Napalm Flesh: Eluveitie Interview

Posted February 23, 2012 in

This week we have an interview with the front man of Swiss folk metal band Eluveitie, Chrigel talking about the band’s new album Helvetios out “officially” on Tuesday Feb. 28. There’s also a massive amount of shows going on this week for whatever taste you need to indulge. Reviews of Christian Mistress, Dead Swans, Dragonland and Terrorizer are also on tap.

Tonight at Burt’s, Burn Your World, Year of the Wolf and Dark Blood help you kick off your weekend early. $3 gets you in, tunes underway at 9 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 24 Check out Iced Earth and Symphony X with openers Warbringer at the Complex. This is an all ages event. Tickets $25, show at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 25 check out Eagle Twin, Invdrs and IX Zealot at the Urban Lounge—it’s a show to surely kick you in the teeth. $5 gets you in music at 10 p.m.

Earlier on Saturday, Raunch Records hosts The Wild Ones, Whorecorpse and Spectral Skies. There’s no cover charge, but chip in a few bucks to show support to our local bands.

Monday Feb. 27. Get your chance to meet Goatwhore (no charge) at the Heavy Metal Shop - happening at 4 p.m. Later that night, you can see Goatwhore live at In the Venue with Hate Eternal, Fallujah and Cerebral Bore with local support from Dead Vessel and Project Blackthorn. Tickets are $14.

Tuesday Feb. 28, Korn plays the Complex, tickets $35, doors at 7 p.m. Arrive on time if you want to catch Jonathan Davis as J Devil dishing out a DJ set.

Interview with Chrigel of Eluveitie

SLUG: The Epilogue for Helvetios does a great job of giving listeners the general idea of what the album’s all about. When the album was a whisper of an idea in your head what kept inspiring you to create it?
Chrigel: Gaulish history is the main concept behind Eluveitie. The Gaulish War even though it’s a dark chapter it is an important chapter in Gaulish history. On almost every album we have one or two songs covering the topic of the Gaulish War. I think like summer 2010 the idea came up to make a whole album about the Gaulish Wars. After we decided to do that, it was obvious to make it a concept album.

SLUG: How did you start to get into learning about Celtic and the Gaulish culture?
Chrigel: I can’t remember. It’s been an important topic all my life actually, even when I was a little boy. On the other hand it’s kind of obvious to be interested in that since it’s dealing with your own roots in Switzerland there are lots of Gaulish heritages and stories that you hear in school already. So it was kind of natural to be into that stuff.

SLUG: The general idea is that Eluveitie presents “Celtic” themes and the things you play and sing about might be misunderstood. I think people might not understand why a band from Switzerland would be involved with that because people think, “Oh, Celtic stuff is just from Ireland or something…”
Chrigel: That’s actually is a common misunderstanding, even in Europe. The area of today’s Switzerland and central France was basically the heart of the Celtic world back then. As we all know, the Gaulish countries were invaded and conquered by the Roman Empire. This is basically why the Irish culture is preserved better or more on the Island than it was on the continent, because the Islands were harder to reach by the Romans and they actually never completely conquered the Islands. That doesn’t change the fact that the main Celtic land was basically on the Continent (Europe).

SLUG: What does the concept of Helvetios mean to you personally?
Chrigel: It’s hard to say—the whole story of the Gaulish War and the consequences is something that means a lot to me personally, but not in a most positive way. Personally I’m not happy about how the Gaulish wars turned out because it changed so much in our history. It’s something that touches me a lot—it wasn’t something new when I started to write the album, of course, because we’re dealing with that all the fucking time anyway. I remember dealing with that more intensely writing the album. For example when I was writing the lyrics for the song “Alesia” I was actually really crying—I couldn’t sleep one whole night because it just kept me awake. It gave me a hell of a hard time actually, it’s just something that touches me a lot.

