Eluveitie – Helvetios (2012)


When many people think of folk metal, they think of a bunch of long-haired fellows dressed as Viking warriors and playing metal with hokey folk instruments thrown into the mix (I’m looking at you, Ensiferum). Eluveitie, however, stands apart from the rest of the run-of-the-mill folk metal bands and leaves the Viking attire out of the mix. Sure, their lyrics are mostly about ancient Celtic peoples and whatnot, but they’re delivered from a more historical perspective, as opposed to a fantastical one. Eluveitie’s newest album, Helvetios, is the band’s first concept album and it discusses a conflict between the Helvetians and the Roman Empire.

The album begins with a spoken-word intro, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit. The speaker describes the story that is about to be told on Helvetios and prepares the listener for the journey upon which he or she is about to embark. The ancient Helvetians, a Celtic tribe that occupied the majority of what we know today as Switzerland, most likely did not have a written language and their histories would have been passed down orally, usually by bards who would weave the tales into songs. This is, in short, what the speaker in this into tells the listener. Eluveitie definitely knows their history.

After the intro, we start to get into the meat of the album. The track that greets us after the into, Helvetios, is a ferocious onslaught of expertly crafted melodic death metal combined with Celtic folk music. This should come as no surprise to fans of Eluveitie, seeing as how they’ve been doing it for almost ten years now. Helvetios, however, illustrates a common problem I’ve noticed with Eluveitie: the mix between folk and metal is disproportionate at times. Eluveitie’s first album, Spirit, had a very “ancient” feeling to it, but metal was also present. Slania, the band’s second album, saw a rise of prominence with the metal aspect. Everything Remains as it Never Was saw the focus shift back to the folk elements. Helvetios, like Slania, puts more emphasis on the metal aspect, which I feel is detrimental to Eluveitie’s sound. I feel as if they are at their best when they emphasize folk elements more than metal elements. Some people, however, may not have a problem with the metal-centric balance. Many of the songs on Helvetios bear a sound that is obviously Eluveitie, but none of the songs are too similar to each other. There is plenty of variety on Helvetios to keep the listener entertained.

In the case of Helvetios, plenty of variety means plenty of tracks. The album clocks in at fifty-nine minutes and eight seconds. That’s quite a lengthy undertaking for the listener. While this may not be a problem for some, I feel as if several tracks could have been omitted to trim the album’s length just a little bit. Perhaps these interlude tracks were absolutely essential to the story that Eluveitie is attempting to tell, but I can’t be certain.

The best part of Helvetios is definitely the story that is being told. From the song titles to the lyrics (some of which are in Gaelic, so I might be missing bits and pieces), the listener really gets a sense of a group of people standing up to one of the most formidable empires the world has ever known, the Roman Empire. While my Helvetian history is, admittedly, not good at all, I understand that they were conquered by the Romans under Julius Caesar in the first century BC. Track titles such as Scorched Earth and The Siege clearly portray devastation at the hands of the foreign invaders.

My favorite song on Helvetios is probably A Rose for Epona, despite how different it is from anything they’ve ever done before. While Eluveitie has had several songs with predominantly female vocals in the past (i.e. Quoth the Raven and Omnos), none of them compare to A Rose for Epona. This song was heavily criticized for being “too poppy” when it was released as a single, but it doesn’t bear that feeling for me. The backing music is definitely Eluveitie. It’s a nice change of pace and Anna Murphy’s beautiful singing voice really makes this song for me.

While Helvetios tells a great story and demonstrates solid musicianship, it feels a tad too lengthy and it doesn’t put as much emphasis on folk elements as I’d like it to. Eluveitie is incredibly unique in the respect that they successfully blend a very harsh style of music with an unbelievably peaceful one. Eluveitie is at their best when they have a perfect balance between folk and metal, but said balance feels a tad askew on Helvetios. It is, however, nowhere near bad and any fan of Eluveitie owes it to themselves to check out Helvetios.

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By Mike O’Hara ~ Me Gusta Reviews