Ever since Skyclad unleashed their genre defining 'Wayward Sons of Mother Earth' in 1991 and, perhaps more importantly, 'A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol' a year later with the anthemic 'Spinning Jenny', folk metal was well and truly born. Pioneers in their day, their metal riffs combined with violin and other sporadic folk instruments would inspire and spawn a plethora of imitators together with those that would strive to progress the folk aesthetic in metal based music. It wasn't entirely new, of course, as New Model Army were one of the first to adopt a heavier rock/folk fusion in their compositions but it was indubitably Martin Walkyier and Skyclad's innovative vision and approach that popularised and introduced the use of folk instruments in heavy music to a whole generation of metallers. So much so that it's a subgenre that's spawned its own subgenres and, inevitably, as with any popular trend in metal, has become rather over-saturated. Few bands stand out from the crowd and, invariably, it's those who dare to attempt something a little different, forging a unique musical identity - as I previously said, there are some who set out to progress the metal/folk fusion. Swiss eight-piece Eluveitie are one such act, categorising themselves as part of the 'New Wave of Folk Metal'. And here we have their fifth studio album which I have to say, straight off, is rather incredible.
'Helvetios' is bookended with two short narratives, uttered in a mild Scottish dialect to the atmospheric sound of swirling winds which seem to point towards the album being a concept piece. I'm presuming, judging by the album's title, that lyrical themes centre around the Swiss affiliated Helvetians, an ancient Celtic tribe whose battles and general exploits are well documented in Roman history. I'll not get bogged down by too much historical detail in the context of this review, but suffice to say that the general pacing and ordering of tracks on 'Helvetios' has the feeling of a well structured conceptual work and a genuine sense that a story is unfolding as each new composition plays out. Musically, Eluveitie get the balance of folk and metal elements just right in a compositionally refined fusion. Their trademark marriage of melodic death à la Dark Tranquillity with folk instrumentations is prevalent throughout and has, quite frankly, never sounded better. And it's never sounded this majestically epic either with an abundance of big, sweeping melodies and huge, crushing riffs that, at times, dominate the songs but, at other times, sit comfortably below the more prominent folk-led passages, One minor complaint though, while Chrigel Glanzmann's Mikael Stanne-esque growls are befitting for much of the music, it would have been nice to hear more tracks embellished with hurdy gurdy wielder Anna Murphy's rather spectacular singing. The couple of tracks she assumes a lead role, 'A Rose for Epona' and 'Alesia', are elevated to spine-tingling sublimity through her dynamic, powerful voice and the phrasing of some truly captivating vocal melodies. Much more of Anna next time please! Still, that minor criticism aside, Eluveitie have undoubtedly delivered a career best with 'Helvetios', a musically majestic experience from start to finish.
Review by Mark Holmes
10th Feb 2012
1) Prologue; 2) Helvetios
3) Luxtos; 4) Home
5) Santonian Shores; 6) Scorched Earth
7) Meet the Enemy; 8) Neverland
9) A Rose for Epona; 10) Havoc
11) The Uprising; 12) Hope
13) The Siege; 14) Alesia
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...Eluveitie have undoubtedly delivered a career best with 'Helvetios', a musically majestic experience from start to finish."