SLUG: I would say there’s definitely a different tone and vibe on Helvetios compared to the last few albums. It’s darker, but it also feels more somber than some of the past records, which have some songs that feel celebratory in a way. This album seems more humbling. You’re very vocal about the concepts behind each Eluveitie record, but how much would like fans to interpret the music in their own way?
Chrigel: Actually one hundred percent. That’s always the thing that’s quite important to me when I write lyrics, and we always try to combine the lyrics with the music so it’s always something important to us. Personally, I’m not a fan of using music as a medium to transport ideas and views and things. I don’t want to preach or spread or any ideas or messages and stuff like that. When I’m writing the lyrics, it’s basically a narration of history anyway but I’m always trying to write the lyrics in a way so people can do with it whatever they want.

The production on the new album seems a bit different. How did the band’s approach to recording change on Helvetios? It’s not in any terms bad, it’s just different.
Chrigel: Mixing an Eluveitie is everything but easy because there’s always a lot going on with all the instruments. The last album, Everything Remains, was actually the first album we felt that we actually managed to achieve this transparency—you can hear every instrument. Then again, it was a little overproduced in our point of view. It’s not an easy thing to achieve the transparency and not having overly produced. That’s basically what we were trying to do this time. We wanted the album to be much rawer than Everything Remains was. If you would compare the album in the early stages to the end product you would actually realize there was not that much done in the mix. It’s really raw—what you hear on the album is basically what we recorded. If you don’t want to change that much in the mix you have to have a really good recorded sound already, so we really focused on that a lot. During the guitar sessions for the first couple days there was not one single tone recorded—it was all just about finding the sound we wanted. That meant we tried hundreds of amps and cabinets and combinations of them, different microphones, different cables, guitars, different kinds of wood the guitars are made of, different strings, different guitars of course. We just tested everything until we had the sound we wanted people to hear on the album. It was a completely different approach to recording Helvetios.

  There’s no hiding the fact that I’m American born and raised here and all that fun stuff. I think the idea of Folk metal or Pagan metal to Americans can be kind of confusing. Do you ever see or hear about cultural diversions from people listening to Eluveitie and drawing different thoughts than you ever intended from your music?
Chrigel: If you check Youtube for some of those fan-made videos to some of our songs, there is obviously people all over the world that understand the type of music as this type of fantasy thing with warriors slaying dragons and all that. That definitely of course is not what our music and lyrics are about. This is in a way a misunderstanding. Then again, as I said, we’re doing it basically for ourselves and when I’m writing lyrics I’m doing it for myself because it’s something I’m dealing with and something that means a lot to me. As I said, I’m not interested in spreading ideas or messages anyway. It doesn’t matter - it doesn’t bother us in any way.

SLUG: You did the acoustic album I Evocation, but there are a few acoustic ballad tracks on Helvetios as well as other albums. I wanted to ask one that stands out for me is. “Scorched Earth,” I think that song was successful—the emotion coming from it was strong, it’s sorrowful, dark and, in a way, ominous. It’s not sung in English, and it’s about 3/4 a capella. I wanted to ask what the song was written about and what role it plays in the concept of the album?
Chrigel: It’s in Gaulish language—it’s kind of a farewell song. At that part of the storyline the Celtic tribe the Helvetians were just about to migrate because of political pressure and the Roman Empire invading, they decided to leave their homeland and just go somewhere else. The song is basically written with the idea of one random Helvetian persons thoughts on the night before they left. It’s a lot about fires and things which I think must have been quite impressive because the night before they all left they burned everything down, their villages and fields which was a common thing to do if you left your homeland then. It must have been impressive because we’re not talking about a small number of people—there were a couple hundred thousand people hundreds of villages left and burned when they left. It must have felt crazy in a way. It is a song that is somber and sad, but not overly.

