Tuesday 9 April 2019

Eluveitie - Ategnatos (2019)

Country: Switzerland
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 5 Apr 2019
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The eighth studio album for Eluveitie starts out as it means to go on with an overtly cinematic opening: dark narration, swelling folk melodies and then the crunch as Ategnatos really kicks in. There's violin in there and pipes too, as well as a beautiful Celtic sounding female voice floating around like a ghost. By the time Chrigel Glanzmann adds his lead vocals, the scene is set.

And, frankly, it stays there for the rest of the album which, in keeping with Eluveitie tradition, contains a whole bunch of tracks but isn't crazy long: it only exceeds an hour by twenty seconds and there are sixteen tracks to enjoy on its journey to the finish line.

For those who haven't heard Switzerland's finest before, they've been around since 2002 and they've achived a heck of a lot in that time. I'm a little out of touch nowadays, but they sound as good as they ever have to me here, with a wealth of little folk touches well placed to elevate the melodic death crunch that's their bedrock.

Case in point: Deathwalker, the second song (Ancus is an eleven second prayer or invocation). It kicks off with the hurdy gurdy of Michalina Malisz, adds a cawing raven and escalates to a glorious combo of harsh male and clean female vocals. That hurdy gurdy rarely goes away, except when things pause for more narration, and it's glorious. It often sounds like the band recorded this in a pub outside Dublin with whoever happened to be there at the time chiming in with their own musical contributions.

Black Water Dawn certainly kicks off that way; I could almost hear the pouring of Guinness behind the bar. And we don't even hear the harp until halfway into A Cry in the Wilderness. Frankly, we're so used to hearing metal played with a standard set of instruments that Eluveitie's approach takes some getting used to. There's so much weaving in and out of focus here that the album feels busy on a first listen but grows with each return as we explore its depths.

What we gradually realise is that Eluveitie aren't just having fun weaving the elements together like Celtic knotwork, they're having fun, period.

Ambiramus enjoys stepping aside from the band's melodic death foundation for a more alternative approach with clean female vocals dominant. Worship enjoys an apocalyptic feel, initially with ominous Biblical narration and then with the adversarial tone of the vocals and some crunchy guitar. The Raven Hill enjoys slowing things down, but there's a catch: the vocal melody sounds rather akin to What Will We Do with the Drunken Sailor?, so it takes us a little while to get out of an Alestorm mindset and back into an Eluveitie one. The flutes do help.

I had a blast with this album and it's getting better with each repeat listen. What I haven't quite fathomed yet is the narrative flow, because I get rather distracted by the folk instrumentation and forget to focus on the lyrics. Not all of them are in English, I should add. I don't even recognise the language of Trinoxtion, another spoken interlude.

The album as a whole feels like a concept piece and not just because of these narrative sections or the rain and the birds of good or ill omen. It wraps up with a lament from that beautiful Celtic female voice unaccompanied except for rain, into which it gradually fades. There's definitely darkness here and I do wonder what the story is, especially as it plays out with a cinematic feel (and if most of it could be a film, the beginning of Threefold Death could be the backing for its trailer).

The key is this: I enjoyed it on a first listen, but keep finding new things in it each further time through and I expect to keep doing that for quite a while. If that's your sort of thing, then this is highly recommended.

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