Eluveitie: Helvetios

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Eluveitie: Helvetios
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Eluveitie: Helvetios
Folk Metal, Melodic Death Metal
Nuclear Blast Records
February 28th, 2012
Release length: 59:16
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Of all the groups in the recent Folk Metal explosion, Eluveitie has been the one band that I, as a fan of music, did not understand the popularity of at all. This isn’t to say the band doesn’t deserve attention and admiration of any kind, or that they are untalented, but the lack of originality in their material was something rather perplexing. Even with that knowledge, their fan base continues to grow. Helvetios marks the groups fifth full-length recording, an album that fans have been frothing at the mouth for. With all the buzz surrounding this one in the media, as well as the reaction to their music video and digital singles, can it possibly be the album to cast this group on their way to a more unique sound?

One of the biggest gripes towards Eluveitie, from me at least, is how close their material sounds like Dark Tranquillity, going to the point of plagiarism. This seems to escape fans entirely, but yet would make them go up in arms over any bigger name act. Surprisingly, Helvetios isn’t really like this. The audio quality here helps to set the album apart from that group well, holding an atmosphere that feels bleak, as if a foggy, rainy day. The sound is a little muddy, though obviously of a modern digital studio/production. The guitars have a decent sharper tone to them that caters to a mid-level range, and the bass adds a nice deeper edge in support to the chords, but in a rather subtle manner. It’s obvious the lead and rhythm are the most important of these instruments, with the drumming being the next prominant. The bass kicks come through loud and clear with a rich, deep click that goes along with snares that also cater to that mid-level pitch. The cymbals match the volume levels of the rest of the kit, filling the music out nicely, though not really having too much of an overall impact. Meanwhile, the other folk instruments are either at the same volume level, such as with the bagpipes, or a little more in the mix and have the potential of being drowned out by the guitars at certain tones, such as the hurdy gurdy, especially if the vocals bring in a good deal of energy to the varied performance of deeper growls and rougher, higher pitched shouting.

With this bleak and rather dark atmosphere to the release, you can’t help but wish for a Folk-heavy performance. Thankfully, this is what you get. Eluveitie still have some subtle Melodic Death Metal input in most songs, and a blatent one to a few melody driven tracks, but for the most part have shed themselves of a lot of obvious idol worship. With the album clocking in at just under an hour, with seventeen tracks total, this becomes one of the most important factors. Of course, some of these are instrumental or interlude songs, such as the spoken word introduction “Prologue,” as well as a similar “Outro,” the instrumental “Hope,” and the atmosphere rich “Scorched Earth” that finds plenty of ambient nature effects with a chanting, almost tribal vocal performance. These types of passages really set up the obvious conceptual aspect of the album well, as well as push the Folk Metal based foundation. “Helvetios” is a perfect example, as it blends together a nice mixture of some Melodic Death Metal elements with a more epic Folk Metal foundation enriched by the “Prologue.” Due to this, it ends up a very powerful track that feeds off the build from the spoken word narrative. There are plenty of consistant changes that really take advantage of the energetic sound and additional Folk instruments to not only make you head bang along at the start, but keep the listener really focused on the music despite anything else going on.

“Santonian Shores” is a largely Folk Metal song, really laying into the hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, whistles, and fiddle a lot more than other songs. The main verses do take a bit of a melodic turn, but overall the song maintains the mid-tempo galloping pace, as well as atmosphere thanks to really prominent whistles. “Neverland” also makes for another great track that is a little more serious while not really going into the over-the-top terrain of “Helvetios.” This down-to-earth offering is still pretty catchy with a medium pace that keeps you attentive from start to finish, even if bobbing your head along doesn’t come naturally. After that is the single “A Rose for Epona,” a song you’ve probably already heard, and easily one of the more impressive tracks thanks to the additional female vocals that are simply fantastic, and would have made a nice addition outside just this song and some background harmonizations. Thankfully, this is answered with “Alesia,” which basically becomes a Melodic Death Metal duet between the two vocalists, though the female clean singing is not as strong, and features subtle Folk Metal elements through the additional instruments, as well as some genre-specific bridges and passages that do appear thanks to the many changes in music and tempo.

Of course, there are some tracks that you really can’t help but pick up on the obvious Dark Tranquillity sound. “Home” has a decent addition of Folk material to it, though the entire thing just sounds like the modern material of the aforementioned band, even down to a sleeker sound in the audio. The exact same thing can be said about “The Uprising.” This song really finds the whistle to be the primary touch of Folk Metal to the music here. Half way through the song, however, you get a spoken word section over a fiddle performance with chanting vocals in the background. That instrument also gets a brief, as those two instruments, as well as the hurdy gurdy, chime in to close out the song. Again, it isn’t too bad, but it just really doesn’t come off as unique, though the audio quality here does match the overall bleak atmosphere. The similarities on “The Siege” are still there, but it does end up feeling more unique for the band in comparison, and also is just a very aggressive, faster paced track that will easily whip the listener into a frenzy. That being said, there’s not a lot of unoriginal sounding music to be found here, and much of it is quite good. Sadly, some of these songs, and even a few of the Folk Metal tracks, do end up being less engaging than others, but even then those are still rather enjoyable for what they are.

Yes, Helvetios has its share of less-than-unique Melodic Death Metal, but this time around it isn’t as painfully similar aside a few tracks. For the most part, Eluveitie create and retain more of an independent sound, and weave it into the more melodic moments well enough. The near hour recording hosts a solid, consistant conceptual effort, largely composed of mid-tempo songs, but still offers up enough variety to keep the listener content, and even make his or her head bang along on plenty of tracks. If you’re a fan, you’re already going to enjoy this release more than some of their previous works, as well as probably had this pre-ordered when stores started accepting them. But, the real test is with those who know of the obvious issues that older recordings had, and whether or not this tighter, more unique offering will pull them in. Considering I’m one of the latter individuals, and how big a new impression this release made, one could say that more people may start getting into Eluveitie through Helvetios that normally would have shunned the album.

01. Prologue – 1:25
02. Helvetios – 4:01
03. Luxtos – 3:55
04. Home – 5:17
05. Santonian Shores – 3:58
06. Scorched Earth – 4:18
07. Meet the Enemy – 3:46
08. Neverland – 3:43
09. A Rose for Epona – 4:26
10. Havoc – 4:05
11. The Uprising – 3:42
12. Hope – 2:27
13. The Siege – 2:45
14. Alesia – 3:58
15. Tullianum – 0:24
16. Uxellodunon – 3:52
17. Epilogue – 3:14
Initial Pressing Score: 7.5/10

Eluveitie
Eluveitie

Digital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records.