Review Summary: Helvetios achieves what it sets out to do, but it does not invert the fear that Eluveitie's sound may be starting to wear out
When it comes to the more vivacious side of folk metal (as opposed to the more metal rooted style presented by bands like Primordial, Falkenbach and Metsatöll), Eluveitie are definitely one of the forerunners of the genre. Their brisk atmosphere which is backed by effervescent guitars and poignant rasps makes for some ridiculously catchy listening. Hate it or love it, their precise uptempo style of Celtic folk metal is yet to be replicated in identical quality by any other contemporary band. Then again, other bands aren't what threatens Eluveitie. In a rather bizarre manner, Eluveitie seem to be their own worst enemy, and a question that rises to the fore is whether or not can they best themselves after Helvetios. With five full-length albums under their belts (counting Helvetios), have Eluveitie got what it takes to push their art to another level; to explore new dimensions and variables while keeping true to their core sound? And most importantly, is that even possible with the style they are playing, or should we be content with what they deliver to us album after album, seeing as how they are doing their thing well? How you answered to the previous question determines how much you are going to enjoy Helvetios, because it is strictly just another well-done Eluveitie release.
Forgetting about the future for now, Helvetios, the band’s fifth studio album, is not so much a natural progression as it is a logical counterpart to previously released albums Everything Remains As It Never Was, Slania and Spirit. The songwriting approach is still the same, as the songs are based on simple, downtuned guitars and enamor the listener with swirling flutes, pipes and strong melodies. Technically, nothing new is introduced here, but what Eluveitie have always done well, they do well here too. Essentially, Helvetios is a slightly more consistent version of Everything Remains As It Never Was, or even more so, a twin brother to Slania. The dynamics are still the same: the main attraction lies in the folk instruments and melodies, with the guitars, vocals and drumming providing just enough grit to lure in metalheads and casual folk lovers alike. Falling in line with that, the vocal department is also structured the way it always has been: frontman Chrigel Glanzmann is still the main force there with his rasps, which are, during certain sections, complemented by the clean singing of female members Meri Tadic and Anna Murphy. The only thing that is notably different this time around is that the album has a clear-cut concept, which is carried out fairly well. The story is about the Helvetios – a Gaulish tribe who inhabited the Swiss plateau in the first century BC – and describes their war and struggles with the Roman invaders. The concept’s style, in its essence, is nothing out of the blue for a folk metal band, but Eluveitie present and execute it nicely, making it a solid supplement to the music.
In all honesty, Helvetios is quite a discordant album. On one hand, it features nothing new at all from Eluveitie’s standpoint, barring the concept, but on the other, it is executed so damn finely that it's hard to put down for a lack of innovation (and then there’s the whole ordeal of folk metal being a fun genre that doesn’t even require innovation and should be taken at face value). Here's where the "future" aspect comes into play, though. Helvetios can be excused because of how well it is made, but in the future, if Eluveitie keep playing the same track to us, it will certainly get harder and harder to appreciate the releases for what they are, especially since we will always have the band’s back-catalogue to spin as well. Eluveitie aren’t a venerable band just yet, with their formation dating back to 2002, meaning they most certainly have quite a few albums left in them. This problem will not strike them straight away, seeing as their next outing will be an acoustic album in the vein of their Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion release, but looking at how similar all of their metal releases are, it will surface at one point in all probability. Most folk metal acts, the successful ones at least, rarely change their formula in a radical fashion, mostly because there just isn’t that much to be done in the confines of the genre, but off the top of my head, Eluveitie, despite me calling them one of the forerunners of the brand, are one of clearest one-trick pony acts around. It hasn’t hurt them yet, because they are adept at what they do and the sound they have going for them is strictly their own, but how will things turn out for Eluveitie in the future remains to be seen.
In spite of my perplexed views about their future, I thoroughly enjoy Eluveitie; I love their frisky flutes and high-octane instrumentation that accompany tales about pride, war, motherland, nature, and the like. Still, it can’t be ignored and one has to wonder: How much further can they go before their sound wears out for good? At present, their music is still as lively and candid as ever, but that doesn't change the fact that, despite changing up and re-arranging their melodies, Eluveitie keep releasing what is basically the same album over and over again, with only minor differences between their records. Helvetios is a testament to that: an album that is great in and of itself, but also demonstrates the obvious limitations of Eluveitie’s music. Then again, after all, this is folk metal, the genre for fun loving metalheads, and maybe I’m being overly demanding, because Helvetios is a great folk metal album when it comes down to pure and unaffected evaluation. What is certain is that, for now, Eluveitie have once again successfully held their own, but their future is unclear as of yet. In any case, enjoy their stride while it lasts.