Reviews: folk

(neo-folk / military pop / ritual / dark apocalyptic folk)

Darkwood – Notwendfeuer

At a time when authentic neo-folk seems more dead than alive Darkwood comes up with a new and very strong album, entitled ‘Notwendfeuer’. This record is without a doubt the best the project has released so far. It is a very typical German neo-folk album but despite that one that is all but disappointing.

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Allerseelen / Sangre Cavallum – Barco do Vinho

Lately I began to fear for Allerseelen-fatigue. In recent times I saw various concerts of the Austrian project and heard many new (re)releases. Not that I have any complaints about the average quality that Gerhard produces, it’s more the quantity which I find difficult to keep up with. This new release looked promising though. Not only is it a collaboration with Sangre Cavallum whose two albums I enjoyed, the vinological theme should be fruitful as well.

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Sturmpercht – Geister im Waldgebirg

What I knew of Sturmpercht, through several compilations tracks, the LP Stürm Ins Leben Wild Hinein! and a concert a few years ago, was very entertaining. I had some doubts though about how serious the Austrian folkloristic project should be taken. Their ‘Alpine pagan’ music may be nice for a few limited singles, but for an album of more than an hour? Well, on Geister im Waldgebirg, probably their most ambitious release so far, Sturmpercht quickly makes me forget my doubts.

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Division S – Something to drink 4

Division S is a strange but very interesting project. There is no real way to put a genre name to this music. Also the sound is everytime evolving and developing. The more typical post-industrial and neo-folk sound has been growing into a weird dada-istic extra-vaganza.

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Rome – Nera

The Berlin EP was a very nice introduction to this new talent on Cold Meat Industry. This full lenght debut cd is nothing less then an impressive piece of work. In general the atmosphere is less post-industrial and martial inspired. I even want to claim this is a in a way very much a (dark) new wave album.

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Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio – Apocalips

In a way you know what to expect from Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, and indeed this new album Apocalips holds no suprises for people familiar with the band. It is all there: military rhythms, soothing anthems, erotic content and the deep spoken vocals. But, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio has delivered a good new album which is a worthy addition to their repertoire.

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Neun Welten – Vergessene Pfade

After a mini cd in 2004 and various performances, Neun Welten felt confident enough to release a full cd on Auerbach. The young German band has created an album inspired by Edda and other Nordic myths, with 10 songs that can be described a bit disrespectful as campfire folk music.

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Rome – Berlin

Rome is a new star in the Cold Meat firmament. The EP Berlin is the official debut of this project by Jérôme Reuter, who does not come from Rome or Berlin, but from Luxembourg. It contains six tracks with a convincing apocalyptic atmosphere.

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In Gowan Ring – The Twin Trees

The Twin Trees was the second album of In Gowan Ring, released by World Serpent in 1997. Of course it was long out of print, and it has now been reissued by Shayo. It contains one extra track, ‘Still water bonne’, previously available on the ‘Terra Serpentes’ sampler. I’m happy with this release, since I regard The Twin trees as one of the best works by B’eirth and his people.

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V/A – Steinklang Industries II: 2005-2006

Last year Steinklang Industries from Austria managed to cram their artists on a single compilation cd, on their latest label sampler they expanded to a double cd. Like the title betrays, Steinklang Industries II: 2005-2006 includes tracks from Steinklang records released in 2005 and 2006.
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Sangre Cavallum – Pátria Granítica

Two years ago I was pleasantly surprised by the debut cd of Sangre Cavallum on Storm Records. Now the band from Portugal returns with a follow-up on Ahnstern/Steinklang Records. Compared to their debut, “Patria Granítica” sounds much more homogeneous, with a more even level of quality. On the rich sounding album, a varied collection of mainly (regional and traditional) acoustic instruments is employed, played by clearly skilled musicians. Musicwise their work has similarities to for instance Blood Axis and draws heavily from traditional folk sources, interwoven with more avantgardistic elements.

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Spiritual Front – Armageddon Gigolo

This is the fourth album by Spiritual Front, if you count the collaboration with Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio. “Armageddon Gigolo” breathes maturity in every aspect. Convincing songs, a professional sounding band with a full production, an elaborate digipack with creative artwork. Like before, Simone Salvatori tread the borders of folk, pop, rock, traditional Italian music and even gospel (on the final track). ‘Mafia folk’ and ‘Nihilist Suicide Pop’ are just some of the terms invented for this music, which goes much further than neo-folk.
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Woven Hand – Mosaic

Now 16 Horsepower is no longer active, Eugene David Edwards can focus all his creative energy on (the darker and more experimental) Woven Hand. Mosaic is the follow-up to Consider the Birds (2004). The album contains 12 songs and displays again a varied mixture of folkloristic music and religious themes.

