Helvetios is the fifth studio album from Swiss folk/melodic death metal act Eluveitie. Before I go into the album in detail, I want to apologise in advance for the generally negative vibe towards the band that this review is going to take. Normally criticising the decisions an artist makes in regard to what genre of music they play is not something I feel reviewers like myself are justified in bashing, at least when we’re talking about an artist who hasn’t changed their sound for the worse, but is sticking to their guns, but the fact of the matter is that Eluveitie totally flummox me in regard to the direction their music takes. It’s partly the way that they prove themselves exceptionally capable at making folk metal, but plaster it over with what is unfortunately pretty generic melodeath that does it, but even more flummoxing is how they can justify having such an exceptional vocalist in the band as Anna Murphy and not let her sing lead all the time. This is my biggest problem with the band. With just a little bit of re-jigging I think they could be something really special. But with the exception of an acoustic folk album, which in my opinion remains their best release, Eluveitie continually turns out music that more or less follows the same formula, one that as both a fan of folk metal and a reviewer makes me want to tear my hair out.
Somehow though Eluveitie have become one of the biggest names in the folk metal genre, so even though that’s just as flummoxing to me I guess they must be doing something right. Helvetios offers me no surprises in regard to the direction of the material though; the band is still producing their melodic death metal layered with Celtic folk instrumentation. The most praiseworthy thing I can say about the album is that it is at the very least a step in the right direction if this melodeath/folk metal hybrid is what we’re stuck with, as writing wise it’s much more solid material on offer than particularly their previous release Everything Remains as It Never Was. It doesn’t reach the masterpiece status that deep down I’m really longing to hear from this band, but it does give me hope than somewhere down the line we will finally be treated to such. For now however Helvetios still suffers from issues I’ve had with almost every Eluveitie release I’ve heard, with the exception of Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion, their folk album, which ironically as a non-metal release from a metal band, didn’t contain any of the issues I feel plague their ‘proper’ albums.
Now, I’ve not got anything against folk/melodeath hybrids, despite what the tone of this review may have suggested up until this point. Folk metal can get its metal side from pretty much anywhere within the metal spectrum and I think Eluveitie is very capable of making some absolutely killer songs in this vein, with perhaps the best and most known example of this being Inis Mona from their 2008 album Slania. The trouble is that these real gems of the style seem to be few and far between, and that’s mainly because vocalist Chrigel Glanzmann, who uses a growling vocal style to fit in with the band’s melodeath aspect, doesn’t really carry the songs to their full potential. His vocals work better on Helvetios in my opinion than on other releases, but I still feel it’s a lacking performance and that the songs would be better performed by Anna Murphy, who has a few vocal slots on the album, most notably in A Rose for Epona, the album’s best song. The trouble is when Anna does sing lead she very much shows Chrigel up, which was the same deal as on Evocation I where she actually did sing almost all the lead vocals. It’s ultimately a no-win situation. On a positive note the album was a much more enjoyable affair than I expected it would be but the major downside is ironically that when the band does flirt with the sort of sound I feel could make them really great it serves to highlight the issues I had on past Eluveitie releases all over again.
Despite my personal feelings though, at the end of the day I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reviewer if I didn’t make a point of the fact that when it comes down to it Helvetios is a good album. It many ways it’s pushing towards being a great one, but it is a little patchy. The first half of the album packs a bit more impact than what follows A Rose for Epona for example. That may be because as I already stated, this is the album’s apex in terms of overall quality, so naturally anything that follows can’t hold a candle to it and as it’s this point that overall faults have been highlighted on my first listen to the album I found I couldn’t listen to the material in quite the same light. This naturally carried over to subsequent listens of the album, so even the better half didn’t do quite as much for after that. Luxtos is another highlight of the album that I’d like to point out, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that that it’s one of the songs featuring Anna’s vocals. It’s more a beauty and the beast style of vocal double team on this one, but even that works better than Chrigel on his own. Anna’s vocals really do make all the difference. She has power and charm and her voice just works with the folk sounds on so many levels.
While Helvetios doesn’t address any issues I’ve had with Eluveitie’s sound, and is very much an ‘as expected’ album at least on that sound front, it does at the very least make for an enjoyable enough listen, which is more than I can say for some of the group’s prior works. It’s the sort of album that would probably be okay for me if the band had produced considerably better already, and if we discount the acoustic album we’re actually left with Helvetios being within the high end of their discography so far. In that regard it’s a disappointment, but it’s still a recommendable release if folk/melodeath floats your boat.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven (http://metaltube.freeforums.org))