ELUVEITIE – Origins (CD)

Want a little Lord of the Rings with your metal? Then Eluveitie’s new release Origins may just be the album for you.

I’ll give the band credit for exploring the dark alleys of progressive metal but, unfortunately, the mix feels uneven throughout and never seems to gain steady footing. There is too much mead in the studio perhaps. The whole thing feels like some sort of Irish step dance performance gone terribly wrong. How about Evanescence headlining a Renaissance fair? I think you get the idea.

You remember back in 1989 when Jethro Tull won Best Metal Album at the Grammies? This was a tragedy to be sure. Eluveitie seems hell-bent of wrestling the trophy back in the name of all things heavy. Admirable but, ultimately, misguided.

The Swiss band’s sixth cd is loaded with underworld touches and chockfull of pan flutes and violin flourishes to boot. Several of the songs and intermissions between songs are propelled along by voices – male and female – that don’t do much to entice or engage. That is “The Number of the Beast” intro as might be spoken by Merlin or one of the witches from Macbeth.

They may want to consider letting the female members take the lead more often. By far, the collections strongest numbers are the ones that feature female lead vocals – provided by member Anna Murphy. “The Call of the Mountains” is especially strong and stands head and shoulders above others but, again, it seems a bit out-of-place in this setting. “Vianna” also greatly benefits from female vocals.

There is certainly strong musicianship throughout and the bagpipes, violins, dulcimers, and hurdy gurdy (among others) are definitely in the hands of skilled players. In particular “The Nameless”, “Sucellos”, and “The Silver Sister” all rock intensely and almost make you forget that there is a singing fairy or whistle solo around the next corner. Spinal Tap’s glorious “Stonehenge” came to mind more than once.

I’m on record as having a bias against the harsh scream/grunt vocals made almost mandatory in so many new metal bands – preferring, instead, the melodic quality of more traditional metal singers and so the harsh, pitch less vocals wear me down early on. I will say that I actually prefer songs sung in the ancient Gaulish language used in a few places – something the band committed to more in their earlier recordings. Like alternative rock’s Sigur Ros, this approach lends some extra mystery to the proceedings and makes for a slightly more interesting combination of ingredients.

Production is fairly solid and craftsmanship of the songs isn’t wholly to blame. It really seems to be the ups and downs, starts and stops that keep the listener guessing more than is necessary. There are no one-two punch combinations as high points have to be found, like gold flakes in a stream, where they might happen to be.

The eight-member band is a self proclaimed “Folk Metal” band. I guess the title fits and they are, at least, consistent with the sound they have cultivated over their other albums but I’d love to hear some more growth and expansion. There may be running themes that link the songs but they aren’t obvious – other than the general texture of Game of Thrones territory. Maybe a clear “concept album” would help the band step in a more interesting direction at this point in their careers.

Interesting but not quite the right combination to stand up as strongly as the ominous setting calls for. Grade: A solid “C”           [Nuclear Blast]                Robert Allen Ankrom

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