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Italy's Elvenking have long been pushing the commercial envelope, and reached new heights (or lows, depending on your mindset) of accessible melodicism with 2010's well-received Red Silent Tides; but they may have finally pushed things a little too far with album number seven, 2012's Era. Let's just say that if there were such a genre category as power/folk/pop-metal, then this fits right in. Recorded in Finland, where such queer sonic perversions are as common as varieties of salted fish, Era's audio mix thrusts singer Damna (yes, just "Damna" now, Damnagoras) head and shoulders above his bandmates -- the better to proclaim his endearingly accented tales of love and lust with a female-baiting sensitivity quite uncommon in heavy metal (though he too can get quite naughty, as evidenced by "We, Animals," "Walking Dead," etc.). And yet his prominent role hardly intimidates his bandmates from flailing away at their instruments with wild, colorful abandon and attempting to cram their metallic riffs and polyrhythms, folky jigs and strings, plus cod-symphonic synth parts, into semi-sensible Kama Sutra-like shapes. As you can probably imagine, their efforts are universally pretentious, preposterous, and entertaining as all hell; frequently wiggling on the high wire of disaster. Nevertheless, whether you find yourself whistling along or laughing your ass off, tracks like "A Song for the People," Poor Little Baroness," and "Chronicle of a Frozen Era" make for captivating musical theater. The band even enlists legendary Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra singer Jon Oliva to lend his dramatic talents to "I Am the Monster" and "Forget-Me-Not." So love it or hate it, Elvenking may be an acquired taste, but they are clearly committed to their peculiar musical vision for all it's worth. Only time will tell whether they've risked too much or just enough with Era, but you certainly can't accuse the band of standing still.

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