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ELUVEITIE – Carrying The Torch
Anthony Morgan
October 2014

Eluveitie (l-r): Ivo Henzi, Nicole Ansperger, Rafael Salzmann, Patrick Wistler, Chrigel Glanzmann, Kay Brem, Merlin Sutter and Anna Murphy

Songwriting sessions in support of August 2014 studio full-length Origins – the sixth to be issued by Winterthur, Zurich, Switzerland-based folk / death metal outfit Eluveitie – mirrored songwriting sessions that had taken place for Eluveitie’s past five outings. Prior to authoring tracks, Eluveitie founder, vocalist and all-round multi-instrumentalist Chrigel Glanzmann devises a concept for the given record in its entirety.

“Before I start writing particular songs, I kind of need to get a picture of the album as a whole in front of my inner eye,” he explains. “It was like that for Origins as well, but probably what’s a bit different this time is that on one hand it was… Musically, it was quite a big production, because we have been working together with quite some different parties. We worked together with a classical choir, we worked together with a children’s choir, we had an orchestra, and guest voice artist Alexander Morton. Conceptually and especially lyrically, it has been one of the most let’s say work-intensive albums so far. The main topic of the album deals with Gaulish – which means early Celtic – mythology in general, but in particular, the album or particular songs are kind of retelling aetiological tales from ancient Gaul, which means things like origin myths and foundation legends, and stuff like that.

“Every human culture has those kinds of myths, from a story about how the world came to be, how the earth came to be, to stories of the origins of important cities and whatever. Every human culture has always had those kinds of myths and legends, and so did the Celts of course. It’s a very fascinating topic, but also not a very easy one. We actually do not know that much about it, so it was hell of a lot of scientific work. It took me more than year. I worked together with three different universities, with different scientists, for the lyrics on the album, so that was pretty intense. Yeah, that’s basically what I can say about it. That’s what the album is dealing with.”

Songwriting-wise, the involvement of a specific Eluveitie member has steadily grown over the years. “It’s basically me who writes most of the music, but over the years, I’ve started to work with one of our guitar players – Ivo (Henzi, rhythm guitars) – a lot more,” the frontman credits. “Today, he’s actually quite involved – especially in the guitar work – and contributed quite a lot of the guitar work on this album. Yeah though, basically it’s me who writes the music.”

Lyrically exploring aetiological tales from ancient Gaul is wide-ranging in scope, something that could arguably be spread across several platters. “Honestly, yes and no,” Chrigel ponders. “It always depends on the way that you wanna write about things. After all, you could produce ten albums about one single story if you wanted to. Of course you could do that, but as I said before, today we actually do not know that much about the origin myths of the Celts, or about Celtic mythology in general. I know that the internet is full of stuff about it (laughs), but 99% of that to be honest is just pure crap, which means it’s modern, kind of New Age-ish, made up stuff, which actually doesn’t have that much to do with the original Celtic culture in general. If you wanna work historically founded on a scientific level though – as we do and have always done – you will actually have to face the fact that it’s not that much we do know about it, and it’s not that much you can really substantiate.

“The main reason for that is that the Celts… I mean, the Celts wrote like any other culture in human history, but they refused to write down anything if it came to spiritual or mythological topics. They refused to do that for a religious reason actually, which is because the Celtic druids taught that you weren’t allowed to write about those topics. They taught that spiritual things and mythology and all that are things that you should have in your heart, and in your mind. You should memorise those things, and not just keep them in a book where you can look them up. On the other hand, they also believed that – especially when it came to spirituality – as soon as you write down let’s say a tenet or a spiritual thought, it becomes a dogma and loses its flexibility and everything. Yeah, this is why they refused to write down anything about their beliefs or their spirituality, and mythology.

“So today, all we actually really do know about Celtic mythology and spirituality we only know due to some archaeological findings and mostly due to ancient literary testimonies – things that historians and scientists from all of the cultures wrote down, mostly Greeks and Romans who visited Gaul back then and wrote about what they saw and experienced. Imagine if a Greek historian or a Greek scientist for example visited Gaul back then though, and described what he saw and what he learnt from talking to druids and everything. He’s still describing a culture that is totally alien to himself, so there’s a lot of reading between the lines, and there’s a lot of scientific work to actually get to the core of something that you could call an adequate picture of Gaul’s culture.

