Here we have the long-promised, eagerly anticipated, follow-up to Eluveitie's 2009 more acoustic-based album, 'Evocation I - The Arcane Dominio'. 'Evocation II - Pantheon', like its predecessor, is another acoustic-centric effort and my initial reaction upon first hearing the album was an overwhelming sense of "WOW". On subsequent listens, being able to hear the nuances in the melodies, layers, arrangements, performances and general compositional magnificence, has continually wowed me. This is a seriously accomplished work of sheer beauty, elegance and majestic wonderment.
Of course, this is also the first recorded outing for Eluveitie with their revised personnel. After the departure, last year, of Anna Murphy, Merlin Sutter and Ivo Henzi to form their own band, frontman Chrigel Glanzmann and his remaining, loyal musical brethren re-collected and recruited further musicians. Now, Eluveitie are a nine-piece musical collective and, remarkably, sound as together as they've ever been. Stronger, in fact. Based on 'Evocation II', the combined skills of this bunch of players are such that it's as if they were destined to play together. They belong together, that's for sure. Everything gels so well on what is a flawlessly gorgeous work. Aside from Glanzmann (vocals, whistles, mandola, bagpipes, bodhran) and remainers, bassist Kay Brem and guitarist Rafael Salzmann, Nicole Ansperger is back on violin; Michalina Malisz on hurdy gurdy; Fabienne Erni on vocals, Celtic harp and mandola; Matteo Sisti on whistles, bagpipes and mandola; Alain Ackermann on drums; and Jonas Wolf on guitars.
'Evocation II' sounds every little bit the authentic experience I've come to expect from Eluveitie. Lyrics and music have been perfectly fused. It's no surprise, as Glanzmann is a man who takes his Celtic history seriously. As such, the album offers an educational journey through the Celtic pantheon, with each song title named after a different god. As with the last Eluveitie album, 'Origins', Glanzmann apparently engaged in extensive research for 'Evocation II'; once again consulting Celtic scientists and historians to inject songs' narratives with as much authenticity and accuracy as possible. Of course, with lyrics in Gallic, this will all be lost on the casual listener with no concept of the language, but it serves as the springboard to delving further into the history and mythology yourself, should you choose to do so. It also offers an intertextual experience for the hardcore Eluveitie aficionado, whereby cross-references to previous songs from their back catalogue are there to be discovered in both subtle and not so subtle ways. Clever stuff! I'm still trying to identify the references on each subsequent listen!
As already mentioned, the combined talents of the nine musicians that now comprise Eluveitie have succeeded in crafting something truly special. All performances are first class, but I feel I have to specifically mention Erni's vocals. For those who mourned the departure of Murphy from the band's ranks, particularly as her voice featured prominently on 'Evocation I', rest assured that Erni is a phenomenal vocal talent. Even better than Murphy, dare I say. Her voice has so much character and interesting nuances... from the tonality of her delivery to all of the beautiful little inflections. I'm unaware of her musical history, but what a find for Glanzmann and co.! A very minimal amount of death growls add a little texture to certain tracks (such as in 'Cernvnnos'), but it's Erni who predominantly takes the vocal limelight. Of course, there are a number of instrumental tracks, too, so don't expect vocals all the way through.
With so many bands opting to reimagine their heavier material in a stripped down, acoustic-based form, I can't help but speculate whether the reverse process would work on some of these songs. So incredible is the songwriting, I think many of the tracks on 'Evocation II' would be malleable enough to also work heavied-up in the standard Eluveitie style. The collection could be named 'Provocation'! Just a random thought. Heavy this is not, though. At times, it's atmospherically epic (look no further than 'Catvrix' for a fine example... or 'Esvs', with its magnificent choir backing). At other times, it's all about folked-up instrumental charms, such as with 'Aventia'. And then there are moments of utter sublimity, like with 'Artio'. And, whatever emotions are conjured through the listening experience, it's all so damn melodically wondrous. This is Eluveitie at their gloriously potent best. Reassuringly so, considering the overhaul of their lineup. The band have weathered personnel changes in the past and returned stronger than ever, and 'Evocation II - Pantheon' is the evidence they've done so again. Phenomenal stuff.
EVOCATION II - PANTHEON
Review by Mark Holmes
18th August 2017
1) Dvressu; 2) Epona
3) Svcellos II (Sequel); 4) Nantosvelta
5) Tovtatis; 6) Lvgvs
7) Grannos; 8) Cernvnnos
9) Catvrix; 10) Artio
11) Aventia; 12) Ogmios
13) Esvs; 14) Antvmnos
15) Tarvos II (Sequel)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"This is a seriously accomplished work of sheer beauty, elegance and majestic wonderment."