Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Helvetios extols the glory of an ancient tribe fighting for their land

If there were any doubters that history lessons could work as a viable subject in heavy metal, Iron Maiden put them to rest with a slew of legendary 80s releases. Eluveitie is one band that should thank their lucky stars, and so should we.

Helvetios, the fifth release from the Swiss folk metal outfit, tells the story of a Gaulish war involving the Helvetians, an ancient tribe that inhabited the same geographic territory the band hails from. Helvetois follows their ultimately failed campaign to resist the forces of the Roman Imperial Army. It sounds like music fit to raise your banners for; a veritable collection of flutes, violins, bagpipes, and various other folk instruments create a cornucopia of sound, while vocalist Chrigel Glanzmann extols the Helvetian virtues.

The first two songs are full of braggadocio, precisely the type of music you would expect to pump someone up to go off to war. The guitar work, produced by Ivo Henzi and Simeon Koch, is surprisingly simple for metal standards. The more technical lead work is usually handled by the folk instruments, while the guitar's purpose is generally to serve as rhythm. The title track is a perfect example, as the flute and bagpipes create an ear grabbing melody. This track, along with its companion piece "Luxtos" introduces the Helvetians and explains what they're all about.

This helps set up the central conflict on "Home," which sees the Helvetians mobilizing to defend themselves against a Roman army hellbent on expanding their empire. It also features a tasty melo death sounding guitar lead to boot.

"Meet the Enemy" is one of the album's easily identifiable standout tracks. After several tracks of mood setting, "Meet the Enemy" explodes out of the gate in a swirling, snarling inferno. The story on this track chronicles the first meeting with Roman forces, as the Helvetians are mowed down during a nighttime sneak attack. The riffing and vocals are much more intense than anything on the album to this point, and serves as a nice kick in the ass following the wandering Gaelic chant on the previous track, "Scorched Earth."

But Eluveitie also has a secret weapon in the form of vocalist Anna Murphy, who makes her mark on the breathtaking "Rose for Epona." Meri Tadic's violin creates a heart rending opening, but the crackling intensity in Murphy's voice is the stand out. The song is a prayer from a woman who beseeches the goddess Epona to keep her family safe, and she makes her point beautifully. Her technique on the high notes is nothing short of awe inspiring.

Other notable standouts include "The Siege," which is easily the most intense track on the album due to its visceral high pitched shrieks. "Alesia" features a stunning duet between Murphy and Glanzmann, while "Uxellodunon" ends the Helvetians' tale with a sense of defiance and pride.

Helvetois generally doesn't get into specific battle details, instead aiming to capture the Helvetians' fighting spirit. It is a sunlight gleaming off metal shields type of album, but the band manages to pull it off without sounding cheesy or coming off like Manowar.

Heavy focus is placed upon the arrangement of the folk instruments to establish a sense of valor, honor and loss. The guitar work is subdued, which likely contributes to the fact that many songs begin to sound homogeneous. But there are more important forces at work here. Eluveitie have succeeded in crafting metal with a brain, and that's something Maiden and metal historians everywhere can be proud of.

Score: 87/100

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