Here I am once again to speak about my love of all thing folk metal. I have been awaiting the new Eluveitie album for the last two years and when I heard Helvetios was going to be a concept album, well, it made perfect sense. Eluveitie continues to draw inspiration from the ancient Gaul culture and what better topic than the Gaulish Wars to have a concept album center around.
First, let it be known, my love for Eluveitie has grown deeper and deeper over the last few years, evidenced by the fact that I’ve seen them live three times over this past year and even had a chance to sit down with Chrigel and Anna. With that being said, I will attempt to avoid going all fan boy on you and give Helvetios a fair and unbiased review. Check it out here.
Helvetios opens with a narrative prologue done by Alexander “Sandy” Morton and is done superbly well, as it sets the stage for the entire album (and a mid-song speech in “The Uprising”). This whole album his filled superbly written lyrics, almost poetic, and I can’t pick just a few lines from “Prologue” to show this. Here’s why:
“When I reminisce about all those years, I see many things.
Life and death strung together like the mountains and valleys in which we lived.
There was wealth and opulence but also tribulation and loss.
There was laughter and song and there was also tears.
But even more than tears, blood was shed.
And so, many were left to unadorned graves, unburied.
But to us, death was but another journey and close by the darkness through which we strode,
there was also light, the light of life and immortality.
And after all, when I reminisce about those years, I mostly remember our songs.
We sang, as if to drown out the sound of clashing swords,
as if the battle cries fell silent, because war had lost its meaning.”
Maybe it’s just me, but that’s some awesome writing right there. Not only are the lyrics memorable, but Helvetios is also rife with memorable guitar riffs and flute melodies done in traditional Eluveitie style. Yet, this is probably the hardest I’ve Eluveitie play (seen in the title track “Helvetios”) and is probably the closest I’ve seen Eluveitie come to capturing a Gothenburg-like melodic death metal sound. There are even some thrash-like elements as appropriately heard in “Havoc” (an incredible song live) and “Meet the Enemy” (especially with Merlin’s hard hitting drumming).
Not only is this the heaviest I’ve heard Eluveitie but also the most mature and diverse I’ve heard them on a single album. We’ve heard almost pure acoustic elements on their 2009 release Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion. The more pure traditional folk elements are vividly seen on the instrumental “Hope” and in the openings (“A Rose for Epona”) and bridges (“The Siege”) of several songs. Eluveitie also throw in choir sections to capture the vast scale of ancient battle (the closing of “A Rose for Epona” and “Epilogue”).
Chrigel is one of my favorite singers when it comes to emoting with harsh and growling vocals. He does a phenomenal job as usual but is best seen live. Anna’s vocals are stunningly gorgeous and are the perfect accompaniment to Chrigel’s as seen on “A Rose for Epona” and “Alesia”. Not only does Anna have incredible clean vocals but damn, can she scream (check out “The Siege”).
Have I mentioned that the lyrics are outstanding? Again, it’s like poetry. Want some examples? Well here are some of my favorite lines. “I weep as I kiss the ground / the trees that I’ll soon miss / The Songs we sang will ring out / the memories will resound” from “Home”. “Freedom was our highest good / We ventured our lives / Meet the liar / This dead black night / Our destiny revealed / Meet the enemy / It will never be the same” from “Meet the Enemy”. And lastly, one of my favorite verses “The grass as green as it always was that sinister day / blackbird sang their songs as they always did that black-letter day / the day we passed the great gate for the very last time / I did not look back / I knew we’d stay” from “Alesia”. Poetry I tell you. Pure poetry.
Two of my favorite standout tracks are “Scorched Earth” and “Alesia”. “Scorched Earth” is sung/chanted by guest Christoph Pelgen (La Marmotte, Estampie). It opens with the subtle sound of wind in the background and is eventually accompanied by the crackling of fire. Christoph’s vocals are truly haunting and capture the sorrow and melancholy of war and the enslavement of a people, which is accented by moments of bagpipes and flutes. I just wish I knew what he was saying as it’s sung in Gaulish. “Alesia” opens with Anna’s lone voice with a subdued violin and harpsichord-like sound. This is a prime example of the perfect pairing of Anna’s and Chrigel’s voices as they trade off in verses and intertwine through the chorus and various lines in the verses.
While the production is the best I’ve seen on an Eluveitie album (seen in the vocals and drums), I still have a few gripes with Helvetios. The dynamic interplay between Chrigel’s and Anna’s voices is underutilized in this album and is something that can really set Eluveitie even further apart from the rest of the folk metal bands that are out there. Also, while I did say that this is most mature and diverse I’ve heard them, I wanted them to push that even further along.
Helvetios,a standout album from a standout band. It is an epic album, with epic theme, that captures the natures of ancient battles of the Gaulish Wars perfectly, a virtual history lesson taught through music. And with that, I leave you with the closing narration from “Epilogue”:
“When I reminisce about all those years of tribulation, I mostly remember our songs.
We died, and our blood seeped away on the battlefields,
but our Songs survived, together with those of us that returned.
And as they too will die one day, our songs will live on,
and will be sung by our children, and by our children’s children.
This is how we will be remembered.
This is who we were.