Chrigel Glanzmann

“Take ten people from England and send them to some African tribe or whatever for a week, and then describe what they see. If you do that then you will get ten completely different pictures, because it always depends on the personality, and it always depends on where this person grew up, the perception of this person and so on. Yeah, this is the main thing that actually does make it quite complicated and work-intensive, because all of the things that we do know about Celtic mythology we basically know from people from other cultures – like, as I said, mostly Greek and Romans that described the Celtic culture. This is one of the main topics in working to get an adequate and real picture of the Celtic culture and Celtic mythology, by what those people from other cultures wrote about it. That’s actually why it’s quite a difficult and work-intensive topic to write an album about.”

Origins is musically similar to previous Eluveitie records. “Before I started the songwriting though, we basically just came back home from Eluveitie’s world tour,” the singer notes. “That was our most extended world tour to date. It took us a bit more than two-and-a-half years, and during those two-and-a-half years we didn’t do much else besides playing shows and playing our instruments, and practising our asses off. I think every single band member actually grew as a musician pretty much, and quite a lot during those two-and-a-half years. I would say that is something you can definitely hear on Origins; compared to the other albums, composition-wise it’s pretty much on a higher level musically. It’s pretty complex stuff, and pretty hard to play. Also, I think that a lot of the songs kind of got a bit darker and harsher, and also more complex probably. That’s what I would say is the main difference actually.”

To critique Origins against past Eluveitie material, one would need to be familiar with Eluveitie’s musical style. “Honestly, I think describing music and putting labels on it is rather your job than mine,” Chrigel laughs. “We don’t really care about that, but since you asked me, I don’t know. I think when I formed the band 12 years ago, the motivation to form Eluveitie was basically that I wanted to bring together the two kinds of music that I personally love most. I’ve been a death metal musician for many years – I don’t remember how many. I formed my first death metal band in 1991. I’ve just been playing death metal for a very long time and that’s kind of my music or something, but I’ve also been playing traditional Celtic folk music for many years.

“All of the instruments that we have and use on our albums are just the most common instruments in Celtic folk music, and that’s basically it. To me, it was always a 100% clear that all of the folk aspects have to be played with real instruments and played traditionally the way they’re supposed to be played, and not just have some fucking shambles on keyboards or whatever (laughs).

“Yeah, I just always wanted to bring those two kinds of music together because to me, I don’t know. It just works well together, and it almost belongs together in a way. I would say that that’s what Eluveitie is. That’s what we began as, and what we still are. It’s like a 100% melodic death metal and a 100% traditional Celtic folk music, but both just within one band. That’s how I would describe our band.”

The arrival of lead guitarist Rafael Salzmann was revealed on September 6th, 2012, as well as the departure of predecessor Simeon Koch. Violinist Nicole Ansperger’s addition to the ranks came to light on December 11th, 2013, meanwhile, occupying a position vacated by Meri Tadić. “It was good,” the mainman comments. “We’ve just had two line-up changes during the last two years. After many years of playing with us, our former guitar player as well as our former fiddle player at some point decided to leave the band for personal reasons, family stuff – actually, for both of them. They didn’t want to be on the road all the fucking time any more and stuff like that, so yeah. We’ve just been looking around, and we were really honestly super-happy to have found Rafael and especially Nicole. Yeah, that’s pretty much all I can say about it. They’re good, they’re great. They’re both very passionate musicians and yeah, that’s basically all I can say about it (laughs). We were just super-happy with them, to get hold of them.”

Potential recruits were required to fulfil specific criteria. “It was basically skills that we were looking for, especially for the violin,” Chrigel tells. “That wasn’t very easy, because there are quite a lot of really insanely good folk fiddlers around. Most of them though, probably all of them, would never, ever want to play in a fucking death metal band. On the other hand, there are quite a few fiddle players around that actually are metalheads and play metal music, but again, most of them are not really good to be honest (laughs). Especially if it comes to the fiddle, to the violin, the things we play and have in our songs are really fucking hard to play. To be able to play Eluveitie songs, you really would have to be a really fucking insanely good violin player.

