Eluveitie - Evocation I/The arcane dominion 3.5/5

Reviewed: 7-24-09


1. Sacrapos - At first glance
2. Brictom
3. A gil's death
4. The arcane dominion
5. Within the grove
6. The cauldron of renascence
7. Nata
8. Omnos
9. Carnutian forest
10. Dessumiis luge
11. Gobanno
12. Voveso in mori
13. Memento
14. Ne regv na
15. Sacrapos - The disparaging last gaze

Eluveitie have so far been a band that have always ended up a bit less than the sum of their parts. Their Gothenburg-based take on folk metal is a bit of a different approach to the more established styles of the genre, but the execution has always been found a little lacking as they haven’t yet managed to properly knit together 2 very incongruent styles of music without the cracks showing.

‘Evocation I/The arcane dominion’ sparked a new interest in the band for me, as the idea of them focusing on one aspect of their music only – the more colourful celtic folk style rather than their often robotic-sounding melodic death metal base – suggested that maybe without the jarring leaps between the 2 styles they could render a CD with more flow and balance than the more ‘regular’ ones that have preceded it.

Acoustic CDs are all the rage this weather, with Elvenking and Folkearth among those getting in on the act recently, but despite the plethora of fancy-dan instruments they make use of, Eluveitie are maybe a less likely candidate for success in this field. The idea of a band usually based at least partially around fast, heavy-ish riffing stripping it all back to let acoustic guitars and folk instruments do the talking suggests that the final product would sound nothing like their recognizable style, but ‘Evocation I’ is still, at least to a regular listener of their first 2 releases, very much identifiable as an Eluveitie CD. Both ‘Spirit’ and ‘Slania’ featured a few tracks each with no metal elements at all where the traditional musicians in the band took over completely, and there are an even bigger amount of these short, mostly instrumental tracks to be found on their newest release.

The complete songs – a few unexpected exclusions to be discussed later aside – also feature an even more prominent use of these instruments above the bass, drums and acoustic guitars that drive them forward, and remind more of their intertwined use on the debut rather than the more predictable ‘heavy/soft/heavy’ approach they used on ‘Slania’. The absence of heaviness should not create the impression that Eluveitie have gone all joining-hands-around-the-campfire - to go along with some pleasantly upbeat songs, the fiddles, bagpipes and all the rest are also used to create plenty of dark atmosphere, particularly effective during the pounding menace of “Dessumiis luge”.

The one thing that really divides ‘Evocation I’ from its predecessors, even more than the absence of electric guitars, is the vocals. Wisely realizing that his guttural style would not fit in with the more serene music on this CD, frontman and multi-instrumentalist band leader Chrigil Glanzmann has taken the commendably modest step of keeping away from the microphone, with hurdy-gurdist Anna Murphy suddenly pushed into the spotlight to provide the biggest part of the singing. With Glanzmann offering only the occasional scream or growled passed, someone previously a background member of the band has suddenly found herself very much front and center, but she proves to be a well up to the task. Her voice is a perfect fit for the style – something I’m personally very finicky about is female singers in folk metal bands as they often seem either too distantly operatic or sugary and pop-centric to fit the bill, but Murphy strikes the balance perfectly with her fluid, seductive tones.

More credit is due in the vocal department considering that, with the exception of the spoken intro track, there is not a word of English to be heard on the CD, with everything else being sung in the very, very dead Gaulish language, and hearing the vocalists wrapping their tongues so convincingly around the rough-hewn ancient words is impressive to say the least. The intro track is spoken by Alan Averill of the Irish celtic black metal band Primordial (I can barely spell Eluveitie, so don’t go expecting me to make any attempts at his gargantuan pseudonym!), and he also reappears as a singer with an outstanding performance on the sparse, vocal-driven “Nata”. While maybe not quite at full strength considering he is singing in a foreign tongue, his operatic voice is still a mighty thing to be hold – and as a quick aside, I’d have to recommend Primoridal on these grounds to anyone out there attracted to the aesthetics of epic black metal but just unable to get past the usual vocal approach.

So for all this praise, the score I’m giving the CD probably seems a little modest. Unfortunately, for all its varied strengths, ‘Evocation I’ is far from perfect. The single biggest problem is that, at 15 tracks in length, there is a bit of an absence of actual songs to be found. As pleasant as the interludes and short run-throughs of traditional tunes are, they are too numerous to allow the CD to develop any momentum. By the time “Nata” rolls around, 7th in the tracklist, it is only the 3rd to get past the 3 minute mark, and with this many songs taking up only 50 minutes, there is a slightly abortive feel hanging over the whole thing.

The most baffling thing about ‘Evocation I’ however, comes with the occasions when Eluveitie decide to forgo their acoustic-only pronouncement to push the songs forward with the odd bit of electric instrumentation or studio trickery. The electric guitar barks that punctuate “The arcane dominion” to add a bit of emphasis seem unnecessary, but more infuriating are the build-up sections of several of the songs where the drums are processed with that damnable ‘underwater’ effect more suited to the likes of Linkin Park than folk music. The decision is a mystifying and pretty needless one as well – in a band so skilled with a huge array of instruments, surely some sort of organic percussion could have been used in these parts to better effect? Quite why Eluveitie have gone to the trouble of creating a rigid set of rules for the CD only to go ahead break them in such perplexing fashion when it suits them really takes the shine off the atmosphere they have gone to such pains to create in the first place.

Regardless, ‘Evocation I’ probably shades it as the best Eluveitie CD to date, so is certainly well worth a listen, but a bit of tweaking here and there would have made for a far more resounding success.




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