05. Santonian Shores
06. Scorched Earth
07. Meet The Enemy
09. A Rose For Epona
11. The Uprising
13. The Siege
I’ve never been too familiar or fond of Eluveitie, the Swiss folk-metallers, or folk metal in general—I much prefer the drastically different sounds of folk rock— but 2012 seems to be passing by at a snails pace, and I was desperate for a new release that could spark some sort of fire in me, so I gave Helvetios—their fifth studio album; a sprawling concept album that stretches just shy of the one hour mark—a spin. I wasn’t expecting much, but I figured it would be better than nothing. With that in mind, let me say just how wonderful it is when a band completely shatters your expectations, and has you re-evaluate your thoughts behind them. With this album Eluveitie have done something right, and set a phenomenal precedent for the rest of the year.
I’m a huge fan of concept albums, but it seems that very few bands can do them right. They either get too engrossed in narrative and distract from the music, or the ‘concept’ is too loose, and no visible story or thread between the songs can be detected. I believe Eluveitie have struck a really strong balance between those two extremes.
The album begins with an eerie and minimalistic track, ‘Prologue’, with an old man giving a soliloquy. It’s startling, bleak, and it definitely sets the tone for the album, after which the real music begins and it carries us through for about twenty minutes before the first interlude ‘Scorched Earth’. It’s actually less of an interlude and just a minimalistic atmospheric folk piece, with soul-crushingly beautiful vocals being bellowed out in a foreign language. It’s the same length as the preceding songs, but it’s the perfect reprieve from the crunchy, groove-tastic melodeath riffs that permeate the music before and after this track.
There are two other interludes similar in style to ‘Scorched Earth’, and each one comes at the precise moment when you fear the album might becoming a bit monotonous. They break up the action, and get you ready for the show that’s about to continue. The album continues like this until the final track, ‘Epilogue‘, which is the companion piece to the first track. Once again the old man chimes in with a thought-provoking monologue accompanied with distant music playing behind him. For an album like this, the structure feels astonishingly welcoming.
While I’m not too sure about the actual story behind the lyrics and music, it’s clear that there is a connection behind it all. It feels like you’re being taken on a ride, and right before you get sick, the ride slows down, and gives you a break before lurching you back into action. It’s great!
Vocals are one of the things I notice first when listening to a new release, and I truly enjoyed on Helvetios; Eluveitie have several really talented vocalists in their roster. The majority of the vocals are delivered in the form of a raspy death growls that you would expect from a genre like this, but every now and then the listener is treated to either a barrage of group vocals that swarm the ears with an accompanied swell of folky bagpipes and whistle blows, or the absolutely stunning vocals of Anna Murphy that adorn the the tracks ‘A Rose for Epona‘, and ‘Alesia’. Anna is easily the best female vocalist I’ve heard in sometime. Her voice is powerful and commands the the audience to fall into the swirl of emotion that she’s evoking. The experience is wonderful, and it’s a bit of a shame that she is somewhat under-utilized.
The only real problem I had with Helvetios is a problem I have with a lot of folk metal bands: instead of truly incorporating the folk instrumentation and elements, they just sort of sit on the surface and meander around while melodic death metal plays beneath it. Not a lot happens with the folk elements, and often times it feels like the same sections of music are played on multiple tracks. It becomes annoying and frustrating to hear the same whistle playing for four minutes of a song and not really changing or doing anything to add to the music, in most cases it’s far to0 distracting to be even remotely enjoyable. It’s a small gripe, but it’s something that should be paid more attention to in the future.
As a whole, this was a really startling record. It feels like a classic pagan folk metal album, with plenty of throaty death growls, and riffs that just make you want to get up and move. I was hoping for something more folky, as opposed to what turned out to be quite akin to Amon Amarth, but I’m okay with that. While 2012 is inching by, Helvetios marks the first album that I found to be exceptional, and it’s gotten me that much more excited for the rest of this year’s upcoming releases.
Eluveitie – Helvetios gets