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Bloody hell, what left field did this come out of then?
Eluveitie, regardless of whether you can get on board with what they do or not, are a band doing something very unique within the folk metal genre. While admittedly excellent bands such as Finntroll and Korpiklanni underscore their Celtic influences with a basic, almost punkish heavier edge, Eluveitie are a band apart in their approach to the genre – they instead choose to merge their passion for hurdy-gurdies, tin whistles and accordions with a brand of melodic death metal on a par with bands like Dark Tranquillity and their melodious ilk.
‘Spirit’ is an album that takes the ideas that the aforementioned compatriots have frequently indulged but never pushed as far as it may go, and, well, pushes it as far as it may go. To anyone who thought the likes of Turisas, Tyr and Ensiferum provided music that inspired you to raise fists, horns and beers all into the air, or jig until your limbs collapsed from the strain, well, Eluveitie will do all that and more.
The metallic aspect of the band is one that has seen far more development and depth put into it – guitar work here is the not the chordal crashing favoured by many of the aforementioned groups but instead, full on, even memorable riffs are introduced into the mix (‘Your Gaulish War’ and ‘The Song Of Life’), backed up by solid, shifting bass lines and complimented with drumming that is given, through rolls and fills and varied patterns, an additional complexity to the usual straightforward drive. Admittedly, they are not at the level of technical ability of the melodic deathsters by which Eluveitie are clearly inspired, but at a level of ability that raises them above the bands many on first listen will view as their contemporaries.
As for the much lauded folk elements, they are what lend the material its true stand-out excellence – which considering the enormous proliferation of unusual instruments sourced is frankly to be expected. Many albums that make use of numerous unconventional instruments (not least a full on orchestra) disappoint because they allow these elements to be subsumed by the overbearing metallics – Eluveitie let every Irish flute, acoustic guitar and bodhram ring out clear and plain in the material, which the crystal clear production fully compliments throughout.
What is also refreshing about the use of such instruments is that it, too, progresses beyond the usual. Folk instruments, when heard in Finntroll’s ‘Trollhammeren’ or Korpiklanni’s ‘Happy Little Boozer’ are primarily used to create an additional hook, built specifically and solely for the purpose of getting a drunken dance going. Eluveitie certainly engage in this – the almost leit motif stylings found on ‘Your Gaulish War’ and the astoundingly good ‘Tagernako’ being the best examples – but use the instruments for other melodies, bridge parts and introductions. ‘Spirit’ in short is record that brings a degree of freshness to the genre, advancing it beyond what its inspirations have achieved.
It is hardly a perfect album of course; the vocals are perhaps the weakest point, being barely exceptional or memorable and playing a decided second fiddle (pardon the pun) to the music. While it is a revelation to hear melodeath attached so seamlessly to such thoughtfully composed and executed folk, the distinct impression is that were the two aspects were separated the metal would still be of a decidedly unremarkable nature – in other words each distinct part of Eluveitie’s sound would fall flat without the other.
‘Spirit’ is an album of intrigue simply because it is an album built for drinking to and for introducing the listener to new avenues of possibility within that branch of the folk metal genre. An album that has, despite its flaws, charms that are damn near impossible to resist, ‘Spirit’ deserves a place in any record collection for providing such an irresistibly good and fun listen.