I said it, didn’t I. After Evocation II released in 2017, I could already feel that this bright stage light for Fabienne Erni was not going to last for too long. So, here we find ourselves with Ategnatos, Eluveitie‘s newest in early 2019.
And it comes with a whopping 16 tracks crammed into one hour of air coverage. That is 3′ 45” of playtime for each track on average, exactly what the pop industry and the infamous labels demand for radio coverage. Well, kind of. Only, here we deal with Folk and Pagan Metal, not pop. We reckon, at least.
And I do hope that this actually means good news for Ategnatos. If you remember, Eluveitie‘s 2017 album was this breath of fresh air that this band desperately needed. With the faction around Anna Murphy leaving to sin with Cellar Darling, they had a helluva time getting back up to speed. So, they went ahead and did another installment of Evocation. All more or less unplugged Pagan Folk, it let Fabienne Erni shine brightly. And – somewhat unsurprisingly – the album made it onto the 2017 Top 10 Records. At rank #2, to be precise.
And this is quite a feat. Because the repetitive bug struck the previous metal records real hard. With one album kind of flowing into the next, a cookie-cutter approach of sorts. This delivers well-known sounds and motions, and a style embedded in comfort that offers solace to hardcore fans. Which is good for the unsuspecting fan base, but bad for keeping the metal steely, hot, and truly tempered. Just head over to Origins and Helvetios, and you will see.
So, how does the album line up? Well, somehow the message for some change kind of arrived at destination. Some, because Ategnatos – the title – is so staple Eluveitie, I want to throw my hands up in despair. I could even predict what would happen next on the track. So, this is comfortable quality, but not anything that would necessarily draw me away from my mead.
And truly, a lot of that material Eluveitie presents lines up with the brand we grew to love – or hate – over the years. One could of course argue – as a positive – that they follow their proper path to oblivion. Or – then again – that they lack this ability to innovate some and keep their content fresh.
But then, some light at the end of the tunnel appears. A more consistent move to a hardier and more refined style does indeed become apparent after the first track. Right as of Deathwalker we get much more meat to the bone than was audible before. This is the kind of metal progression we searched for with Eluveitie – and for some years now. Some sort of raw power and amphibious metal juice right from the swamps of Cthulhu that we did not feel for several years now.
Slania, where have you been all these years, like.
A Cry in Wilderness or Mine is the Fury – for instance – can serve as my witnesses. This is the raw power Ategnatos brings to the table, again. Decent growls in thrashy Melodic Death Metal that we got accustomed to earlier on, and wanted more of. And kind of expected from Chrigel Glanzmann in all its raw and brutally honest glory.
It is this way to depict ancient times like a fucking war cry that Chrigel Glanzmann masters (or mastered) so well. Together with tastefully integrated flutes, strings, and a hurdy-gurdy promotion attack that you find nowhere with the other players in this genre.
And luckily Fabienne Erni was there to save Black Water Dawn from certain doom, with a Delain-esque flourish no less. This is good because the botched solo kind of at 3/4 down the road really kills all the joy there might have been on this track. Erni already got me cold on Evocation II with her very impressive skills. And – again – strongly reaffirms her qualities on Ategnatos. Much more than Anna Murphy ever could. Sorry, Anna.
Yet, there’s this voice of unease that always lurks somewhere. In the past, Glanzmann always injected a commercially viable track or two into their raw metal. Like King on Origins, for instance. But you could always find this sandpaper roughness in there, so it would not let you forget where this all comes from. Only here, we got Ambiramus, a pop rock song that tries to impersonate Folk Metal. Yikes.
It is this urge to please the commercial demons that pull things down. In other words, not only is the quest for more oomph very subtle, but Eluveitie also provides a tendency towards a style usually occupied by The Rasmus and their ilk. Plus, they offer an impressive number of tracks, all clipped to bite-sized lengths, so that Rock Radio will play them. And that is frankly bizarre, given that Eluveitie boasts a popularity that many other bands would kill for.
To conclude, I have two hearts beating in my chest with Ategnatos. Eluveitie truly made an effort and released a fresher sound, which still undeniably maintains their own style and direction. And this is great. On the other hand, the push for change is way too subtle to be really discernible and misses a lot of the opportunity that their last record put on stage. In other words, I detect a push towards a more commercial approach to their music, as opposed to working on the metal bit they were so famous for in the past.
Does this render Ategnatos bad in any way? Not at all. But it shows that Eluveitie still have a lot of air to deliver into this blast furnace that should make their very own metal that much steelier.
Ed’s note: The record successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome IX! And if you would like to find out what Eluveitie has been up to at RMR, read this. And by June 2022, a new video just arrived on the scene.