It’s not difficult to see why Eluveitie is a folk metal powerhouse. From humble beginnings, the band has grown into an institution that delights its legion of fans with its harmonious blending of traditional folk instruments and death metal. While it has been a few years since the band dropped their latest effort — acoustic offering Evocation II: Pantheon in 2017 — the band has revisited their heavier side and has relished the opportunity to create another heavy album and has returned in 2019 with their eighth studio album Ategnatos.
Ategnatos begins the same way as many Eluveitie albums beforehand — a spoken word introduction atop a building musical score that crescendos into the title track. At this stage of the game, it could be considered a very rote move from the band, but it still continues to work and also provides some greater context to the overall theme of the album – that being of rebirth. This theme is very strongly embedded in the music and lyrics so before going any further it is important to point out that while it might be very easy to draw parallels between this theme of rebirth and Eluveitie’s line-up changes, this does not feel like something that has been intentionally targeted or promoted by the band, and seems to be a tenuous link at best. The albums large and emotionally powerful lyrical focus on mortality and rebirth should be enough to dissuade people from drawing these parallels, but there will undoubtedly be a small cohort that will draw links between these themes and the changeover of notable band members, so it felt important to include this up front.
Ategnatos is an interesting album. For all intents and purposes, the band tries to retain a large portion of their folk metal roots but has also taken the interesting approach of experimenting with other genres. There are many songs on the album that harken back to a more traditional death metal rooted sound, similar to the one the band had on earlier albums like Everything Remains As It Never Was, but there is also some poppier sounding tracks like ‘Ambriamus’, a ballad in ‘Breathe’, and a groove-metal sounding track in ‘Deathwalker’. There’s a lot of variety here, all with Eluveitie’s touch, and while it all works, the ranging variety could have an impact on the way it is viewed in the eyes of the fans.
Figurehead and frontman Chrigel Glanzmann is again to be commended on his performance on Ategnatos. While there is no drastically big deviation from the same displays we have been getting from Glanzmann for the last decade or so now, there is a sense of refinement to his performance on this album. Even in some of the more upbeat sounding songs that you think might not accommodate his style of vocals, Glanzmann embeds himself into these songs in ways that don’t originally seem obvious. Additionally, the harsh and soft dichotomy between his fierce vocals and his gracefully beautiful counterpart Fabienne Erni Is really one of the key elements that give Ategnatos a lot of its emotive power.
While on the subject of vocals, Erni has been a surprise inclusion to the band’s ranks over the past few years. While many fans are probably still mourning the separation of Eluveitie and previous female vocalist Anna Murphy, Erni demonstrates on Ategnatos that she is more than capable of helping to elevate the band in a way that would not have been previously possible. In fact, many of the songs on Ategnatos simply wouldn’t work without the grace, passion or power that Erni puts into her vocal delivery. Tracks like ‘Ambriamus’, ‘The Slumber’ and ‘Breathe’ are carried by her performance alone, while her choral and accompanying vocals on tracks like ‘Threefold Death’ add a greater depth to their overall sound. Her use of the harp is also quite prevalent in many tracks and adds a great flourish every time it makes an appearance.
Musically, the remainder of the band performs well. There are some songs with some sections with really great guitar work from Rafael Salzmann and Jonas Wolf, particularly in tracks like ‘Breathe’ and ‘Rebirth’, and an additional stand out violin pieces from Nicole Ansperger like the upbeat solo in ‘Deathwalker’. Apart from that, there wasn’t much that stood out as being ideally unique to this album over other albums in the band’s catalog which wasn’t already tied to their new stylistic approach.
Overall the mix is as balanced as one would come to expect from an Eluveitie album. The folk elements are respectably placed, and the album never feels like a particular component of its wall of sound is outshining another. There are a few sections where the vocals and backing vocals could have been louder to really drive home their importance, but overall the band has achieved a good balance — which you would, of course, expect when mixing duties were handled by none other than Jens Bogren.
The album does suffer some engagement issues throughout its 16 song duration though. Firstly, there are a few tracks —particularly the interludes — that could quite easily be removed and the result would have had a minimal impact on the listeners overall appreciation or feel for the album. Additionally, while musically sound, the differing styles attempted from song to song on the album may take listeners by surprise, and may also take a few listens to embrace which could be a turnoff for some. But aside from these small issues, there really aren’t much to fault with the album.
Ategnatos is a great return to heavier music from Eluveitie, but it is going to be interesting to see what happens from here. The album challenges the way that people should view their own mortality, but the stylistic change means it will also challenge the way that fans will view Eluveitie moving forward. While the band has had no difficulty on Ategnatos in finding a way for the listeners to embrace the raw emotional power of their lyrics, it will be interesting to see how the fans approach the varied direction of their music. While many might perceive this album as struggling with some identity issues, in particular around its pacing and it’s varied genres, it is still an enjoyable, but it just may take some time to really resonate with listeners. Make no mistakes Ategnatos is a good album and is one that will show listeners that spend time with it exactly why the band continues to be a torchbearer for modern-day folk metal now and into the future.
Eluveitie “Ategnatos” (Nuclear Blast)