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After Eluveitie finally found a good mixture between melodic death metal and Celtic folk influences on their last album "Slania", they decided to move away from this and create an acoustic album. I really expected that this step came too soon and many other bands did this kind of acoustic albums so that Eluveitie only followed a trend. But it came even worse because this record is even less inspiring and original than the acoustic excursions of their colleagues of "Elvenking" or "In Extremo". This record is a huge step back and into the wrong direction for a band that finally found its own and unique style.
Let's mention the positive parts first. There are a few catchy tracks on this album as the addicting single "Omnos" and the rather folk influenced and joyful "Brictom". There are also some really relaxing and chilling tracks on the record like the diversified instrumental "Carnutian forest", the atmospheric folk tale "Dessumiis Luge" and the strange melancholic ballad "Voveso in mori". Let's say that those songs are well done but you still won't find anything truly outstanding and great here that you haven't heard before.
While there are some enjoyable average tracks that invite to take a break and dream away like the “In Extremo” light track "Memento" or the calm "Na regv na", most of the songs are profoundly bound to boredom and simply go nowhere. That doesn't mean that a couple of songs don't have good ideas but they sound all quite similar and uninspired or they are repeated way too much and too long. That doesn't create a hypnotizing or haunting effect but a rather sleepy mood.
Some tracks are though very bad. After a while, one simply can't enjoy the shriek and annoying flutes, pseudo-intellectual chorals and dumb background growls. Especially the male vocals are too aggressive and annoying while the female vocals are interesting in a few songs but always repeat the same patterns and lose the effect of the first positive impression quite fast. That's where this album reminds me of the folk experiments of "Atrocity" that are comparable to the efforts of this record. I can't decide which band does the worst job but I would probably go for Eluveitie as they simply follow the masses and don't even try to add something new or even spectacular to the genre. Maybe they try to be innovating when a girl recites a strange poem while some boring folk pattern play and they decide to call the whole thing "A girl's oath" but the song just sounds ridiculous and stereotypical to me. The title track "The Arcane Dominion" represents very well what the album stands for and one soon loses the little glimpse of interest in this overlong track filled with the usual ideas and melodies that won’t touch or impress or addict anybody anymore. A few other negative examples that go into the same vein might be “”Within the grove”, “The cauldron of renascence” and “Nata”.
At least the bonus material is well chosen. The metal version of "Omnos" is interesting to compare to the acoustic version and both tracks have a different core and atmosphere. The concert on the special edition of the album is energizing and entertaining but not necessary for those that already have the "Live at Metalcamp" album that is even more complete and better done.
In the end, there are a few enjoyable tracks and some good bonus material but that's not enough to get an average rating. This album follows a trend and mostly bores to death. Instead of continuing the great fusion of the two styles the band is inspired by, they split them up and made an acoustic album followed by a death metal album with some folk interludes and made a huge step back. This album is a true disappointment after the last breakthrough and that's why my rating might seem a little bit harsh to some people but I think that is still justified. I wouldn't recommend this album to anyone - neither the fans of the band's latest two record nor those who adore Celtic folk music. Better go and take a look at the German Medieval Rock scene or some good old albums by “Skyclad” or “Cruachan”.
After two albums that I've decided sounded way too repetitive, both by themselves and together, I dismissed Eluveitie as a band that wasn't really radiating with originality and I approached this with a healthy dose of skepticism. I was somewhat soothed by the fact that this was going to be an acoustic release because, let's face it, their Gothenburgh death metal bits were far from fresh. However, their gaulic melodies were excellent, so, just dumping the sub-par metal and going full-on folk would make it sound awesome, right?
Yes, well, that might have been the case if they actually did dump the metal, instead of just playing it in acoustic style. Imagine a 13 year-old kid playing death metal rhythm guitar on his dad's old acoustic because he can't afford an electric instrument. That's what this album sounds like. Take Slania, replace death metal vocals with female ones and replace electric death chords with acoustic chords. And bam, you have Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion, acoustic death/folk, and a faithfully Eluveitie album. By faithfully Eluveitie I mean play the same shit all over again on each album you have. I can't describe Evocation without describing Slania at the same time – polished sound of great hurdy-gurdy, flute and what-not melodies, backed by bad guitars with repetitive and mediocre powers of composition with no song sounding different or standing out in the album.
In itself, the album is neither good nor bad, it is quite average. You won't have the urge to turn it off, but at the same time you will not have the urge to react to it in any manner. In 40 minutes it will pass, you won't notice a thing about it and won't be able to name a single song and remember how it went. Actually, this album is the pinnacle of mediocre. I would give it a perfect 50, if it weren't for the fact that this is their third album and these guys and gals haven't progressed anywhere and they insist on playing the same crap again and again on each of their albums. Eluveitie are not Korpiklaani to be repetitive and fun at the same time.
It actually might be that Evocation is acoustic as a deliberate attempt at sounding different. And somehow, Eluveitie still fail at this. However, the thing that pisses me off the most is that this album is called Evocation I. Meaning that there will also be an Evocation II.
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.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)