Release Date: February 10, 2012 (EU), February 28, 2012 (US)
Switzerland’s Melodic Death and Pagan Folk Metal masters, Eluveitie return this month with the band’s fifth studio effort, which also marks their first concept album. Helvetios tells the tale of ancient the Celts of Helvetia. Eluveitie has always had very Celtic inspired sonic signature. One that is in full aural display on Helvetios, a 17-track masterpiece.
While mixing folk and metal is nothing new, Eluveitie is one of the few bands, like Moonsorrow, Ensiferum and Korpiklaani, who have risen well above the others. Eluveitie unleashes the full arsenal on Helvetios; traditional metals guitars, a thundering rhythm section, harsh vocals and clean vocals, both male and female. They then mix it all up with an array of Celtic folk instruments like the Irish bouzouki, mandola, fiddles, tin whistles and flutes, uilleann pipes and the hurdy gurdy. They blend it all together into well-crafted songs that combine the old world with the crushing aggression of metal.
Helvetios opens with a dramatic spoken word interlude before the atmospheric table-setting title track rolls out like a film score. This quickly gives way to a Gothenburg-style death metal anthem. It all builds into a swirling mix of everything this album has to offer. A brilliantly majestic opening salvo for a band truly coming into its own.
As you journey through this record there are lush moments like the melodically lulling intro to “Luxtos”, overlaid by aggressive death metal vocals and crisp guitar work. Backed by these beautiful old folk instruments, it gives the listener a very dynamic auditory experience. There is never too much of any one aspect overriding the other.
While there is a definitive continuity to the sound of the record, there is also a generous amount of aural diversity on display here. There are very few moments that feel draggy. Frontman and primary songwriter Chrigel Glanzmann finds a very natural balance between the feral metal elements and the stunning and often beautiful traditional folk components.
The gritty “Santonian Shores” transitions into the exquisitely melancholy feel of “Scorched Earth” which leaves the listener standing in the midst of a wasteland of regret. The battlefield barren of anything but tragic loss. The rain washing away the pain, disguising the tears of the soul. The emotion in this piece just bleeds from the song.
The entire album is packed with uptempo high energy songs that spirit the listener along and make the album rush by. Yet there are still moments where you are forced to slow and embrace the more emotive elements the band offers up, such as those found on the single “A Rose For Epona”. Hurdy Gurdest Anna Murphy moves to the front on this song, bringing an ethereal quality to a track what might expect from the likes of Within Temptation of Nightwish. Murphy’s voice is very engaging and offers the band much promise for the future if used more frequently to expand the band’s sound. However, they are a death-metal based band so we take what we can get.
Next Eluveitie jumps back onto the battlefield with “Havoc” and “The Uprising”, before we are treated to what might be best described as a traveling interlude on “Hope”. But hope is lost as “The Siege” attacks and lays waste.
On “Alesia” we get another beautiful dose of Anna’s voice on a very poignant intro. Murphy’s plaintive cry blends with Chrigal’s deathy growls on a hooky chorus. This track leads us to another of the album’s highlights, “Uxellodunon”, which closes the album out with the exception of the “Epilogue”. The latter, and final track has that big majestic film score feel to it (think Braveheart). Epic and grand; a fitting finale to a stunning auditory journey.
Eluveitie is not breaking new ground on Helvetios rather they continue to do what they have always done well, as with previous albums like Slania and Everything Remains (As It Never Was). The tales of the Gaulic people and their battles and lives told through song and death.
For those who are already fans of Eluveitie this album is another gem. For those new to the band, this is a perfect introduction to the magic they make combining two very different genres into one dynamic, exciting and spirited sonic tapestry.