Taking in Eluveitie‘s closing performance on 70k Tons with sentynel, I recognized something: Eluveitie is popular. Not like entry-level popular, not poser popular (well, maybe), but actually popular. The boat’s Mosh Pit Residentia showed up in spades for that set, but with the floor choked with the trve and weeb alike, group activities like conga lines and dance parties sprung up instead. Everyone knew the songs—hell, I knew the songs.1 The nonet put on too great a show to discount, far better than other bias-confirming trainwrecks I witnessed that weekend. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve written Eluveitie and Ategnatos off too soon.
“Ategnatos” opens with a potent revival of the evocative and surprisingly capable folken melodeath that made Eluveitie. The run of In Flames-core that opens Ategnatos tops anything the Swiss produced in that vein this decade. It forges a more consistent core than Origins and is just plain better than Everything Remains as It Never Was and the supremely lackluster Helvetios. Rather than waffling from folk to metal and back, or worse, undercutting the meat of their music with a thin production and folk garnish, the Ategnatos platter recalls the heyday of Eluveitie. The music breathes through the performances; the band’s energy and commitment are exactly what I expected after seeing them live. Plus, there’s no doubt that this is still Eluveitie™ folk. Bagpipes, whistles, violins, harps, a bunch of shit I can’t pronounce, and, of course, the hurdy-gurdy fill out more layers than a wedding cake at a tree marriage. Ategnatos takes all of that, the best of the experience, and catapults it at you with no remorse. The fantastic first 20 minutes of the record culminate in fifth-slated “A Cry in the Wilderness,” with the full outfit congealing around memories of their late-00’s melo-might, replete with all of the folkified big boy riffs you ever wanted.
Closer tandem “Rebirth” and “Eclipse,” modeled after Irish folk melody “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” play bad cop, good cop. Morphing from brutal beatdown into a somber, emotional solo by female lead Fabienne Erni, they close Eluveitie‘s return to habit on a high. However, that the borrowed melody is the best on the record symbolizes what is overall a frustrating run. The nine tracks between “A Cry in the Wilderness” and “Rebirth” scuffles through half an hour of tempered folk and melodreck that’s littered with a who’s meh of influences. Modern thrash-turned-Lamb of God rip-off “Worship,” complete with overwrought biblical passages spoken by Randy Blythe?2 Lame. “Threefold Death” and its Soilwork riffery? So-so. “Ambiramus” squanders a good whistle melody on a glorified pop single, while “Mine Is the Fury” is plain old stock melo. The folky bits in “The Raven Hill” and “The Slumber” aren’t bad, but it all smacks of an opportunity wasted, given the talent on display on other parts of the record. Erni isn’t some unknown; her high ceiling for gorgeous, catchy choruses should have given Eluveitie a fall-back option. She elevated “Black Water Dawn” when given the chance, but that’s about it. “Breathe”3 is her only misstep, overselling what functions as a higher quality Aeternitas, but her spotlights on “The Slumber” and “Eclipse” are magnificent.
The production is beefy where it needs to be and smooth where it doesn’t, solving prior issues with slicing out the bottom ends of the melodeath aspects to let the folk portions breathe. The resulting connection on “A Cry in the Wilderness” is necessarily visceral, the folk elements working perfectly fine without hobbling moments of blackened brutality. Chrigel Glanzmann, already a boon as he handles eight instruments, growls quite well at times, particularly on “The Slumber”—the best of the mid-section—where he and Erni combine for a ton of atmospheric success.
Ategnatos might deserve a kinder fate, as the record features some of Eluveitie‘s best metal since Slania. But while Eluveitie showcase enough ideas to prevent the record from drying out entirely, the folk elements can’t stop the riffs from sounding tired by the midpoint. Were it twenty minutes tighter or twenty years earlier, Ategnatos might fare much better. It will still delight fans who wanted something meatier from Eluveitie‘s most recent entries, but for those of us looking for the top tier hooks or something more ambitious, it turns out we weren’t missing as much as we thought.