Slania, Slania! Voice of a distant past. Ode to Helvetian and Celtic times, when the tribes ruled. As far as they could until the Romans arrived and made a mess out of it.
Yet perhaps, this may be a tad too much glorification of a time historians hardly know about. When tribes (supposedly) ruled on the land today called Switzerland. A story about people long gone and dead. And we don’t even know if they ever existed in the way imagined. It only appears that the Romans did have a few difficulties conquering these people. And it appears that Ceasar himself had a few words of recognition about a people they just put down.
As the story goes, Chrigel Glanzmann, the lead singer of the Swiss band Eluveitie, saw the name of this girl called Slania1) on an ancient slab of stone. And thus, he decided to name a song and their 2nd studio album after her. Nice story, by the way: Se non è vero, è ben trovato – as we say in Italian. And some Reddit user indeed seems to suggest that the band chose the name just because it sounded nice. But then, we all know about the reputation of Reddit, right?
Yet, the unmistakable sound of Pagan Folk and Folk Metal chiseled onto a granite slab of Melodic Death Metal that they so expertly mix does tell this story, real or not. And their trademark sound – archaic and contemporary instruments with strange vocals – really starts to take shape on Slania. Also, it looks like Eluveitie played the amplified history game way before others arrived on the scene.
Glanzmann is however by far much too overwhelmingly present with his ever-present death growls. There is – to my taste – too much super aggressive Pagan-infused Death Metal in this mix. A need for speed that doesn’t really talk to the theme. And this goes to the detriment of the folksy and melodic parts. To a point, where the archaic instruments and the other contributions of his bandmates almost get lost in the fray. Good talent sacrificed on the altar of thrashy Death Metal purist heaven. Not good.
In addition, methinks that Slania doesn’t excel in variation. The guitar work often suffers from the repetition bug with similar riffs and melodies all over. And I am missing the stellar riffs that other groups so aptly deploy. And this is a true pity! Albeit that we saw some solo work appearing on Elembivos and Gray Sublime Archon for instance.
In comparison, on their follow-on, Everything Remains (as it never was), the band applied a few corrections and gave Anna Murphy a bit more room, for instance. And this showed immediately on the quality chart.
Having said that, Slania still shines on its own. Very much in the vein of the band’s own unique household sound. The album starts off with an intro called Samon that – for once – talks to me, and is not a waste of time. Some spoken words and a nice theme melody, that’s it. I like it, even if the contents of the actual record don’t follow in that same vein.
Primordial Breath starts out – well – primordial, aggressively chewed and expelled again. But with a very nice flourish at the end. You need to be in the mood for that one, but it is really good. Then follows Inis Mona sounding very much like something that I already heard in other folk songs. I remain unsure about that one and I am surely not certain where the stellar reviews came from for this track.
I like Gray Sublime Archon. Pretty cool track with a stellar chorus line to boot that will follow you around for a while. Then again interspersed with some stellar soloing and riffing, Eluveitie style.
But then comes Slanias Song, which with Anna Murphy‘s expert contribution morphed into a very nice concoction. The text itself is perhaps a bit too heavy and heroic, but then this depends on taste, doesn’t it? The following instrumental track will bring you back down to earth nicely from the rosy heights of mighty Alpine madness.
Elembivos finally produces – oh surprise – a nice guitar and violin solo – dual whammy. Who would have thought this possible? Looks like the guitar man woke up towards the end. The album ends nicely with the instrumental version of the intro.
But in the end, this is a pretty neat album. The outcome may indeed be a tad too harsh, and too Glanzmann. Without Anna Murphy’s contributions, Slania would be a tough cookie indeed and sink on the harsh cliffs of a metal-laden pagan shore. On top, the stellar musicianship and overall execution of the album truly save the day. The record is however for sure an early stepping stone to future glory. One that helped establish the sound we cherish today.
Ed’s note: This review replaces the version of November 2014. And if you would like to find out what Eluveitie has been up to at RMR, read this.