Having formerly made up a third of Eluveitie, Anna Murphy (vocals, hurdy-gurdy, multi-instruments), Ivo Henzi (guitar and bass) and Merlin Sutter (drums) have launched Cellar Darling, their new vehicle with which to explore “the spirit of the stories our parents told us before going to sleep” to the backing of melodic, if steady, metal. Continue reading
The Church of Ra – comprising Belgian outfits Amenra, Wiegedood and Oathbreaker and sharing members between them – is a wildly inventive Cerberus which nevertheless tends to remain largely within the confines of its Metal boundaries. Colin H van Eeckhout is often regarded as the titular head of that movement but RASA (Consouling Sounds), the debut solo effort from the Amenra frontman, is moving, ambient drone with little of the growling anger usually expected from the genre.
The bumph accompanying the one-track album tells how its creation has tapped into the man’s emotions. Initially however, the effect is purely soothing: an atmospheric thrum, its gradual increase in volume coinciding with the subtly wailing harmony of the hurdy-gurdy. Fans of van Eeckhout’s day job will be aware that the agonised shriek isn’t the only weapon in his arsenal, and here his easy yet mournful inflections add further poignancy to a lament which grows more hypnotic as even less seems to happen.
The brief introduction of rhythmic tub-thumping at the midway point brings a level of fire whilst simultaneously retaining the gentle feel of a deer springing through hard ground, the tension building while bizarrely massaging the temples. As drums re-enter the fray the listener becomes aware of having been lost in a reverie: constantly juxtaposed elements of light and dark polarising the equilibrium of the senses, the whispering laments of the sensual atmospheres whistling through a forest and bewitching the mind, with van Eeckhout’s gently howled intonations continuing to both trouble and assuage the soul.
There are elements of Amenra’s genius here: the tremendously affecting last five minutes reminiscent of the suspense-filled lull in ‘A Mon Âme’ for example. Those who have witnessed the band live will also recognise a stripped-back version of the barely controllable tension as their sound builds toward its terrible crescendo. Much as with the indigenous warblings of Wardruna, there is no crescendo here, merely a wonderfully hypnotic, emotive coda which continues to build the protagonist’s pain alongside its irresistible relief.
It has often been said that the aforementioned Norwegians draw tears from audiences, so what this will do God alone knows. RASA is a half-hour embodiment of distress and salvation, delivered with the most moving, disarming beauty, stripping the listener’s soul bare and leaving them distraught whilst not entirely bereft of deliverance. Pure and staggeringly powerful, this is a compelling, wistful drama that must not be polluted by extraneous noise and should be upheld as a beacon of perfect expression.
If the prospect of ‘Ur-Folk’, a musical reinterpretation of old Swiss folk songs and the occasional original number consisting of elements of traditional Volksmusik as well as folk music from other regions fills you with a deep sense of horror then drop that cowbell and head for the hills before it’s too late. For when members of Eluveitie fancy some down time, they contribute to Fräkmündt, the main adherents of the above genre, although no active member is present on Landlieder & Frömdländler (Auerbach/Prophecy) and hasn’t been involved in the band for over a year. This is a good thing, for there is very little here to recommend to metal fans or indeed, anyone with a sense of taste.
Call me a philistine but listening to Landlieder & Frömdländler is an experience akin to being trapped on holiday somewhere in the Swiss Alps by the local peasants who insist on playing their local tunes no matter how often you politely decline another sing-a-long around the campfire. All the necessary instruments are present and correct, with the guitars, accordion and of course, hurdy-gurdy conspiring to make you stare at the ground, grit your teeth and pray for it to be over soon. The tone ranges from the mildly upbeat jigs of ‘PfaffechaIleri’ and ‘Fontannegsecht’ to the grim po-faced dirges of ‘Luegid vo Barg ond Tal’ and ‘Simelibarg’ which are as interminable as the stench in an alpine cow shed. But we haven’t even got on to the utterly appalling ‘Klaryda’ and ‘Wieso semmer eso?’ which evokes images of TheWurzels in lederhosen. Nuff said.
No doubt some would accuse me of ‘not getting it’ but sometimes absolutes apply and this is one of them, for it’s hard to imagine anyone other than a select few, perhaps those who subscribe to National Geographic and still buy Steeleye Span records, having any tolerance or interest in this album. Recent releases by the likes of Wardruna have shown how ancient music should be re-interpreted for the modern age and while it sounds like Fräkmündt are deadly serious and passionate about what they’re doing, it’s best to just quietly put up with them in the hope that soon it’ll all be over.
In theory, an eight-piece Swiss folk metal band who sing partly in Gaulish and feature instruments as arcane as tin whistles and a hurdy-gurdy should be a recipe for disaster, but this isn’t the case for Zurich’s Eluveitie who continue to draw massive crowds whenever they take to European festival stages. They also keep delivering albums full-to-bursting with catchy Celtic melodies, lethal melo-death riffs and enough identity and passion to torch a plastic sword and Viking helmet producing factory with ease.
While the title Origins (Nuclear Blast) may suggest that the band is looking backwards for inspiration, this is only the case in their lyrical themes which once again deal with the time when the Celts held sway over Europe. The music continues to advance forward while maintaining the formula that has served them so well ever since breakthrough album Slania (Nuclear Blast) announced their arrival back in 2008. The opening double-punch of ‘The Nameless’ and ‘From Darkness’ are lively, if standard Eluveitie fare, while the frantic melodies of ‘Celtos’ and the thunderous bombast of ‘King’ push all the right buttons and leave other folk metal acts looking distinctly bereft of ideas.
The increasing role of female vocalist and hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy is evident on Origins with her lush vocals enhancing the songs whenever they appear, especially on the more commercial sounding ‘The Call of the Mountains’ as well as offering a fine cheese to ChrigelGlanzmann’s rough chalk. New guitarist Rafael Salzman’s riffs are solid rather than jaw-dropping, yet the venom shown on the Soilwork-esque ‘The Silver Sister’ is most welcome.
At nearly an hour long, Origins could have done with some fine-tuning and there is no excuse for the children’s choir or the cringe-worthy spoken word sections, however brief they may be. But these complaints are minor, for Eluveitie manage to make almost every song interesting, with so many melodies imbuing the songs with vigour and colour. They seemingly have no desire to sell out, are happy to explore new ground and are easily the most entertaining band affiliated with folk metal. Despite singing about the olden days, their time is now.