Genre: Folk Metal
Release Date: 5 April 2019
Review by Samantha Wolstenholme
Folk metal really has taken the heavy world by storm in the last few years. It truly is a global phenomenon of merging the old world of music with the new, in a way that metal fans the world over really seemed to have connected with – getting back to their roots, as it were. “Ategnatos”, the eighth studio album from genre leaders Eluveitie, embodies this movement at its very core. “Ategnatos” literally means “rebirth” in Gaulish, and true to form, it’s a fine example of everything folk metal stands for: revisiting the tales of yore to guide us into the new age and evoking a tribal sense of belonging in the way that only metal can. Musically, this album is signature Eluveitie and it showcases the catchy hooks and extensive, imaginative instrumentation that they are known for. In places, it is a step up from their previous releases in terms of songwriting quality and creativity. However, overall, “Ategnatos” fails to deviate from the stylistic mould as much as it would need to in order to be truly revolutionary.
Eluveitie are famous for having numerous members in their permanent lineup at any given time, and for “Ategnatos”, I believe they are at their most expansive with no fewer than nine members. As always with the folk metal legends, there’s everything from whistles to hurdy gurdy to the bodhran in the vast and intricate instrumental soundscape – though the gentle timbre of the Celtic harp, played expertly by relative newcomer Fabienne Erni, is my personal favourite to listen to on this album. While every instrument clearly has its part to play, while listening through “Ategnatos”, I couldn’t help but feel that its complex musical texture only allows for a few particular members to really shine through. Chrigel Glanzmann and Fabienne Erni carry most of the tracks, driving the memorable melodies with their dual vocal and instrumental contributions. Guitarists Rafael Salzmann and Jonas Wolf have a few moments in the spotlight during the more riff-heavy tracks on the album, but apart from that, everyone else gets a little lost as there is just so much going on.
The album opens with the trademark Eluveitie spoken word as the title track unfolds with an air of mystery and foreboding, then launches right into stock standard folk metal grandeur, all layers of impassioned vocals and chanting choirs interspersed with rapid whistle and fiddle countermelody lines. “Ategnatos” is an enjoyable track and a good opener, but it’s fairly conventional for Eluveitie standards. However, things do take a more creative turn with the arrival of “Deathwalker”, a punchy and ferocious number that distinguishes itself with the much thrashier guitars driving the track. This thrashy vibe is later echoed again in the appropriately-titled “Mine is the Fury”, which is very reminiscent of Slayer meets Arch Enemy and features a fantastically heavy breakdown section. In both of these tracks, Chrigel Glanzmann’s throat-tearing growls complete the tapestry of aggression in a welcome departure from their somewhat formulaic sound. And in general, Glanzmann’s harsh vocals are much more powerfully delivered on this album than in previous releases, in my opinion.
I mentioned clean vocalist Fabienne Erni’s excellent vocal contributions to this album, and by Thor, does she soar like a raven in flight through many of these tracks. Her flawless mezzo-soprano belt is a standout feature in “Black Water Dawn”, “Breathe”, and most notably, “The Slumber”, the powerful and anguished chorus of which is a particularly passionate note in this lengthy album. Despite the often highly crowded instrumental texture of many of the tracks on “Ategnatos”, there are also some very memorable solo moments for some of the other instrumentalists – there’s an epic whistle solo on the aforementioned “The Slumber”, providing some sparkle and extra folky flourish, and Nicole Ansperger’s brilliant fiddle solo in “Worship” is the highlight of that track, even if overall the track does sound straight out of In Flames’ back catalogue.
“Ategnatos” is overlong with no fewer than 16 tracks, and certainly, there are a few filler tracks here and there – mostly the short and perhaps unnecessary instrumental interludes – and by the time we get to “Threefold Death” and “Breathe”, the album does start to drag on a bit. However, there are just as many high points as there are lows. Second album single “Ambiramus” is a shining example of everything Eluveitie does well, packaged into a rollicking poppy folk rave dream, complete with fun disco beats and an instrumental melodic hook that will be the earworm to follow you around for the next few days. This being a folk metal album, there is also a very interesting reworked and rearranged cover of Celtic folk song “Oro se do bheatha bhaile” that takes form in the track “The Raven Hill”. The chanted choruses and swaggering guitar riffs in this track lend a more modern pirate-shanty flavour to this ancient folk ballad that is as old as the hills. And it really works in an Eluveitie album, that’s for sure.
Overall, “Ategnatos” may not be a groundbreaking work, but the glimpses of stylistic experimentation and creativity that appear throughout the album serve to indicate the more mature, multi-faceted and complex sound that Eluveitie are clearly working towards perfecting. I don’t feel that this album is enough of a departure from the band’s signature sound to truly embody the rebirth concept of “Ategnatos”. However, it’s like standing at the foot of a mountain at sunrise – you can see the rays of light slowly emerging from behind the rocky hills, and though it’s not much, you know a new day is dawning. For me, this is what “Ategnatos” represents – not quite the dawning of a new era for this iconic folk powerhouse, but the beginnings of a gradual evolution in their core sound and the potential for transformative power to create a whole new world of folk metal.
8 out of 10.