Persistence is a noble virtue. These plucky Italians have been battering away at the gates of folk metal glory for over 25 years, and while they have never quite cut through in the same way that scene overlords like FINNTROLL and ENSIFERUM have, ELVENKING have always seemed to be heading in the right direction. Perhaps a little too entrenched in power metal to register as a legitimate folk metal force, the band have successfully blurred genre boundaries and established their own gently unique house style. "Reader Of The Runes — Rapture" is a sequel to2019's "Reader Of The Runes — Divination", and collectively the two albums present just about everything that ELVENKING do best. As with 2014's back-to-basics career peak "The Pagan Manifesto", their tenth and 11th studio albums err on the heavier side of things, while notching up the opulence and splendor of those bold arrangements.
There is still a slight sense that ELVENKING's songwriting remains a work in progress. There are a few moments here where the band's imagination seems to run out of steam, and one or two melodies feel less effusive than their musical backing would seem to demand. But at its best, "Reader Of The Runes — Rapture" is pretty damn great.
"The Hanging Tree" is a ripping melodic metal song, with shades of FIREWIND's rampant efficiency, and a great showcase for underrated vocalist Damnagoras. "Herdchant" is an unpredictable thing, fueled by MAIDEN and fantasy flicks, and with a genuinely stirring chorus and final crescendo. "To The North" goes off like a turbocharged longboat, before steadying itself for some progressive indulgence and another grand refrain. Palpably cinematic, "Incantations" strikes the perfect balance between folk metal whimsy and balls-out metal.
In truth, "Reader Of The Runes — Rapture" is book-ended by its two finest songs. The opener "Rapture" is the most extravagant moment on the record, and its most melodically incisive. Closer "The Repentant" is a very fine old-school prog metal song, with the expected bucolic trimmings and a strong sense of windswept passion that suits the Italians' flamboyant melodic approach perfectly. The absolutely ripping blastbeats at the end of the song are a welcome touch too. Progress still ongoing, then, but still eminently worthy of folk metal fans' time.