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Sub Luna – In the shade of time

For their second release, Dagaz Music from Portugal has spotted some new talent in the northern spheres of Eskilstuna, Sweden. Sub Luna is a duo consisting of Mikael Lindblom and Frederik Sööberg. “In the Shade of time” is their debut. They are active since a few years. Their earlier material is added on a bonus disc that comes with this release.

Acoustic guitars, moody songs with clear melodies and solemn male vocals form the main ingredients of Sub Luna’s music. Typical dark/neofolk will quickly come to mind as a stylistic description. For a large part this is the case, even the romantic (synthetic?) string sounds are not uncommon in neofolk. The guitar sound is a bit deviant though, with some tremolo and slide guitar elements. Perhaps you can compare the sound of Sub Luna a bit to Kutna Hora, Cawatana or Harvest Rain.

I must say that I don’t find “In the Shade of Time” very concinving. The album never sounds as exciting as for instance Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio. The first minutes don’t sound unpleasant, but not much changes as the album continues. The songs are slow, without much variation in melody or pace. Also the vocals are not very lively, the singer sounds a bit tired, perhaps he tries to hard to come across as melancholic. Some of the better (but not original) tracks in my opinion are ‘In virtue’ and ‘The fairest of seasons’. ‘In the Fairest of Seasons’, included on the bonus disc with earlier material, is perhaps the liveliest track.

Nebelung – Reigen

Nebelung is back with a new release. After their debut mcd ‘mistelteinn’ on Eis & Licht, the German neo-folk group now presents two new tracks on a vinyl single.

Only 250 copies are available of ‘Reigen’. The title track is a pleasant romantic folksong. Nice acoustic guitar playing, a clear melody, sensitive male vocals in German, a down-to-earth, natural feeling. Like the label already admitted itself, the resemblance to Forseti is striking. But I don’t consider that to be a reproach, since it’s an attractive song and there are worse examples.

The B-side ‘Herbstwind’ is a bit less to my liking. It’s fully instrumental and contains a sort of elaborate acoustic guitar duet, a bit in line with later Empyrium releases.
All in all nothing extraordinary, just a nice single. I wonder if Nebelung would be capable of creating an interesting full-lenght album, perhaps time will tell.

Ianva – Disobbedisco!

Ianva is a relatively new band, but you wouldn’t say so when you experience this debut album. Both the music and the packaging leave a confident and professional impression. Perhaps not so surprising, because various members of Ianva are quite experienced in the music scene, having played in ‘dark’, avantgarde and metal bands in the past. On “Disobeddisco” the group digs deep into Italian cultural and musical history to create a colourful patchwork with a nostalgic and decadent atmosphere.

About ten musicians are involved who play a varied mixture of acoustic and electronic instruments, giving this cd a rich sound. Ianva finds it important to stress that they’re no typical ‘pale’ neofolk band. Though they incorporate some folky influences, the musical scope is much wider. Especially the Italian heritage plays an important role, from mainstream pop to the filmscores of Morricone and co, from early new wave to traditional ballads.

This album seems to deal conceptually with the “the imaginary romance of Maggiore Cesare Renzi and the chanteuse Elettra Stavros, based on the historical background of d’Annunzio’s occupation of Fiume 1918-1920″. In the booklet historical photos are included of military situations, but also of the futuristic manifesto and avantgarde ballet.

The first track sounds quite martial, with some offical speech, military drums, trumpets and orchestral sounds. Then follows perhaps my favourite song: ‘La Ballata dell’Ardito’, which has a wonderful trumpet melody, traditional instruments like accordion and nice melancholic male vocals. The next piece ‘Vittoria mutilata’ is a much more sober track, mostly in a moody guitar wave style. This variation in styles can also be found on the rest of the album. Special mention deserves the powerful fourth track ‘XII – IX – MCMXIX: Di Nuovo In Armi!’, with a bombastic martial folk sound.

If I have to compare Ianva to other acts, some names that come to mind are Camerata Mediolanense, Ain Soph and Spiritual Front. Mostly because they are rooted in the Italian heritage too and share a similar sense of stylish nonconformism. “Disobeddisco” is a very enjoyable cd, which will not easily become boring because of its lively character and its stilistic variety. One of the better albums I heard this year!

Alex Fergusson – The Castle

“The Castle” is a slightly unusual release for Eis & Licht. Alex Fergusson differs from most of the artists on the label both in the width and length of his musical background. It is not possible to review Fergusson without briefly summing up his career (his site has a detailed bio). He was co-founder of Alternative TV in 1977 and started Psychic TV with Genesis P. Orridge a few years later. After he left that project in 1987, only two or three solo albums followed, “The Essence” (2001) being the last one. Besides he was active as a producer now and then.

On “The Castle” 12 songs are collected, clocking in at just over half an hour. That is not the only nostalgic thing about the album. The music also has many references to classic bands from the 60’s and 70’s, especially though the somewhat psychedelic guitar sounds. Velvet Underground, Stooges, New York Dolls, are just some of the names that spring to mind.

