Eight years ago, the Swiss folk metal band took us deep into their world of Celtic mythology, releasing acoustic fourth album Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion. Wind forward to 2014, and the seeds of its sequel, Evocation II – Pantheon, were sown.
As frontman Chrigel Glanzmann mused, “It’s definitely folksier, closer to traditional music. There are tracks like ‘Epona’ and ‘Catvrix’ that are rougher, in that sense. I think we actually did what we had in mind.”
Yet the group was a different one back when they released Origins , struggling to reconcile creative conflict and communicate honestly with each other. That culminated into three of the band’s key members leaving to embark on their own journey, as hypnotic storytellers Cellar Darling.
It’s 2017 and Eluveitie have found themselves again, which has certainly been an unexpected road for Glanzmann. As we chatted, he took us back down that path, which has welcomed Alain Ackermann (drums), Jonas Wolf (rhythm guitar), Michalina Malisz (hurdy-gurdy) and most recently Fabienne Erni (vocals, celtic harp) into the fold.
I can imagine that with the album, it’s been a real journey going back to where it all began in Celtic mythology – the underworld. Just how reflective has the process been in terms of reconnecting with your heritage in such a visceral way?
“Intense, of course. But yeah, it’s most of all like you described a conceptual thing, and in terms of mythology it was a journey going back. In the Celtic understanding, the underworld is the source of everything, and also everything on Evocation I.”
I have to mention your video for ‘Epona’, which is beautifully shot. But the greater significance really comes from it being shot in Aventicum (the capital of Roman Switzerland), right?
“Yes it was very nice to shoot there, because it’s a place full of history. It was the capital of the Tigurini, which was a partial tribe of the Helvetians. It was also home of the chieftain Divico, who was the one leading the Helvetians and the Gauls in general. So it was definitely a nice place to shoot that video, especially for Epona who also plays an important role in that story.”
I love that the only lyrics we get of ‘Epona’ are on a poster, because in keeping with tradition it’s better to learn it all by heart rather than just having it all in front of you, right?
“What the Celtic druids taught is that it’s wrong to write these things down, because as you said, you should have them in your heart and mind rather than in a book. The main part of it is also that if you have a word of wisdom, once written down it loses its liveliness and becomes a dogma. That’s what they wanted to avoid, and I think that’s a pretty clever thought, even though it sucks for us today because we’re missing a lot of sources [chuckles].”
What was the very first Celtic story or song you learnt that way?
“That was when I was a little boy in school. When I was in kindergarten, or second class – I have no idea when – I would start to have history lessons. Of course, you also learn the history of your own people and country, and one of the first stories was of Divico and the Helvetians. So that was one of the first times I got in touch with that.”
It’s so good to see that your journey of finding the right people to complete Eluveitie again happened so organically. Take me back to when you first felt things start to feel right again.
“Honestly that was quite a while ago. The decision that our next album would be Evocation II was actually done when we were still producing Origins. I was baring the album in the heart ever since. But at the same time, yeah you’re also right that the establishment of the new lineup did happen very organically, and it was very different to what we thought it would be.”
“When Anna, Ivo and Merlin left in March last year, obviously it was really tough on everybody as musicians, but also on an emotional level. We’d been together for nearly ten years, and touring as much as we do, we were spending most of our time together. But we also said, ‘As hard as it might be, we’re going to try and use it as a chance’, and I think we’ve both really succeeded in that.”
“When they left, we were really clear that we wanted to search well and take as much time as we needed to find the right people. But we also had a lot of tours and festival shows booked, so we decided to hire live session musicians to step in. We really didn’t want to cancel a single show. That’s how we came across the guys that are actually in the band now. We didn’t know any of them, but they basically got recommended to us. At least in Switzerland, they all have a reputation for being among the very best at their instruments.”
“So we contacted them and they were all available luckily. Musically it was really amazing, they’re incredible musicians and the shows really rocked from the start, despite the fact that they were completely new to everything we do. But for us it was like winning the lottery. The overwhelming part though happened in the next few months, because the vibe in the band really changed and developed in a familial way.”
“At some point in fall last year, we just asked ourselves, ‘Why are we still looking for permanent band members? We already found them months ago’ [chuckles].”
It’s also fantastic to see your partner Nicole Ansperger back in Eluveitie, and killing it on the record as well as out on the road. How has your relationship grown now that the band has found itself again?
“We’re very close, I mean we have a family together. She didn’t really leave the band, she just had to step out at that time. It was a complicated story because she’s the mother of two kids and I’m the stepdad… There was just a lot of shit going on with her family, and the family of her ex-husband, and with time it just became too much. She needed to be there and really take care of some bad things that were going on.”
“But it was really clear that she would come back as soon as it was fixed. The only reason why we didn’t announce that from the start was because we didn’t really know how long it was going to take… So she just really needed to step back for a while and take care of some shitty things going on.”
It’s clear that with a huge year of songwriting, recording and rocking summer festivals under their belts so far, Eluveitie have certainly found themselves again.
That determination and passion for such a rich heritage bleeds through Evocation II – Pantheon (out August 18), Available For Pre-Order Here via Nuclear Blast Records.
Interview by Genevieve Gao