It really is difficult to make a folk metal album without sounding completely and utterly ridiculous. The genre itself is something which, on paper, doesn’t sound like it would work at all. I’m not exactly sure who first thought of mixing a flute and an electric guitar, but what I am sure of is that it sounded just a bit ridiculous. But alas, this is metal, and the most ridiculous of ideas tend to explode into an entire genre complete with a cult underground following. I think that this was the case with folk metal, because when you really listen to some of the bands who simply take themselves way too seriously, it makes a seasoned metal fan look at the ground and shake their head in shame. I’m sorry, but my ideas of an intense, emotional delve into a culture’s traditional instruments and folklore does not involve some idiot running around on stage headbanging to a flute solo. No thank you.
So you can imagine my level of speculation when I looked at the lineup of Swiss band Eluveitie and noticed members who play instruments such as the hurdygurdy or the bodhrán. Never mind the fact that hurdygurdy is an almost insulting name for an instrument, one has to wonder what exactly these instruments look and sound like. I can envision an Eluveitie concert in which these bizarre, perhaps monolithic devices produce a sound which takes the audience back to a day and age long past. In all its corny and strange grandeur, folk metal done right really is something to step back and look at teary eyed, mouth agape, just paralyzed. I know people out there are thinking things like “well, I highly doubt a genre like folk metal can be like that
,” but I promise you that Eluveitie’s first full length album Spirit
does just that, and more.
My idea of folk metal mixed with some melodic death metal was something along the lines of what Ensiferum does, but Spirit
has simply tossed Ensiferum out the window. Yes, the melodic death metal influences here are noticeable, but the folk influences are equally or more potent. There is everything one will expect out of folk metal, with acoustic guitars straight out of some inn from places long forgotten. There are female vocals, there are instruments you cannot pronounce the names of, there are sounds of warfare, and there are lots of flutes. The key here is how you are never, ever fed too much folk and you are never fed too much melodic death. The balance and flavor of the album is just perfect. When the epic flutes and bagpipes start to become a bit old, a vicious scream from the vocalist silences them and brings in a heavy, rolling guitar riff which seems to chase away the folk instruments. When the metal influences start to become too thick, the acoustic guitar, the flutes, the bagpipes, or one of the other 8 instruments creeps back into the song.
Not to say that you would be bored with either the folk or the metal. Each section is written, performed, recorded, mixed, and mastered with the most acute attention to what exactly the listener should be hearing at any given point in the album. When Eluveitie wants you to hear the folk instruments, you will hear them. When Eluveitie wants you to hear the metal instruments, you will hear them. The listener is never left guessing what they are or supposed to be hearing, and that is the beauty of the flawless production of this album.
Yes, you will hear the bass. Same with the electric guitars and drums. The metal elements here are the core of the music, and simply shape what the rest of the song will sound like. The riffs are very heavy at times, and very melodic at others. The riff which kicks in about a minute and a half into “Siraxta” helps transition the song from chanting female vocals to the astounding (and very fitting) harsh vocals which are contained in this album. Riffing is at it’s prime in this album, especially if you really appreciate a riff which flows with the vocals, the drums, and everything else which is going on. If you listen to “The Endless Knot” you will notice that the songwriting directs when the electric guitar is to work its way to the front and overtake the fiddles and flutes, and when to retract into the background and follow the lead of the instruments it was just directing.
Ebb and flow is the blood of this entire album, because each song seems to transition virtually seamlessly into the next. It can be epic, it can be calm. There is no need for Eluvitie to simply pummel the listener for thee first 4 songs, and leave them breathless and probably uninterested for the next 7. The doses of melodic death metal are portioned in a way which leaves you always ready for more. It’s really uncanny how when you are thinking “you know, it would be awesome if all this burst out into a sweet guitar riff”, and then within the next couple of seconds that exact thing happens. They always introduce a really interesting riff or melody at the beginning of the song, play it briefly, then play something completely different for the next 3 or 4 minutes before that awesome riff from the beginning is brought back in at just the right time. It makes each melody very lasting and savory, simply because of the way it was incorporated into the songs.
Yes, the folk part of the album is good. Actually, it’s really good. To call this folk metal and not have a really, really strong folk aspect is sort of stupid. The instruments are from all around Europe, with a very noticeable ode to Scottish and Irish folk music. The use of the bagpipes sound like a scene from the film Braveheart
, as do many of the other folk instruments. I honestly thought that the band was from Ireland until I learned from their website that they were Swiss. There are a total of 13 folk instruments used in some way during the album, with two different kinds of whistles, two kinds of bagpipes, and three kinds of horns. I’m not sure about anyone else, but if a band can take 13 kinds of instruments and make them work together in sequence for just short of an hour, I would give them a great deal of credit. The folk influences are extremely prevalent in each and every song, for either the entire or the majority of its running time. The song “Aidu” is entirely devoted to various folk instruments, mainly a flute, and female vocals. The song is captivating, relaxing, and well placed, acting as a transition from the beginning of the album to the end. Everything about the album is tainted with folk, and it really, really shows and acts as the biggest driving force of the album.
I can honestly say that my opinion of folk metal has changed drastically after listening to Spirit
. It is probably my personal favorite of the genre, and is just a masterpiece at blending the core of heavy metal with the influences of various countries from around the world. It is an album which really makes you feel accomplished after a listen, and I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single point were I disagreed with what the band had put there. Every song is fantastic, melodic, heavy, and epic. Seriously, what more could one want?