Sound: The album begins with an eerie and minimalistic track, "Prologue", with an old man giving a soliloquy. It's startling, bleak, and it definitely sets the tone for the album, after which the real music begins and it carries us through for about twenty minutes. The next track, "Helvetios", is the title track which as far as I understood tells the story of the Helvetian community, the people before Gaulish. Sad to say, no actual lyrics have been released yet and so I am guessing the entire story part and such. The song starts off with a flute solo and a blast from the double paddle of the bass drum and has that backbone of true folk music. The song truly does have the quality to be the title track of this album!
The next song in line is "Luxtos", another song with good music, the lyrical theme is a mixture of English and the "now-extinct" Gaulish language, the chorus is really a chorus sung by a choir in Gaulish. The track "Home" really has a gripping thing to it, the song says of the Helvetians setting out on a journey to migrate to the land of Santones, leaving their home Helvetia.
The next song, "Santonian Shores" is a mid-fast tempo track that opens with a bag-piper solo (and the other instruments fall in after a second). The growl styled vocals sound really good with the flute and bag-pipe. The song tells of the migration of the Helvetians to the Land of the Santones (at the west coast of today's France, below Brittany), and to reach the shores, they would have to pass through Geneva (a Roman-controlled territory back then).
After this, there is the first interlude "Scorched Earth". It's actually less of an interlude and just a minimalistic atmospheric folk piece, with soul-crushingly beautiful vocals being bellowed out in a foreign language. It's the same length as the preceding songs, but it's the ideal acquittal from the crunchy, groove-tastic melo-death riffs that permeate the music before and after this track. The song has the fact about the road of journey that they travelled on, the road to and through Geneva and to Santones.
The next song that follows Scorched Earth is "Meet The Enemy". Eluveitie released a note about this song on their Facebook page and as per that note, the song is about how the Helvetians went to Caesar in Geneva and asked for permission to travel through the lands under Roman control to their destination, the land of Santones. Caesar didn't answer them right away and they waited for his approval. But later on He didn't really take that time to consider anything good but refused. This refusal led the Helvetians to accept His decision generously, and they turned around and took a way longer, more dangerous and arduous path to the Santonian lands: going around all roman territories. This made Caesar angry and so He sent a whole pack of legions from Rome to Geneva to ambush and to murder the Helvetians. (They also said that Caesar was under political and financial pressure to do so). So the legions ambushed and killed the Helvetians when they were sleeping at night and it was a bloody massacre all around. (These events are told later in the following songs). So the song is about how they met the enemy and how the enemy had made the plan to waylay the Helvetians barbarically.
The next track "Neverland", I am guessing, is about how the Helvetians have ended up nowhere on their journey and are in grave peril too. The song starts with an amazing, amazing, amazing flute solo! The song is entirely melodious and tells the story that I think I guessed correctly.
The first fully female vocally sung song in this album is "A Rose For Epona". It features hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy on vocals. Eluveitie released a note on this song too. The note tells that: "The song "A Rose For Epona" appears about in the middle of the storyline so, it tells about the time when the Gaulish war broke out already. The Helvetians decided to leave their homeland and migrate to the west coast of Gallia, to start a new life there."
In the time the song tells about, many Helvetians had to face pretty much shattered hopes. And so does the protagonist, from whose viewpoint the song is written: A young Gaulish woman. She was part of the helvetic migration, but after the battle of Bibracte, all hopes that she and her people would ever reach their new home were torn to pieces. Furthermore you can imagine: She probably had lost her husband on the battlefields of Bibracte and she had to face fact that she can be glad if their common newborn child would not be killed and she herself would be sold into roman slavery.
Summing up the whole thing it stands that her situation was desperate. In this situation, the "young gaulish woman" despairs, can't accept her fate and turns to her goddess Epona and blames her for having abandoned her people and so they had to face such a fateful wrath. The song is entirely a clean-vocal-led track with a little growling vocals by Chrigel in the final chorus. An entirely melodious song that made me hear it over and over and over and over again before hearing the next one!
"Havoc", the next track is, as I am guessing by the storyline, about the battle and war and how chaos has seeped in (and the situation is entirely grave). The song is of a fast-tempo and opens up a fast violin solo in conjunction with the bagpiper that is really catchy and melodious to the ears.
Next up is the song "The Uprising", it opens up with a flute solo with addition to the hurdy-gurdy and most probably the song is about how the Helvetians are now fighting back in the Great Gaulish War, the spirit that they have of never backing down or losing. The breaks in the song is pretty alright where Glanzmann reads a verse that it is time to fight back the Roman empire, the ambushers, and a bag-pipe solo follows.
