I'm no folk Metal expert, so cut me a little slack here. I AM a big fan of Scandinavian folk music and a fan of all things Metal, so when the folk Metal genre started to take off I was more than a little intrigued. I liked that bands added traditional instruments and sung in their native or even dead languages. That takes some effort and shows that you have some heart and soul for what you're doing. There's research involved and speaking to your elders about what was around long before you were born.
The danger, if you want to call it that, is that you might get so into the past that you stop looking forward. Eluveitie started off mixing their brand of black/death Metal with European and Celtic folk music and made a name for themselves as one of the most dedicated bands on the scene releasing one album and an EP.
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In 2008 the band released 'Slania', their first album for Nuclear Blast. It received critical acclaim and was on almost everyone's top ten list at the end of the year. It was a perfect combination of tin whistles, flutes, bagpipes, fiddles and melodic death Metal. When I first heard it I thought it sounded like two of my favorite forms of music being played at the same time and I loved it.
The band followed it in 2009 with a mostly acoustic album sung completely in the archaic Ghaulic language called 'Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion' and many of the band's Metal fans were disappointed. It was as if the band had a folk/Metal dial and had turned it a little too far to the folk side. They also introduced the female vocals of Anna Murphy, which reminded me of the Finnish vocalists in the Swedish contemporary folk band Hedningarna. This is still one of my favorite Eluveitie records.
At this point fans weren't sure what to expect. True to form (?) in 2010 the band released 'Everything Remains (As It Never Was)' and while it brought some of the heaviness back along with the folk, there was also a third element lingering. I hesitate to call it pop, because it wasn't... but the Metal was lacking the edge that was present on 'Slania'. That brings us to the present...
'Helvetios' is a concept album which begins and ends with narration in Celtic accented English telling a tale of life and death, war and peace, darkness and light and most importantly the power of song...
"...and after all when I reminisce about those years I mostly remember our songs... we sang as if to drown out the sound of clashing swords... as if the battle cries fell silent because war had lost its meaning."
I don't know the exact dating of this text, but one could almost associate it with our current war torn world. We don't want to remember the pain and the suffering, we want to remember the good times and the good music... good music like this.
'Helvetios' throws pipes, female vocals, Gothenburg death Metal riffs and harsh vocals at you right off the bat so you know this isn't going to be an acoustic album. You also get the feeling that they've got that folk/Metal dial tipped slightly in Metal's favor this time around. The female vocals are a holdover from from 'Evocation I' and to me that's what makes it successful. For a band that has eight members you expect to have a little more of a mob vocal happening and you get it here.
'Santonian Shores' has a definite Maiden quality to the main riff and manages to sound ancient and modern at the same time. Using a hurdy gurdy solo might have something to do with that. 'Scorched Earth' is a chant that almost sounds Middle Eastern with some atmospheric keyboards and an occasional bagpipe joining in. It leads right into the thundering 'Meet The Enemy' which blazes along with fiddles and pipes in the background.
'Neverland' is straight out of the melodic death Metal book and adds some of the female backing vocals that started off the album. A breakdown section lets the flutes and fiddle play along.
'A Rose For Epona' begins with a flute and bagpipe melody before delving into a mid tempo Metal riff which drops out to reveal the first female lead vocal on the album. I'm a sucker for female vocals in a Metal band and these are a welcome respite after Mr Growly. Purists probably hate it but you can't please everyone.
'Havoc' has a fiddle lead, but gets right back into the Metal pretty quickly. 'The Uprising' is downright thrashy, I dare you not to dance. Hell, I played it for my three year old daughter and she said without hesitation, "the movement is really really good."
'Hope' is an instrumental that slows things down with a flute and whistle melody and pipe drone. They don't want you to forget that they're a folk band as well. It works to make 'The Siege' sound that much faster and louder. It has more of a black Metal vocal over that hasn't been used until now and a Celtic fiddle solo that shows up out of nowhere leading into those great female vocal backing vocals. This tune is less than three minutes but covers an awful lot of ground stylistically... it reminds me of an Opeth or even a Bloodbath tune... I may have to listen to that again, that was fun.
The dual male/female lead returns for 'Alesia', and the chorus is downright catchy. For some reason the second half of this album is paced better than the first; there's more variety. 'Uxellodunon' circles back to the earlier sound of straight up melodic death Metal, but it's been a while so it's a welcome return.
Those who loved 'Slania', but gave up on the band after subsequent albums are going to have to give this a listen as the band has really upped the Metal quotient on 'Helvetios'. I love the second half of the album and my only complaint is that Anna Murphy's vocals are under used. My guess is that we'll hear more of her when 'Evocation II' comes out.
"...we died and our blood seeped away on the battlefields, but our songs survived together with those of us that returned and as they too will die. One day our songs will live on and be sung by our children and by our children's children. This is how we will be remembered, this is who we were... Helvetios."