Johnny, rosin up your bow and play that fiddle hard! There’s a new Eluveitie album, which means it’s time to grab your fife and fiddle and head out in the Swiss/Celtic countryside and play your heart out!
In all seriousness, Eluveitie is back with their new album “Helvetios,” and is further exploring the lore of their ancient Swiss heritage. (Ever wondered why Switzerland is abbreviated “CH?” Google ‘Confederation of Helvetica,’ where the album takes its name from.) Moreso than almost any other band in the pagan/folk metal genre, Eluveitie has always used the lore of their forefathers as more than just a thinly veiled excuse to sing drinking songs and debate the pros and cons of honey mead. To that noble end, the band has always incorporated a healthy dose of what one might refer to as “archaic” instruments, rounding out their sound in such a fashion that they lie halfway between straightforward melodic death metal and the Dropkick Murphys.
Yet, this new effort isn’t as seamlessly consistent as some of the band’s prior efforts. Largely, this comes from the odd juxtaposition of the folk style instruments with the persistent thudding of modern heavy metal. Like two analog waves of differing frequency, the amplitude of these two divergent ideas only successfully meshes at certain intervals. While “Neverland” is a beautifully hopeful song, “Home” is a messier affair that sounds like the band is trying to play two different songs at once.
Furthermore, one of Eluveitie’s most intriguing draws has always been the potential for harmony between the airy female vocals of Anna Murphy and Meri Tadic and the growled, Gaulish roar of Chrigel Glanzmann. Yet, this potential gold mine of innovative musical intertwining, and another possible bridge between the traditional, light-hearted folk and snarling heavy metal, gets suspended for whole sections of the album, and Glanzmann is allowed to go solo. As far as the vocal performance goes, Glanzmann is predictable but serviceable, while the girls are solid in the first half, they sound a little stiff on the later tracks, as though trying to reach for a dramatic emotive movement that remains inches away from their fingertips.
Now, before we get too far and it sounds like this album is worthless, that is not the case. There are seventeen cuts on this monster, and only two and a half throwaways. That leaves Eluveitie a lot of room to roam, and some of their experimentation just simply works.
The rousing, nearly choral arrangement of “Luxtos” makes for great listening; the song ebbs and flows with the rhythm of robust voices, floating along on a positive river of gang vocals. This is in contrast to “Santonian Shores” which is one of the occasions on the album where the intended compounding of heavy metal and traditional folk experience some unity. Whereas “Luxtos” is soaring and grandiose, “Shores” is an insistent, bounding animal.
Most fans would probably overlook a song like “Scorched Earth” and that is a critical mistake. This song speaks to Eluveitie’s dedication to craft, producing this stark, brave vocal soliloquy that can be construed as both resilient and vulnerable. It’s unfortunate that it’s followed by the noisy “Meet the Enemy.”
By now, you’ve probably got the idea that this album is a hit and miss affair, and you’d be absolutely right. Still, there are good songs worth digging for, like the adrenaline rush of “Havoc” or the album’s effective finisher “Uxellodunon.”
There are persistent rumors that Eluveitie is going to be working on an acoustic album this year, and based on those sections of “Helvetios,” that album should be a wonderful masterwork of traditional European folk. I look forward to whatever that may be.
In the meantime, “Helvetios” is a flawed album that possesses glimmers of brilliance. Those willing to hit the ‘skip track’ button on their iPod or iTunes or heaven forbid, CD player, will find the album’s gems, and find them rewarding.