear that he did a great job with the production.

MB: Yeah, everything just comes off clear, the guitars, and the violins. No instrument overpowers the others.
Yeah, you can hear everything, the guitars, the drums and it’s all thanks to Simone. I really love the production. I love how all our albums sound, but this was the right sound at the right time.

MB: You’ve had Amanda Somerville record guest vocals on “King of the Elves.” How did this collaboration come to pass?
D: Well, we had an acoustic part in “King of the Elves” and it felt natural to have a female vocalist singing these very melodic lines. We considered various vocalists but when we talked to our agent from All Access, the booking agency behind Avantasia and us, and she said we could ask Amanda. And it was a great idea since we love her voice and it was an easy way to get in touch with her. She really liked the song and she accepted our invitation. She sent us her tracks and I think it was just what we were looking for.

MB: There’s also one more noted guest performance hinted on Facebook before the release: you’ve posted a pic of former guitarist Jarpen recording vocals in the studio, I presume for “Witches Gather.”
D:Yes, he recorded vocals for “Witches Gather” as well as “Grandier’s Funeral Pyre,” the growling spots on the bridge.

MB: Are there any more guests not credited?
D: Actually no, I suppose we mentioned everybody. But I would love to mention all the guys who helped us build the sound. Antonio Agate, for example, recorded all the keyboards and orchestrations, and this time he nailed it. He is a former keyboard player of Secret Sphere, and I’d like to mention him because he is such an amazing musician. Then we had Maurizio Cardull from Folkstone again, he plays the fiddles, bagpipes and other traditional instruments. We also have the backing vocals: great singers like Marco Sandron formerly of Pathosray and Gab (Gabriele Gozzi) from Rhyme, just to mention a few. And it’s amazing because this team really helped us with the sound. The Pagan Manifesto is what it is thanks to them.

Photo: Marco Sandron

MB: Is The Pagan Manifesto  a concept album, or is it just connected through the topic of paganism?
D:Well, it’s not a concept album story-wise but every song deals with the theme of paganism in one way or another, so it’s kind of a theme album where all the songs are related to the same topic.

MB: What does paganism represent to you?
D: It’s not the paganism people usually think about, in terms of history or religion. For us it’s a metaphor, a way to say that we are proud of being different and special in one way or another. It’s being the voice out of the crowd, something to be proud of and not afraid or embarrassed about. This is what we say in our lyrics. We combine this with purity, symbolized by nature. This is our message, being pure and true to yourself. Also our fans respect this and they really feel this concept and the message we send across.

MB: While we’re at this topic of Paganism, and which is often misunderstood as devil-worship; Michael Kiske wrote a column for Metal Blast about what he sees as the growing “influence of evil” in metal. What is your take on this: is the evil imagery a fundamental part of the rebellion upon which metal is based, or a forced trend?
D: This is a very good question.
Although being a pagan is not related to worshiping the devil, I still always make it clear that our way of being pagan is not related to religion. Still, I believe that the evil imagery commonly used in heavy metal is a part of it; it’s not that everyone who listens to heavy metal has to be a devil worshiper, Satanist or whatever. It’s like in the horror movies: if you don’t see blood and monsters and if you’re not afraid, then it’s not really a horror movie. I think that it’s normal for heavy metal to use this certain kind of language and imagery, and it’s up to the fans to understand that, in most cases, it’s just a game, not a real thing. If Mayhem talk about Satan and about killing people, it doesn’t mean that you have to kill people; it’s just a way to express yourself and run from reality. The same thing happens with bands like Cannibal Corpse, who have rather brutal songs, even though none of them would ever go slaying people.

MB: You’ve recently toured with Gamma Ray and Rhapsody of Fire. What are your impressions from the tour?
D: It was a great honor to play with such bands. All the musicians and all the bands were great, so it was really fun and a great experience.
It was surprising to see that power metal is so popular again, because in the last few years I had seen the big power metal bands going down, at least compared to the glory days in the mid-90’s when I used to go watch Gamma Ray at huge, sold-out venues. We had 8 gigs with them and every time it was packed; it was an eye-opener, because I didn’t think power metal was so popular anymore. Maybe the trend is coming back.

MB: During your tour you played two new songs, “Elvenlegions” and “Moonbeam Stone Circle.” How did the fans react to the new tracks?
D: Really well, given that they didn’t know them. Although they hardly even knew the single, “Elvenlegions,” which was released in the middle of the tour, the fans were really enthusiastic about them, they were trying to catch the words and sing together with us. It was really cool.

MB: You recorded a truly epic video for “Elvenlegions”; it’s probably your best video so far. What was the experience like?
 It was amazing. We wanted to work with the same director who made the video for “The Loser.”, so when he agreed to do it he said that this time we were going to make it huge. He wanted to do a very big video, he worked hard on it, gathering all these actors, animals and their trainers.
It was a two-day shooting; day one was for the actors and animals and day two was for the band performing. We went there the first day to see how things were going. We came to these castle ruins and with all this stuff going on there, people shouting, animals running around I was like “Oh my fucking God, what are you shooting?” And it was a really exciting experience and I think it’s a really good video, for sure the best we’ve ever made.

MB: You’ve done your fair share of touring in support of Era, touring for two or three years. Are there any plans for a future tour in support of The Pagan Manifesto, and is it going to be as extensive?
At the moment we are a little bit uncertain of what we will do in terms of touring. The album was released in May and this is a very difficult period of the year where we mostly play festivals and booking any other dates is hard. So that’s why we made the Gamma Ray tour even if the album hasn’t been released at the time, because we felt we needed to do some gigs during the spring. We will make some smaller festivals in Italy to rehearse the new tunes and see how people react. Of course we are going to do something this autumn but at the moment we really don’t know what will happen. It depends on how well the album is accepted from the people and the press. But we will definitely do something.

MB: We talked a bit about piracy in our last interview. Lately however, the internet has shown its good side in the form of crowdfunding. A lot of bands decide to take this step and let their fans finance their albums and contribute to the making. Some of the bands who’ve tried this include Kultur Shock, French art-metal Hypno5e, Karmaflow (metal opera / videogame hybrid) featuring Simone Simons and Dani Filth among others, and Mercenary who crowdfunded their video. Do you think this format might be just what metal music needs in this day and age?
I’ve been following this trend, stuff like Kikcstarter and similar sites. At first I was captured by this because I’m an old school PC gamer and I like the old adventure games like Monkey Island…it’s a nerd thing [laughs]. I was really captured by this because I saw that a lot of old franchises were being crowd-funded, new episodes of old games coming out and it was so good seeing the games you’ve really loved back on track, because if we counted on the market they would have been left for dead.
I think that’s happening in the music industry as well. That could be great since a genre like metal would probably never be the trend of the moment again. And that’s good because when the big record companies don’t believe in one thing they just let it die. I believe it’s amazing that you can get support directly from people and not have anyone in the middle: record companies, distributors etc. So I fully support the idea.

MB: Do you have any final messages for our readers and your fans?
 I really hope you give The Pagan Manifesto a chance and that you will like it. We can’t wait to play as many countries as we can. We really hope to see you on tour and have a really good party together.

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