Were Angry Metal Guy not lashed to the slave stick most days, I’m sure he would make good on his promise to give this a 1.0/5.0 based solely on how much he hated Eluveitie’s last album Origins. To be fair, that verdict may overstate the strain that Origins placed on Eluveitie’s generic melofolk, but not by much. 2016 saw the Swiss collective force out longtime drummer Merlin Sutter, with veteran vocalist Anna Murphy and guitarist Ivo Henzi departing alongside him. Combine this with the band’s longest gap between albums and a stark stylistic change and Evocation II – Pantheon suddenly becomes Eluveitie’s most intriguing release in years.
Since 2008, Eluveitie have watered down the righteous riffage of their youth to their current diminished standards. The one exception to that trend is Evocation I – The Arcane Dominion, which deviated into acoustic folk more thoroughly than any album before or since. Our sage sysadmin Sentynel noted that Eluveitie are a better folk band than they are a folk metal band at this point. It seems that particular complaint card reached upper management at Eluveitie Inc., as Evocation II has no growls, no distortion, no riffs or shred of heaviness. That’s right, kids. Welcome to another edition of Angry Not Metal Guy.
And honestly, it does Eluveitie a world of good. “Epona” – Celtic deity, not pixelated stallion – begins the album in true with a catchy, upbeat affair led by fiddle-wielder Nicole Ansperger and new vocalist Fabienne Erni. Buried somewhere alongside the bagpipes and hurdy gurdy is the occasional scream, but for the most part, it’s more mandola than metal. “Nantosvelta” opens anchored to the whistles of Chrigel Glanzmann and Matteo Sisti, but reaches full jam status by elevating into a duel with wind and string. Drummer Alain Ackerman heightens the atmosphere with his crashing cymbals and in these moments, Eluveitie’s tactical decision appears all the wiser. Recognizing that their ability to craft compelling folk had long outstripped their ability to write noteworthy metal and embracing that strength results in a sound that feels fresh and revitalized.
In true Eluveitie fashion, Evocation II grinds out 18 songs in only 53 minutes, relying on tight transition passages to break up delicious folk escapades. What the album lacks in brutality it makes up for in variety. With 9 contributors manning at least 15 different instruments, Evocation II could easily have sounded like warm-ups at a high school band practice. To their credit, the album’s myriad layers feel cohesive far more often than jumbled or cacophonous. Some melodies work better than others – the chorus of “Lvgvs” grates in particular – but tracks that rarely stretch past 3-4 minutes lessen the impact of individual miscues. That doesn’t excuse the chaff, however. “Cernvnnos” and “Esvs,” among others, lack the sense of purpose to excel the way that rollicking “Grannos” or “Antvmnos” do. At times, the way that the upbeat folk tunes touch on the same territory makes you wonder why their stronger aspects were not merged into a singularly stout song. Likewise, acoustic “Inis Mona”-rehash “Ogmios” should never have made the main listing, as its inclusion only sends me running back to Slania.
I must highlight Fabienne Erni’s performance at the mic. Replacing Anna Murphy was no easy task, given Murphy’s talent, experience, and the fact that the lyric sheet is in Gaulish, a dead fucking language. Erni displays capability without doing too much, navigating a timbre that could have been too sugary but for this restraint. She strays too high on parts of the darkened Darkher passages of “Artio,” but otherwise provides depth to a light-hearted spin. Yet despite Erni’s prowess, I find Evocation II executes its instrumental tracks most successfully. “Nantosvelta” and “Grannos” keep foot-stamping at a maximum while “Belenos” and “Taranis” ensure the album closes with memorability.
The album’s production does the album a service, ranging from DR6/7 on a few of the meatier efforts to non-interlude DR11s and sounding great the whole time. As someone who doesn’t much like Evocation I – or Eluveitie, for that matter – I expected very little out of this one. Instead, the second time’s the charm for Evocation, even if it is all Grandpa’s guitars. If Eluveitie continue down this wooded road, I cannot blame them. But if they twist this level of folk to their metal roots, they could occupy a space separate from heavier bands like Ensiferum and Equilibrium. Evocation II made Eluveitie interesting again. Whether that leads them to make interesting metal again remains to be seen.