"Hope" is the only instrumental track in this album and wasn't so much catchy and beautiful to me, like "Isara" was in "Everything Remains As It Never Was".
The next track, "The Siege" blew my brains out and literally f***ed me up when I heard it. A duo-vocalled song and it's not a clean-death growl duo but a scream-death growl duo by Glanzmann and Anna Murphy! Yes folks, Anna Murphy with an awesome screaming-vocal, that made me remember Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy. Her screams are totally awesome in conjunction with Glanzmann's growls; the song is really a boom-boom-paw type. The song facts most probably are about the how the Helvetians will now siege the battle and fight against the Romans with the upper hand (I am guessing it all)!
It becomes annoying and frustrating to hear the same whistle playing for four minutes of a song and not really changing or doing anything to add to the music, in most cases it's far off to a major distraction to be even remotely enjoyable.
The next song "Alesia", is about the place Alesia in France where the Battle of Alesia took place. The song is duo-vocalled with Glanzmann on harsh vocals and Anna on the clean vocals, making this song the second, near-entirely, clean-vocal song in the album. The song tells the story of how the Helvetians lose control of Alesia over to the Roman Empire, a defeated battle of the people of Helvetia... "Tullianum" is less than a half-minuted track that tells of how the Helvetians now stand defeated...
The final actual song of the album "Uxellodunon"; The song is about "Uxellodunon" an oppidum (iron-age hill fort) located above the river Dorodgne near the modern-day French village of Vayrac. Here the final Gaulish revolt against the Roman authority took place that later were brutally punished. It is a really catchy song and the music is just beautiful and the flute solos and the melody cannot be any more harmonious than any other as it is the true last song of the album. I think the song sounded a bit like "Everything Remains As It Never Was" but this song is one of my favorites from the album and I heard a couple times in together when gave this album a hear for the first time.
The album continues like this until the final track, "Epilogue", which is the companion piece to the first track. Once again the old man chimes in with a thought-provoking monologue accompanied with distant music playing behind him. For an album like this, the structure is astonishingly welcoming. // 10
Lyrics: I'm not too sure about the actual story behind the lyrics and music, but it's clear that there is a connection behind it all. It feels like you're being taken on a ride and right before you get sick, the ride slows down, and gives you a break before lurching you back into action just like a roller-coaster ride... greater, actually!
Vocals are one of the things I truly enjoyed on "Helvetios"; Eluveitie have several really talented vocalists in their roster. The majority of the vocals are delivered in the form of a raspy death growls that you would expect from a genre like this, but every now and then the listener is treated to either a barrage of group vocals that bevy the ears with an accompanied bulge of folky bagpipes and whistle blows, or the absolutely stunning vocals of Anna Murphy that adorn the the tracks "A Rose For Epona", and "Alesia". Anna is easily the best female vocalist I've heard in a long time. Her voice is powerful and commands the the audience to fall into the swirl of emotion that she's evoking. The experience is wonderful, and it's a bit of a shame that she is somewhat under-utilized.
The only real criticism that I have had with "Helvetios" is that it's a problem with a lot of folk metal bands: instead of truly incorporating the folk instrumentation and elements, they just sort of sit on the surface and meander around while melodic death metal plays beneath it. Not a lot happens with the folk elements, and often times it feels like the same sections of music are played on multiple tracks. It becomes annoying and frustrating to hear the same whistle playing for four minutes of a song and not really changing or doing anything to add to the music, in most cases it's far off to a major distraction to be even remotely enjoyable. It's a small gripe, but it's something that should be paid more attention to in the future albums.
As a whole, this was a really startling record. It feels like a classic folk metal album, with plenty of throaty death growls, and riffs that just make you want to get up and move, and the drumming that goes with it is technically good. Though I was hoping for something more folky, but the way it surprised me, being better than all the previous releases of Eluveitie, gave me a definitive satisfaction. While 2012 is crawling by, "Helvetios" marks the first album that I found to be exceptional, and it's gotten me that much more excited for the rest of this year's upcoming releases... // 10
Overall Impression: "Helvetios" is definitely a must have album to your album collections. You won't regret it. Go on, buy it. It's way much more better than their previous albums. My favorites are "Helvetios", "Luxtos", "Santonian Shores", "Meet The Enemy", "Neverland", "A Rose For Epona", "Havoc", "The Siege", "Uxellodunon", "Alesia" and "Epilogue". // 10