SLUG: There’s a few bands in the folk/pagan metal realm that I would say that don’t use nearly as many instruments as Eluveitie does for recording and especially live— I’ve seen a number of live bands where the “folk” elements are just synthesized or cranked out through recordings. How important is it for Eluveitie to not just record with all the instruments you use but to also use them live?
Chrigel: It’s very important. I have to say we don’t’ see ourselves as much of a Pagan metal band—when I formed the band there was no Pagan metal scene it was just the combination of folk music and metal - it wasn’t established at that time. So it wasn’t like okay we’re forming a Pagan metal band.. It was more that I wanted to combine the two kinds of music I love which would be traditional Celtic folk music and melodic death metal. Both parts of Eluveitie’s sound are important in the same way—a hundred percent folk music and a hundred percent metal. If you play with the bagpipes coming from a keyboard or something, you could also not use a live drummer, but no one does that. To all of us it’s really important everything is just handmade otherwise it’s just weird in a way. To be fair, I have to say we do have some backtracks in some songs for some things we are not able to play. For example, in some songs there are choirs the choruses—it would be quite hard to come up with a fifty piece choir on stage.

SLUG: I would imagine that it’s hard to translate all the instruments you use live—from like a tech/soundboard aspect I’m sure it’s a nightmare to get the volume right for everything. How hard is it get the sound remotely close to what you’d like it to be.
Chrigel: It’s actually not hard at all, you just need to know the instruments and everything. We’re always touring with our own sound crew, so it’s actually not a problem at all. The only thing that sometimes is a little hard is the change overs before shows are always really rushed because we’re eight people we can’t make a change over for an hour or everyone would just leave. So we have to do change overs in like 20 minutes like any other band but with twice the amount of instruments it makes it quite stressed sometimes. Sound wise, it’s not a problem once you get used to it.

SLUG: Obviously, war is something that keeps happening no matter where you live - I would say the honor and the way people fight has changed since the times Eluveitie sing and talk about. Did any of the writing of Helvetius—where you’re from there is no Wars going on but there’s World conflicts going on all over and in America for over a decade—did that have any consideration in creating the theme of the new album, do you think there are parallels that people could learn about from the Gaulish War to the Wars that are going on now?
Chrigel: The fact that the world is pretty much covered with wars all the fucking time didn’t effect the songwriting. It’s always quite shocking actually if you’re dealing with history just like the Gaulish Wars - it’s shocking how many parallels you see today. It’s shocking to realize how little we’ve learned since the last two-thousand years - you could actually copy and paste one to one from the ancient world to today. Exactly the same thing is happening, just looking at history we’re doing the same things today, didn’t we learn everything.

Music Reviews

Christian Mistress
Street: 02.28
Christian Mistress = Black Sabbath + Iron Maiden + Motorhead
There is always comfort in what you know - Christian Mistress never intended to recreate classic heavy metal, let alone have high hopes and some absolution that they will be the band that re-ignites the classic heavy metal sound. Where the last record succeeded at sounding more in the ’70s at the very origins of what would be heavy metal, Possession amps the metal up high and the volume knob even higher. The capper that makes Christian Mistress not fully sound like a NWOBHM rehash band is their ace in the hole: Christine Davis. The light she brings from her heavenly serenades to the demonically sultry and vixen tempting lower key beltings is as powerful as the vocal duality displayed when Black Sabbath first brought Dio on board. At its easiest Possession is a riff churning monster that will bring up memories of the more peppy/chugging Iommi-Sabbath burners to early Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead and hints of the more upbeat Girlschool. This has heavy fucking metal written all over it - and it’s a blast to blaze up anytime. Get Christian Mistress on some bigger tours and they just may just educate a few tots on how to shred, blast and swoon. –Bryer Wharton

