Review Summary: Eluveitie is an excellent Celtic folk group, and a pretty good melodic death group. The question is, when will they finally combine the two?
Eluveitie is a unique-sounding group. Even among the myriad folk metal bands that they have to contend with, Eluveitie has carved a nice little niche for themselves, by a) playing Celtic music, as opposed to just plain-old folk, and b) doing it better than most other people. On the flip side, they are a pretty good melodic death band---just different enough to not blend in with Amon Amarth, In Flames, At the Gates, and all the rest, but not really breaking any new ground. Keeping that in mind, "Slania" is an excellent album. However, with some more refinement, it could have been a masterpiece.
Lets take a look at instrumentation. We have our typical drums, guitars, and bass, and then the folk side: hurdy gurdy, bagpipes, and violin. All of these musicians are at least pretty good, and some (on the folk side) are outstanding. Then we have Chrigel Glanzmann, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist frontman. While he also plays a number of folk instruments, particularly the flute, as skillfully executed in "Inis Mona", his main job is to sing.
Considering vocals, Glanzmann has two distinct styles, outside of a chant that isn't seen very much here. His main style is a coarse, emotional, almost pained shriek, and his other is a typical death growl that he uses to accompany his main style in several songs. While this seems limited, his shriek is very effective and can display much emotional variety, making the songs that much more powerful. Then of course is Meri Tadic, who occasionally inserts her almost-calming female vocals.
Moving on to actual song structure, the source of Eluveitie's greatest strength and their greatest weakness. A typical song might sound something like "folky intro, metal part, folky part, metal part, really folky part, outro metal part". This is where Eluveitie loses points. While they are talented folk musicians and talented metal musicians, they seem to fail to actually combine the two. Don't take this to mean that every other song on the album is metal or folk. Rather, here is an example. When the folk instruments are playing, power chords or simplistic riffs play in the background. When more complex melodic death passages take the forefront, the folk fades away. This is unfortunate, because the steady anchor of hurdy gurdy would easily enhance some death metal shredding. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.
On the positive side, there are some really good melodic death parts, such as in "Bloodstained Ground", and many excellent folk parts, too many to individually list. The songs are varied enough to keep interest up, but all have the same somber, solemn vibe, a point I consider positive.
In the end, "Slania" could have been more, a classic, but as it stands, it is merely an excellent album. Listen to it for its ancient and somber mood, and it won't disappoint.