Folk metal is a genre that is inherently linked to historical and cultural concepts. After all, it’s a genre that is part-defined by the use of traditional instruments, such as violins, flutes, accordions and more exotic choices – hell, even the hurdy-gurdy makes an appearance every now and again.
For Switzerland’s Eluveitie, this link with history runs through every part of the band and its music. Vocalist and mandola/pipe player Chrigel Glanzmann founded the band in 2002, initially as a studio project. “It was the music actually that was the inspirational thing, traditional Celtic music itself” Glanzmann explains. The band name reflects these origins, taken from an ancient Etruscan inscription of the Gaulish term Helvetius – the Helvetii were a Gallic tribe occupying an area roughly similar to modern Switzerland.
Eluveitie took their weaving of music and history to the next level with the 2012 concept album Helvetios, which tells the story of the Gallic Wars that led to the final subjugation of the Gallic tribes under Rome’s authority from 58 to 50 BC. It proved to be a difficult, yet rewarding, process to create the 17 tracks, according to Glanzmann.
“It was something that we wanted to do for quite a while,” he explains. “It was challenging when it came to the songwriting process because it’s our first album with a continuing story line in the lyrics. We didn’t want only to narrate the story by lyrics, but also to express it musically so that made it challenging in a way. It was just a kind of different approach, but quite an amazing experience actually.”
For Glanzmann, it’s always been very important to build the band’s lyrical stories on a solid historic base. To achieve this, he consults experts and academics in relevant fields of scientific research during the writing process.
“Since the start of Eluveitie I’ve been working together with diverse scientists when it comes to the lyrics,” Glanzmann says. “For the last album, we worked with scientists from the University for Celtology in Vienna, Austria.”
This obsession with detail has led to him going as far as singing in the dead Gaulish language on certain tracks.
Basing the album on the Gallic Wars brought another issue into focus – the existing historical commentaries on the Wars are all written by the victors, the Romans. Glanzmann wanted to use this opportunity to explore and tell the story from the other side.
“That was the other thing that was a little challenging,” he explains. “History is written by the winners and it’s a little different from the history of the other side, and probably different to how it really was. So when it comes to this story [The Gallic people versus the Romans], there was a lot of reading between the lines in the historical literature, a lot of questioning, and quite a bit of scientific work – we tried to paint a picture of the story as it really would have been.”
As part of the touring to support Helvetios, Eluveitie will make their debut visit to Australia this month, and the band are keeping an open mind about what they will find here.
“We’re not expectation kind of people; we like surprises” Glanzmann laughs. “Friends from another band, Lamb of God, have told us quite a bit about Australia, that they really love it. They are absolutely huge Australian fans and so they told us quite a bit about how it is to play there. I’m looking forward to it a lot.”
The tour is short – three gigs in three days across Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – and there will be no time for sightseeing, Glanzmann laments: “Sadly, actually, but that’s what our touring is like. That’s usually what we do, like right now our tour just arrived in Hungary a couple of hours ago, and we play almost every day.”
That kind of intense touring can take its toll and, in January, backup vocalist and hurdy-gurdy player Anna Murphy fell ill during the South American dates. She returned to Switzerland and the band continued on as a 7-piece while she recovered. “We are on tour at the moment and we’ve been on tour for more than year. There was no possibility, no time, to look for other musicians, so we were forced to carry on without her,” Glanzmann explains.
The intensity that the band brings to the lyric and writing process is also evident in their live performances – their show is direct and to the point.
“An Eluveitie show is always highly naked in a way; it’s all about the music” Glanzmann adds. “It’s very simple, eight musicians on stage playing music. We don’t have a huge show or anything like that – it’s just not who we are – but judging by our reviews, our live shows are highly energetic, so it will be good” This is a band that loves hitting the stage and letting the songs drive the show.
“It’s all very natural and we go onstage with our everyday clothes, it’s just all about the music. We will play songs from Helvetios but since this is our first time in Australia, we will present a mix from all our discography,” Glanzmann promises. “All eight of us are music junkies and just love to play. As long as we can hold our instruments and play, then life’s good.”
The commitment to touring and playing led the band to the second 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise in January 2012, an unforgettable experience. “It was a little bit like a holiday,” Glanzmann says. “The whole cruise thing goes on for four days and each band plays two shows so you have two days off – two days on a f**king boat! Time to relax and talk to members of other bands you haven’t seen in quite a long time. It was amazing.”
Once the current tour ends, the band will turn its attention back to the studio. “Australia is part of a tour that will keep us on the road until probably September. There will be Asia, a lot of summer festivals, and then we will take a break for a couple of months and focus on a new album.”
Glanzmann is clear about the musical direction for the next album. “It will be another metal album” he says, laying to rest speculation that it may be an acoustic release similar to 2009 release Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion. He’s also clear that it’s time to leave the Gauls and Romans behind (for now).
“Never say never” he laughs, “but we’ve just released a full concept album on the Gaulish Wars so, for the next one, it definitely be on a different topic.”