Dead Swans
Anxiety and Everything Else
Bridge 9
Street: 2.28.12
Dead Swans = Modern Life is War + Sworn In + Verse (yuck)
You ever been to Texas Roadhouse? The food's rad (Yeah, I'm an uncultured carnivore) and the staff brings buckets of peanuts to your table. The best part is you can totally throw the shells on the floor and no one will yell at you. Total anarchy. I grew up thinking this was some Lone-Star State ritual and that all Texans spent their days knee-deep in peanut shells and cigarette butts. Turns out, Texas is just a desert full of self-entitled geniuses that start great acid punk bands, form cults and occasionally blow open the gourds of visiting Presidents...but whatever. Texas Roadhouse was a high school hangout, and it's where my dorky clan would nerd out over early 2000's core (Right Brigade, No Justice and most of the Dead by 23 catalog) and it's where we drafted the "American Nightmare formula," a condescending take on modern hardcore-new jacks that try to be AN by taking all of their uncool elements (bad haircuts and poetic songs) and excising the cool ones (spastic violence, Wes Eisold moshing more than actually singing) spawning vapid copycatters with little to offer (see Dead Hearts and Ruiner). I remember trying to write Dead Swans off as such, but Sleepwalkers was so solid, I let 'em into my exclusive hardcore club. Having toured with Blacklisted, Integirty, Gallows and most recently Horror Show (!), 'Swans have established themselves as a premier modern hardcore band, taking the lead of our beloved '00s genesis bands (including forgotten UK contemporaries Sworn In, who despite their spock haircuts and girl jeans got a pass from me) and it's because of this obsessive level of 'core fandom that new offering Anxiety and Everything Else leaves me a little underwhelmed. For starters, the mix is absolute doo-doo with vocals high and up front, guitars in the mud and drums tinnier than coke cans. The aesthetic lends some bands an air of urgency (see Negative Approach) but in this case it stifles their roar. "Keep Them Shut" does a competent (but slow) Modern Life is War "Marshalltown" thing and "Summer of Hate" seethes like a confused woodland animal, but "Dead Until Dark" and "Since Day One" suffer from halting verses that don't gel and neutred atmospherics that won't fully develop 'neath the weight of smothered production. A re-mastering could uncover some diamonds and make this thing pop, but for now it merely scratches and makes me want to dig out everything Let Down ever released. How come no one talks about those guys? –Dylan Chadwick

Under The Grey Banner
AFM Records
Street: 11.18.11
Dragonland = Therion + Early Rhapsody + Turisas
Turning away from the sugar-sweet riffs of their past works, Dragonland has composed a dark and triumphant epic power metal opera. These tracks are relentless, drawing you right into the fantasy world of Dragonland with thundering heaviness and tasteful symphonic arrangements. It's rare to see concept albums like these coming from power metal artists anymore, but Under the Grey Banner carries on the tradition with class. Whether you love or hate their early albums, this is a band that's shown unflinching adherence to their creative vision, crafting unique and catchy melodies. Yet, this most recent offering combines the band's characteristically tight songwriting with a darkly epic tone, and each song sounds distinct and memorable without sacrificing cohesion. Jonas Heidgert's vocals shine on this album, where he gets to really flex his upper range. Supported by Olof Mörck's precise, groovy guitars and Elias Holmlid's synthetic orchestra, Dragonland has never sounded better. “Fire and Brimstone” and “Shadow of the Mithril Mountain” will renew your hope for power metal, but nothing can top the chorus of dwarves on “Durnir's Forge.” –Henry Glasheen

Hordes of Zombies
Season of Mist
Street: 02.28
Terrorizer = Napalm Death + Extreme Noise Terror + Resistant Culture
Hordes of Zombies is much needed death/grind rager that far surpasses the much disliked “comeback” album Darker Days Ahead of 2006. The folks that expect the production on this monster to somehow mirror what the debut World Downfall pummeled audiences with must have earwigs latched onto their brains. The only thing that feels a touch out-of-place compared to the real original deal is the drumming production sounds a bit less unnerving than Sandoval’s glorious performance on the debut record. What the production misses Pete “The Feet” makes up for in speed damning execution of perfection. This new offering jams it’s foot on your neck and doesn’t let up - there is now slow bits - except maybe the intro track - but that’s a damn intro track. You’re not escaping this Horde of Zombies it swings in fast and devours you in what seems like seconds that is in reality minutes - culminating in days or months because once you hit play you won’t want to hear anything else. ¬–Bryer Wharton