Since breaking out with the debut full length "Spirit" in 2006, Eluveitie has sat on top of the heap of folk metal acts, breaking subgenre barriers and tackling intriguing lyrical concepts. Having survived the 2016 split of essential members Ivo Henzi, Merlin Sutter and Anna Murphy, the band, under the leadership of founder Chrigel Glanzmann, launched its first post-split salvo in the form of the nearly unplugged, but formidable "Evocation II - Pantheon" in 2017. Now the band returns with more rage and ferocity than in the previous 11 years. For long time Eluveitie fans that have felt the band has leaned a little soft since the early days, buckle up...because "Ategnatos" delivers both voracious riffs, but without sacrificing any of the beautiful folk melodies that the band is so widely known for.
The band's newest players - most notably Fabienne Erni - rise to the occasion on the band's first total metal attack as a unit. While lacking that quirky-unique vocal style of Anna Murphy, Erni makes her presence known and shines on songs like "Ambiramus" and album and one of the strongest tracks "Breathe," the latter which makes a formidable case for song of the year. All the folk elements you've enjoyed - the "bells and whistles," so to speak - over the band's history are still entwined within the heaviness, most notably in "Black Water Down" and "The Slumber" courtesy of Chrigel and new windmaster Matteo Sisti.
Most of the styles incorporated on "Ategnatos" are not that distant from what we've heard on "Origins" and its predecessor "Helvetios," but it leans far heavier than the two. After the near 2 minute intro, the title track surges forth with savagery - Chrigel's grating voice in top form! "Deathwalker" follow that up with a slower paced, but deadly duet between Chrigel and Fabienne. In a more deliberate and methodical rhythmic mid-pace, "The Raven Hill" represents the level of memorability which hooked your author years ago. Of the heaviest tracks, the blistering "Mine Is the Fury" and equally torrid "Threefold Death" outpace them all. Then you have "Worship," where the band travels down a more sinister road, and for many fans this may top them all.
If there is one noticeable connection between "Ategnatos" from the days of "Spirit" and "Slania" is an overall darkness in both the music direction and in the production, and master producer Jens Bogren has been involved in both. Though the band has embarked on a much less "foggy" production path in the years following "Spirit," opting for crystal clear sound and even more balanced mixes - "Ategnatos" recaptures a lot of the lost darkness, that many blamed on a heavy reliance on softer folk ballads. A clear indicator of a return to the more metallic roots is the gorgeous artwork of Travis Smith, who also created the artwork of "Spirit."
What "Ategnatos" presents is a best of both worlds, but bringing more imbalance swaying in the other, more heavy direction, relying more on a guitar driven approach (this time with long time guitarist Rafael Salzmann teaming up with Jonas Wolf). This should be music to the ears of those fans that feel bogged down by the folk elements. On that, I'll say - Eluveitie is the perfect marriage of folk and heavy metal, and cannot succeed without both. The band has been blazing a trail of greatness for so long now. The "split" turns out to be merely a course correction, ultimately leading to "Ategnatos" - an album that should please all fans of the band, past and present. It sure pleased this fan!
Label: Nuclear Blast Records (order the album here)
4. Black Water Dawn
5. A Cry in the Wilderness
6. The Raven Hill
7. The Silvern Glow
9. Mine Is the Fury
10. The Slumber
13. Threefold Death