Before the rise of the Roman empire, the Celtic realm sprawled across Europe, from the northern tip of Scotland all the way into Italy. But, just like how disco came along and sidelined guitar rock, the Romans ultimately claimed much of Europe. By the reign of Julius Caesar, the Celtic footprint had shrunk to the British Isles, leading us to associate their complex culture with the rolling Irish landscape and Enya. Without those meddling Romans, westerners might be speaking Gaulish or Gaelic today instead of a bizarre Latin-German hybrid.

Since its formation in 2002, Eluveitie have been mining the particularly rich vein forged by Rome’s erasure of mainland Celtic culture. The band often sings in Gaulish -- the language of their native Switzerland in pre-Roman times -- which somehow lends itself well both to brutal growling and more gentle vocal trills. Add a handful of Celtic instruments to the death-metal formula and you have the groundwork for Eluveitie's sound. The band found its niche, and has plumbed it exhaustively since.

On Origins, the follow-up to 2012’s Helvetios, Eluveitie lay out the origin stories of Celtic-Gaulish mythology, particularly a central god they identify as Sucellos. Each god has his quirks; Sucellos was a lord of agriculture and forests who wore a crown like a sputnik, toting an impressively long hammer in one hand and a cup of beer in the other. Such a multifaceted fellow seems like he could take a band like Eluveitie in some interesting directions. Instead, over the course of the album, you can actually hear them running out of ideas.

Not only is the sound horrendously compressed -- evidently the loudness wars have made their way to ancient Gaul -- but you’d be hard-pressed to tell many of the songs on Origins apart. There are a couple of standouts, including the hyper-catchy “Celtos” and the first single, “King,” which could be deliciously brutal if it hadn’t been fed so many times through the compress-o-matic. But Eluveitie are leaning pretty heavily on formula this time around: crunchy riffs, growled and clean vocals, fiddle and bagpipes, and (because this is a heavily Celtic album), whistles. Lots and lots of whistles.

Granted, most of these same elements are there on one Eluveitie’s best tracks, “Your Gaulish War,” off 2006’s “Spirit.” But while “Gaulish War” sounds frenzied and alive, much of “Origins” comes across as tired. Maybe it’s time for Eluveitie to rethink the blueprint, or at least take a few steps outside the cage they’ve built for themselves.

— Beth Winegarner



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