If you’ve ever heard of folk metal, chances are you’ve heard of Eluveitie. With their 5th studio album ‘Helvetios’ they tell a story of epic proportions, with the help of an intriguing Scotsman.
With no less than eight members, Eluveitie have been making themselves known as a solid outfit since releasing their first EP, Vên in 2002. Now with the release of their 5th album, they seem to have conquered all who stood in their way, in true Gallic fashion.
‘Helvetios’ opens with the Scotsman recalling his interesting past which spells out the intent behind the album (I won’t ruin it for you), before bursting into the massive title track. I couldn’t help but smile, as I’ve been listening to Eluveitie for years but I’ve never heard something this well-orchestrated, intense, beautiful and brutal all at the same time. The atmosphere to this opener is immense, with a myriad of folk instruments, crunching guitars, brutal drumming and killer vocals. The chorus races into a crescendo with a variety of instruments taking me back to 100BC. This is definitely Eluveitie at their best.
‘Luxtos’ enters the fray with an insanely catchy (what I think is a) recorder melody, which is soon accompanied by foot-stomping guitars and drums, then a chorus being chanted into the skies, this track truly makes you feel like charging a battlefield. The reason I can only assume it’s a recorder is that it sounds something like one, but honestly it’s impossible to tell. The amount of instruments that I’ve never heard of on this album is astonishing. With mandola, tin & low whistles, bard harp, bodhrán, diverse bagpipes, hurdy gurdy, uilleann pipes, hammered dulcimer and something called a zugerörgeli on this album; I would say I’m pretty fucked at guessing which instrument is which. They all sound beautiful either way.
The main development between ‘Helvetios’ and Eluveitie’s previous album ‘Everything Remains (As It Never Was)’ is the increased involvement of vocalist and hurdy gurdy…ist… (?) Anna Murphy. She’s reportedly been much more involved with the song-writing, and has some substantial vocal contributions on this album. ‘Rose for Epona’ being the first track with mainly just her vocals, it’s quite a surprise after Chrigel Glanzmann’s vocal onslaught for the previous eight tracks, but it’s definitely welcomed with open arms. Think, if you will, of a cross between Amon Amarth and Paramore, but with a considerably less irritating vocalist, and you might be close to the mark of what this song offers, especially with its traditional rock structure. Murphy’s other main vocal contribution to the album is more of a duet, ‘Alesia’, a cry out to a battle known as Caesar’s final conquest of Gaul.
It’s beautiful, but undoubtedly as brutal and heart-breaking as the battle itself.
Not only is the increased inclusion of Anna Murphy’s vocals a surprise though, as there are frequent interludes, along with the epilogue, of pure folk music. I would especially recommend ‘Scorched Earth’ with its haunting, eerie melody – it’s the kind of song you’d expect to hear played after a battle. Sorrowful, it makes your heart ache.
For those of you more interested in the metal side of Eluveitie, do not fear. Along with the beauty and sadness of this story, comes an appropriate measure of anger displayed by thunderous and innovative drumming (check out ‘Havoc’), roaring vocals (damn-near every track!) and tenacious, meaty riffs (‘Neverland’ in particular). Believe me, this album is as searingly harsh and brutal as any other, Eluveitie have not missed a trick.
In essence there is not a wasted note on ‘Helvetios’, it’s clearly taken a lot of thought and a lot of heart to write, which has most definitely paid off. If I could describe this album in one sentence, it would be ‘like tearing your throat out with a lullaby.’ And by the beard of Sucellus, what a way to go.