“Yeah, we had quite a couple of candidates, and so we were looking at different people. We weren’t 100% convinced with them, but it’s not exactly that you have much of a choice. Then one evening, I just received an email from a friend of our band who was like ‘Oh yeah. By the way, I know this girl who plays the violin, and she likes metal. Why not check her out?’ I was like ‘Okay, yeah.’ I didn’t expect much (laughs), but then Nicole sent me some kind of a CV. Already, just reading it, I was really impressed, because she had been a professional musician for 15 years or something. She has a classical education; she has been playing the violin since she was a little girl – she had played many, many hundreds of shows already. Everything I read was really impressive. I was like ‘Woah, okay. I didn’t expect that,’ and then she sent me some YouTube links of live performances with some of her former bands. I checked that out, and I was just blown away.


“I was like ‘Holy fucking shit. That girl is really, really fucking good,’ but the craziest thing – which I believe is actually quite a funny story – is when I first talked to her, all of the fiddle candidates that we had, I sent them… I don’t know… I think it was six Eluveitie songs – six really different Eluveitie songs to practice. I sent those songs to them – sheet-notes and everything – and told them to please learn those songs, and when they were ready to come to band rehearsal, play with us, and then we would see. Usually, that’s the most normal thing. Usually, every violin player said they would probably need a month or two to learn those six songs. Of course, I sent them six very difficult songs, but then with Nicole it was different.

“We always practice on Tuesdays. When I sent her the songs and gave her a phone call, it was a Friday. Yeah, I just mailed her those six songs, and then I called her just to make sure that she had everything she needed to learn those songs. Then I asked her ‘What do you think? How much time do you need to learn those songs?,’ but then she reacted kind of confused. She said ‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘Yeah, let me know how many weeks you need to learn those songs,’ and then she was even more confused. She asked ‘Don’t you just practice on Tuesdays?’ I said ‘Yes, why?,’ and then she answered ‘Well, I will come on Tuesday’ (laughs). I didn’t believe her. I was just like ‘Are you fucking kidding me? Are you seriously telling me that you got those songs today – on Friday – and you will be ready to play them perfectly on Tuesday? You’ve gotta be kidding me?’ She was like ‘No, of course. That’s normal. Of course I will come on Tuesday,’ and then of course I accepted, but I thought ‘Yeah, yeah.’

“Then obviously she came those four days later, and she just completely blew us away. She just came to the rehearsal room, and she played those six songs not only perfectly, but even so much better than they’ve ever been played in our band (laughs). She just completely blew us away, and that’s actually when we didn’t have any more questions. We were just like ‘Okay, you’re the one. That’s it’ (laughs). That was pretty cool.”

Origins was cut at New Sound Studio in Pfäffikon, Switzerland with Tommy Vetterli, as was the case for previous outing Helvetios (February 2012). “Pretty much the same there,” the composer shares with regards to the process. “It was pretty much the same on every album before (laughs). We’ve been working together with Tommy for many years now, and yeah, it was good. It was a long time; we were in the studio for two to two-and-a-half months, or something. Yeah, it was good. It was a very intense time, especially because – as I mentioned earlier – it was just a really big production since we were working together with really quite some different parties, like a classical choir, an orchestra, and everything. It was a pretty huge production, but yeah, it was good. It was intense, but really good.”

Although Tommy Vetterli is accredited as being behind in the production chair, his contribution towards Origins was perhaps not as significant as the title suggests. “Not that much, honestly,” Chrigel off-handedly judges his contributions as being. “Well, no, I cannot say it like that. He always contributes a lot to our albums, but basically, if it comes to the sound, we work together with him a lot on the sounds of every single instrument. With the guitars for example, in the last few weeks we were sitting together with Tommy just to find the right things for everything, starting with the guitars, which instruments would the instruments build off of, which strings, which whatever. That went up to which cabinets, which amps, blah, blah, blah, whatever.

“The way we work together is that we always keep our productions very pure, in a way. If you record an album, then there’s not that much artificial work. There’s not that much editing and not that much ‘magic’ to be done after recording in the mixing process. If you compared just the pure recording without any mixing or nothing for example and the final album, you would actually notice that – for example – the guitar sound or the drum sound didn’t change that much. We invest a hell of a lot of time in those things, but besides that, when it comes to production itself, we basically produce our albums ourselves and Tommy’s just basically kind of a co-pilot or something. He usually doesn’t have any impact on the arrangements and the production; basically, we do that ourselves.”

