Friday 13 March 2020

Elixir - Voyage of the Eagle (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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Elixir are one more band back for another bite at the cherry, though it's a third shot for them. I remember them well from the mid-eighties, when they recorded a solid session for The Friday Rock Show and released an excellent debut album in The Son of Odin, which I have on vinyl around here somewhere. However, I'm not sure that I noticed that they issued a second album before calling it a day in 1990. I certainly didn't notice the reformation in 2001 that saw four more albums before they quit again in 2012. They're back once more, reforming last year with only bassist Kevin Dobbs not on board. He's replaced by Luke Fabian.

To my ears, they haven't updated their sound much in the last three or four decades, but the nostalgia in me says that's not entirely a bad thing. The bad thing is that Voyage of the Eagle requires some patience and I can see a lot of people listening to this once and drifting away because they couldn't find anything to hook them. That's an unfortunate property for an album to have, especially one like this that does grow if we have a little patience.

The opening couple of tracks are solid growers, because they're nowhere near as catchy as they want to be but they're thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. A brief interlude named Horizons later and we're into the first song to remind us of the glory days. It's The Siren's Song and it's a patient piece with an excellent build, so slow and heavy and sure of itself that it's almost doom metal, a tone not altered by the presence of Katie Alys Barton as the Siren.

I'm presuming that this is a concept album, given that almost everything is nautical themed, including the title, and there's a recurrent sound effect, the creaking of the masts on a sailing vessel mid-voyage, that keeps showing up at the beginning and end of songs. Any thoughts that Elixir are going all Alestorm are scotched during the chorus of the opener, Drink to the Devil, a nod otherwise to pirate metal. After that, though, there's no comparison.

What Elixir do best here is that slower, steadier hard and heavy sound built from solid riffs and clean epic vocals. That means The Siren's Song and Sail On mostly, both of them strong numbers to build an album around. Perhaps the worst aspect is that they don't build as much as they should because there's no spark here to make it all memorable and it really needs one. I've stayed with it and been rewarded for that because it gets better each time I listen through, something that didn't happen with other frustrating albums like the Angel Witch from last year, but I still wanted more than I got.

What I really wanted was some urgency and hunger. Just because Elixir isn't a young band any more doesn't mean that they shouldn't sound like one. They reformed after seven years away for a reason and I wanted to hear it in the songs here but I couldn't find it. I found some decent songwriting, some agreeable old school riffs (the one in Mutiny is starting to get stuck in my head) and some impressive vocals (especially late in the album, on Whisper on the Breeze and Evermore), but I didn't find what's driving the band to return to the studio in 2020.

I should add that they do up the tempo and energy on occasion, such as with Onward Through the Storm. I wish they had done that a lot more often and, on the occasions when they did, that they did it with more emphasis. I have the feeling that this material is going to sound good on stage but this studio release is going to need people to give it time to shine for them. This was a skimpy 6/10 on a first listen for me. After a few more, I'm upping to 7/10 but there ought to be an 8/10 album in these guys and sadly this isn't it.

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