Sound — 6
When you think of any efforts to preserve ancient languages like Latin and Sumerian, one would most likely think of scholars at universities studying weathered scrolls and tablets with magnifying spectacles. However, when it comes to the ancient Gaulish language, it's being preserved in a vessel of meaty death metal instrumentals, harsh vocals, and festive folk melodies; courtesy of Eluveitie. Forming in 2002, the Swiss band's large lineup can deem them as the Arcade Fire of folk metal, opting to organically play the folk instruments they use in their music instead of only using them via synthesizers. Though that alone is already enough of a distinction, Eluveitie's most recognizable distinction is their penchant for writing their lyrics in Gaulish - their acoustic folk concept album "Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion" would take this to the highest level, being almost entirely written in Gaulish. "Evocation I" was an odd curveball for the band, though, and while Eluveitie are working on the second installment of the concept series, they've refocused on making folk metal after the tepid response from the fanbase. With their fifth album, "Helvetios," being another key example of Eluveitie's ability to combine the intensity of death metal with the epochal whimsy of Celtic folk, the band is staying the course with their sixth album, "Origins."
In regards of what's different, "Origins" attempts to build a bigger and stronger atmosphere and story than its predecessor. Bearing the same kind of opening track as "Helvetios," the introductory "Origins" is a narration that begins the album's story, though the folk music accompanying is much more ambitious than the "Helvetios" opener "Prologue," attempting an even bigger film-score-esque presence before dropping into the strong folk metal. Eluveitie tie tracks together with interstitial noise, mainly in the form of nature sounds, in order to maintain the album's flow, though this is broken inexplicably at the ends of "Inception" and "King." "Origins" also include more tracks meant for stark narration, and while "Nothing" and the closing "Eternity" still bear an essence of music to them, "Ogmios" is only a half-minute of speech, which stifles the musical flow of the album (though this is at the tail end).
For the most part, though, "Origins" feels like an echoing follow-up to "Helvetios" musically. The guitar riffs still abide to the way Eluveitie have been composing them since 2006 (the better guitar riffs are found in "Inception," "King," "The Day of Strife" and "Carry the Torch"), and the folk melodies aren't bringing forth anything that isn't already expected of them (though the fiddle solo in "King" is a high point in the album). For the near-hour it takes, it seems that "Origins" is in a tug-of-war of tediousness between the folk music elements and the death metal elements, going back and forth in order to alleviate the monotony of the other, but never truly breaking the mold. Eluveitie do try to strike an ideal balance to this, by intertwining guitar melodies with the folk melodies, making for some nice synchronization in "From Darkness," "Virunus," "The Call of the Mountains," "Sucellos," "Vianna" and "The Silver Sister." This is the most advancing characteristic on "Origins," but, as seen by how many tracks it's utilized in, it ends up feeling overused.
Lyrics — 7
Being true to the nature of folk music, the lyrics throughout "Origins" tell stories that tie together, although there's a lot being thrown at the listener and it's quite tough to sort through it all. In the early tracks "The Nameless," "From Darkness" and "Celtos," the lyrics take place in the fabled otherworld of Antumnus, which, while being the place that one goes in the afterlife, seems to work in similar governance as the regular world. The songs talk about the king of Antumnus, who has his firstborn son, Celtos, but then the album goes on another tangent in "Virunus," where the setting switches to the regular world, and new characters are preparing for a battle in the mountains, which continues on in "Call of the Mountains." "Sucellos" revolves around the titular Gaulish god of agriculture and alcohol, although in the lyrics of the song (as well as the lyrics that mention him in the following song "Inception"), Eluveitie portray him as a type of reaper, with lyrics like "your mallet's target is never missed" and the ominous ending "escorting the soul/into the darkness where life is born." "Vianna" finally makes a concrete callback to the Otherworld, and the following songs continue to gravitate back towards the subject of Antumnos and its king, whose name is revealed to be Ambicatus in "King." In the following song "The Day of Strife," the Otherworld and regular world seem to finally intertwine, where an ancient dweller of Antumnos comes to lay siege to a tyrannical kingdom. Even more characters are introduced at this point, and things get even more confusing at the penultimate track "Carry the Torch," which, in a classic Eluveitie move, is in complete Gaulish.
It's clear that Eluveitie are dedicated to the stories they base their music on, but for the many that aren't well-acquainted with Gaulish mythology, "Origins" is not an easily-accessible explainer for it all. However, even if one doesn't have the resolve and/or patience to Google search every ornate name that comes up in the lyrics in order to get a better grip on all the details, Eluveitie make the overarching theme of the album simple enough to grasp: the never-ending circle of life. From the expository detailing of Antumnus being the afterlife yet also being the place where all life is formed in "From Darkness," to the omniscient narratives in "Nothing" and "Eternity," the main moral of "Origins" is that life is eternal; every end is a beginning, and anything that dies lives on in another way.
Overall Impression — 7
The balancing of dichotomous sound elements in "Origins" - and in any folk metal album, for that matter - provides a good spectacle for the debate about folk metal - specifically, if it should be more folk than metal, or more metal than folk. As the full-stop folk album "Evocation I" proved to be unsatisfactory to many because it abandoned all traces of metal, the follow-up/backpedal album "Everything Remains (As It Never Was)" also proved unsatisfactory to many for the metal aspects outweighing the folk aspects by a substantial margin. As "Helvetios" struck a good balance, and "Origins" continues to walk that tight-rope, listeners will still argue about what songs aren't metal enough (it is called folk metal, after all) and what songs aren't folky enough (it is called folk metal, after all), so perhaps the perfect balance is as humanly possible as achieving the speed of light. While formulaic, "Origins" provides tracks for both those that prefer more metal bite in folk metal and those that prefer more folky pizzazz in folk metal, so the listener can pick what tracks to keep and what tracks to ditch at their own discretion. As a whole, it doesn't satisfy every single minute it takes, but it's still an alright folk metal album.