The album opens with a semi-orchestral entrance, after which the in-your-face garagepunk of ‘Dark Angel’ follows, which you might know in a slightly different mix from the ‘Eisiges Licht 2′ sampler. Next is the acoustic tale ‘Bar Noir’, reminding me of the Canadese bard Leonard Cohen. Raw rock and dark folk ballads keep on alternating each other, with a more experimental piece sneaked in now and then (‘Odyssey’). Of the folky songs, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Let the sorrow go’ (featuring Rose McDowall) deserve special mention.

Because of the variety in styles and a somewhat relaxed mood, “The Castle” feels more like a loose collection of songs created in a spontaneous session, than a meticulously planned whole. Though it will probably have less impact on musical history than some of Fergusson’s previous creations, it’s an enjoyable short album with well-written songs, which would have been appreciated in any of the last four decades.

Naevus / Spiritual Front – Bedtime / Badtime

Spiritual Front from Italy and Naevus from England join each other on this colourful grotesque 10″ picture disc. Each band contributes three unreleased tracks. A record filled with neo pop`n`folk sounds, as the record label describes it. I’m not sure if there is a specific idea behind this split release, perhaps Old Europa Cafe just wanted to combine two interesting acts on one record.

Naevus starts the ‘Bedtime-part’ with ‘Recovery Is Not Permitted’. One of the better songs I know from them, with a nice accordion melody and convincing semi-spoken vocals. An original mixture of pop, folk and postpunk. The short ‘Blimey, it’s Bedtime’ is much heavier, it has a loud wall of sound in the vein of the earlier Swans releases. Not bad, but perhaps a bit out of place on this otherwise quite tranquil record. Their last track is a decent demo version of ‘While You Sleep’, one of the best songs from their “Behaviour” album.

The ‘Badtime-side’ is filled by Spiritual Front. We’re treated to some nice melancholic poppy ballads. There is a wonderful nostalgic organ sound in the first piece ‘Malediction Gitane’, which has a compelling gypsy flavour and gives you the urge to sing along. It is followed by the desperate romantic piano song ‘Cold Love In Cold Coffin’ and a short instrumental experiment.
This split release is a nice addition to my record collection, with the first tracks of each side as the highlights.

Kathleen Baird – Lullaby For Strangers

This cd came as a big surprise to me. I had never heard of the musician nor the label. Kathleen Baird previously performed under the name Travelling Bell and she is also a member of freak-folk band Spires That In The Sunset Rise. Just for your information.

This new album is a piece of beautiful weird dark folk music. Kathleen Baird’s style is somewhat in between the typical sound of the Fonal Records releases, Nico and Nora Keyes.
‘Breaking The Roofs’ and ‘Morning Song #1’ are much in the weird Fonal style while ‘The Last Words’ is reminiscent of Nico as on The End. At times the sound gets more theatrical and spooky like the music by Nora Keyes.

Lullaby For Strangers is a record which will find its way to my stereo set a lot in the future and I will also keep my eyes out for any news on Kathleen Baird’s music. A nice suprise among all the music that is released every day.

Simon Finn – Subjunctive Mood

The story of the miraculous come-back of Simon Finn may be known by now. He started performing in the London folk scene of the late 60’s. In 1969 he got to chance to release an album called “Pass the Distance”, of which only a small number came into circulation. In the years that followed Finn kept writing songs, but only in a private setting. Untill he got in touch with David Tibet of Current 93 a few years ago, which gave his musical career an unexpected impulse.

Simon Finn’s debut LP was reissued on cd on Durtro/Jnana, followed by an album of newer work, entitled “Magic moments”. He is closely related to Current 93, being a member of their live band and often playing as support act. The EP “Subjunctive Mood” with five exclusive songs was originally released for the concerts by Current 93 and friends in Canada last year, but is still available.

Finn can be called a traditional folk singer, using nothing but his voice and acoustic guitar to play quite simple melodies. As you’d expect from a singer-songwriter, he does not bring happy songs, but sings about the miseries of life and love. Sometimes socially/politically engaged, but often his themes are more of a personal nature. Finn has a rather raw voice and his guitar strumming is not highly refined, but his music works because of the honest and passionate nature.

I think I would have liked these songs less if I hadn’t seen Simon Finn perform live. Now I imagine his passionate performance when listening to this EP. On cd Finn sounds a bit more restrained, on stage he can utter his frustrations in quite fierce outbursts. My favourite songs of this release are the melancholic title track and ‘Rich Girl With No Trousers’, a song about a doomed relationship with the memorable lines ‘Don’t take my memories / they’re mine / Don’t take that away / it’s what makes our lives shine / Without my memories / I am blind’.