An engineering credit for Tommy would’ve perhaps been more appropriate. “Yeah,” the lyricist seconds. “Actually, yes. That’s the way we’ve been working with him for… I don’t know… the last four years now, and that’s good.”

Tommy Vetterli additionally handled mixing duties, mixing death metal elements as well as folk instruments being arguably more fickle than conventional fare. “Mixing is mixing,” Chrigel contends. “It doesn’t matter if you’re mixing a fucking Motörhead album with three instruments, or if you’re mixing an orchestra from a Mozart symphony or something like that. Of course nevertheless though, the more instruments you have, the harder it gets and the more difficult it gets, especially to get everything heard properly and so on. Yeah, what can I say? I think that’s just something that needs experience, and yeah, I think that’s all about it I can say.

“Of course, in our songs there’s always a hell of a lot going on. Just to give you one example, the song ‘The Nameless’ from our recent album Origins had 120… I think it was even more. It was almost 150 tracks to be mixed, just for that one song. Of course that’s hell of a lot, but then again, I think that’s just something that needs experience as I said. With every album production, you learn and you get better at that, and it’s also what we’re trying to do. With every album production, we try to put into action what we learnt with the previous production. I think that’s basically it.”

Chrigel himself designed the cover artwork for Origins. “Mostly, I do all of the artworks for our band,” he informs. “As soon as I finished the album concept and as soon as it was clear what the album would be about those mythological topics, it was clear that on one hand we wanted something very simple. For the artwork, something almost a bit abstract maybe, but also something that kind of symbolises the lyrical content of the album. I started looking for something to express the lyrical content of the album. I’ve also been working together with Zurich university, with scientists specialising in Celtic art for that.

“Let’s put it this way: if for example Origins would have been a concept album on Catholic Christianity, then it would’ve been easy. We just could’ve printed a fucking crucifix on the front cover, but compared to Celtic culture, the Celts don’t have kind of a symbol or something that represents their beliefs, or their mythology, or something like that. It was quite a lot of research to find something adequate. As I said, in particular the album deals with those Celtic origin myths, those legends that tell the origins of Celtic culture and everything.

“In all those legends and myths there is one Celtic god who appears over and over again, which is the Celtic god named Succellos. All over the Celtic areas of Europe, there have been Succellos artifacts found during archaeological excavations. In one of them, Succellos was depicted with this kind of sun-shaped halo, but the single rays were not sun rays. They were hammers, like these old, double-headed hammers. He holds one in his right hand, and so this hammer-shaped halo is what you can see on the front cover of Origins. That’s basically what it is about. In many origin myths of the Celts this Celtic god appears, because the Celts believed themselves to be of some divine ancestry. They believed themselves to be descendants of a god from the other world. We’re not able to prove that scientifically today a 100%, but most likely it was this particular god named Succellos the Celts believed themselves to be descendants of. You can see Succellos’ halo on the front cover of Origins.”

Mail order versions of Origins include a bonus disc, the disc in question boasting four different language versions of the track ‘The Call Of The Mountains’. “Honestly, that was basically just for fun,” the vocalist admits. “In Switzerland we have four official languages; Swiss, French, Italian, and Romansch. We had the idea once of recording a song in the four official languages of Switzerland. We had decided that many years ago, and so originally we wanted to do that with a song from Helvetios – our previous album. Back then though, it wasn’t possible to do that just due to the lack of time. During the production process of Origins, this idea just came up again. We had enough time, so we said ‘Okay, fuck it. Let’s do it.’ Actually, it was just for fun, because we thought that it was something cool to do.”

Eluveitie will embark on a tour of the United Kingdom during November, the tour scheduled to begin on the 11th at London’s Islington Academy. “We’re extremely looking forward to that,” Chrigel enthuses. “To be honest, it’s been a while since we last played the UK. It’s good; we’re super-happy to finally return to the UK. It will be great, I’m pretty sure about that.”

Origins was released on August 1st, 2014 in Europe (excluding the United Kingdom), on the 4th in the United Kingdom, and subsequently on the 5th in North America, all via Nuclear Blast Records.

Interview published in October 2014. All promotional photographs by Manuel Vargas Lepiz.

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