May 2008 was the first year I attended New England Metal and Hardcore Festival, and though I’ve been to several since then with impressive lineups, that year’s intersection of tours made the concert extra special. In the space of three days, one could see that year’s installment of Gigantour, Ministry’s Farewell Tour (well, it was booked that way at the time) and Paganfest. 2008 had seen a sudden upsurge in “pagan metal” with bands like Ensiferum, Tyr and Turisas making a name for themselves and their cultural heritage. But while I enjoyed seeing all three bands (Turisas being particularly amusing), I always regretted missing Eluveitie’s performance.
By a long shot, Eluveitie’s Slania was the best release of that era. Here was, for once, a band who embraced all the tropes of pagan metal, but who still had the Gothenburg riffs and menacing style that allowed you to take them seriously. Whatever goodwill they still have among non-pagan-loving metalheads now is owed to that album. And their latest release, Origins, largely continues to build on that reputation.
Ancient Gaul is an interesting subject, and it’s part of what made Eluveitie a little more interesting. Most pagan/folk metal draws on familiar territory: Norse or other Scandinavian forms of mythology. Like most people the Romans conquered during their period of expansion, Gallic sources tend to be scarce, and much of what we know about them comes from the work of Julius Ceasar when he detailed his conquest of the region (the legacy of which probably plays into the Swiss’ natural preference for official neutrality in world affairs). Still, some of the traditions and fragments of the past remained, and it’s through Origins that Eluveitie intends to pass the word. This makes for an engaging and colorful world of kings, battles and poetry, allowing the listener to escape into the past, in a particularly glorious way.
Which is why I’m a little disappointed about how restrained the album’s production makes it sound. The guitars, rather than blasting and buzzing out of the speakers, sound a little too compressed, too clean and predictable. I understand that “evil” is not really the band’s raison d’être here, but it would still help to let the music breathe a little bit. Perhaps stripping the crisp and shine from their style would do the trick. Maybe a little less later-era Arch Enemy and a little more early-Sentenced and Naglfar could do them well, while still keeping the flutes in the background of course. They may even benefit by taking a page from one of their countrymen.
Still, there are moments where the band’s blending of melodic death metal and Celtic-folk music comes together brilliantly. This is especially true of the album’s lead single, “King,” along with standouts like “The Nameless” and “From Darkness.” In these instances, the band finds a way to mix the heavy riffs, growls and female backing-vocals in just the right way to capture the spirit and vision of their earlier work.
Favorite Songs: “King”, “The Nameless”, “From Darkness”, “Inception”
When he's not infuriating people with his album reviews, Drew Zalucky is busy writing for his political website, For the Sake of Argument