Reviews: medieval

(traditional folk / celtic / world)

The Soil Bleeds Black – Alchemie

Alchemie originally appeared on the now defunct label World Serpent in 1999. It was the fourth album for the American neo-medievalists The Soil Bleeds Black, a project centered around the Riddick brothers. Their label The Fossil Dungeon has now made this album available again, in a joint venture with Argentina’s Twilight Records. The second edition comes in a nice brown/gold digipack and has no less than three bonus tracks.

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Dandelion Wine – An inexact science

Naomi Henderson and Nicholas Albanis are Dandelion Wine. “An Inexact Science” is the third release of them. It contains music they themselves describe as medieval ethereal, post-dreampop. A strange description for music, then again the Melbourne-duo might be right, let’s just have a listen.

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Medusa’s Spell – Mercurian Behaviour

Mercurian Behaviour is not just an ambient album. Medusa’s Spell plays music that is like a blending of ambient and ethereal pop.
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Corvus Corax – Venus Vina Musica

To most people the sound of Corvus Corax will be clear. Their powerful medieval sound has made them famous beyond the gothic scene, where they were first picked up. This new cd is about a minstrel traveling in to the East in search for a legendary dancer called Sanyogita. The expectation is raised that the band will incorporate Eastern elements in their music because of this theme.

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Artesia – Hilvern

Prikosnovénie has started a new series of releases for new talents called “Nové”. Artesia is the first band to release in this series. This young French duo delivers a tragical and dark sounding classic gothic album. The sound is ethereal and romantic with lots of moody synth layers and some peaceful violin melodies.

On the one hand the music is quite good but on the other hand it is a bit cliché. I have to admit that this band has talent and knows what it does. It is just not very original.
But the musicians are still young. I will wait for their next release and hopefully by then they have found a style of their own. The talent is there.

Caprice – Elvenmusic 3: Tales Of The Uninvited

Caprice has already delivered several beautiful albums filled with wonderful poetic fairy world music. Their music is neo-romantic and otherworldly inspired. As the title suggests this new album is part three in the series of albums on which the music is inspired by faeries and elves and more concrete the poems of Tolkien.

While the music invokes images of another world the lyrics are of another world. Meaning that the band uses the language of “Laoris”. A faerie language the band invented. The soothing tones of this language fit perfectly with the mood of the music. And, even though the music is relaxing there is a lot of energy in it.

Caprice has come up with another great record. They made it for faeries but I am sure (some) humans will also enjoy it.

Love Sessions 2

Meeting Francesco Banchini – Louisa John-Krol – Lys

Three of the most prominent musicians on the Prikosnovénie label teamed up for volume two in the Love Sessions series. The result is a beautiful album with mediterranean folk with ethereal elements. A mixture of styles you might expect with a collaboration of these musicians.
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Kamilya Jubran & Werner Hasler – Wameedd

Kamilya Jubran and Werner Hasler’s ‘Wameedd’ has been self-described as a symbiotic creational process and interpretation of Arabic words and phonetic rhythms. The project highlights Kamilya Jubran’s rich and expressive voice. Jubran is known for being a member of the Palestinian art ensemble Sabreen.

On this album, Jubran’s meet Hasler’s electronics, which find a really nice balance between Middle Eastern melodies and electronic experiments. Songs like “Al Shaatte Al-Akhar” develop further toward the rhythm and dance direction, while keeping an authentically Arabic feel.
“Amshi” slows things down a bit with a spoken word intro, and then starts things moving again with strings and bubbling electronics. “Al-Mawjatu Taa’t” is another really interesting song, certainly a break of pace from what I’ve been listening to lately.

If Middle Eastern music and sultry Arabic singing (with a touch of modernity) is your bag, then I’m sure you’ll find this cross-cultural collaboration between these two very much to your liking.

Djilia Phralengo – Oracle

This act with the difficult name is mainly a solo project of Ernesto Villarreal, a multi-instrumentalist based in the USA. He handles a number of guitar varieties, from classical to flamenco to electric guitars. On his album Oracle, Villareal plays an original mixture of gypsy and renaissance music.

Most tracks are completely instrumental, with two exceptions. Apart from the guitar playing there are also guest musicians performing charango, mandolin and percussion. Villarreal seems to be inspired by celtic and medieval music, gypsy and flamenco, progressive rock and various other styles.

Not all tracks are my taste, but Villarreal is a skilfull player and the compositions are quite lively. I have the most problems with the progrock electric guitar parts on a few songs, I’d rather wish that he kept to the acoustic styles. Oracle, which comes in a nicely designed digipack, will certainly appeal to people who appreciate intricate guitar work and a wide variety of musical styles.

Louisa John-Krol – Apple Pentacle

For people who follow the Prikosnovénie label Louisa John Krol is not a stranger. This musician combines ethereal pop in the tradition of Loreena McKennit and Kate Bush with folk influences.

This new record consists of many wonderful tunes and has become a pleasant listening experience. ‘Which of these worlds?’ for example is a very well written piece of music with a strong electronic rhythm and nice sounds.

Also very nice are ‘Spin’, ‘Birch wandering’ and Escalder’s tree ride’. These three songs are the most folky on the record. The mood is that of the psychedelic folk music from the 60’s like Pentangle and Fairport Convention played back then. If you like that sound you cannot miss Apple Pentacle.

The Moon and the Nightspirit – Of Dreams Forgotten and Fables Untold

The name of the band and the style of the artwork already gave me a clue what kind of music to expect. The Moon and the Nightspirit, a duo from Hungary, creates ethereal music full of mystery and romance. On their debut album they offer nine purely acoustic songs with clear folkloristic and medieval elements.

“Of Dreams Forgotten and Fables Untold” certainly is an enjoyable album. Artwork and lyrics which deal with fairytales, nature and gods form a consistent unity of high quality together with the instrumentation and compositions. The clear ‘heavenly’ voice of singer Agnes is pleasant to listen to and her violin playing nicely colours the songs. The acoustic guitar and bass of Mihaly form a good company, together with the somewhat tribal percussion of guest musician Gabor Vegh. Woodwinds and piano take care of the finishing touch.

The album, which lasts les than 40 minutes, has a good variation between softer, romantic pieces and more uptempo, melodic and rhythmic tracks. Especially ‘Égi Táltos’, ‘Beloved Enchantress’ and ‘Pagan’ belong to that latter category and should tempt little elves to perform a gracious dance.

Pinknruby – Garden

On their new album Pinknruby sound more mature then before. Their ethereal acoustic folkpop style is still present but the compositions sound more diverse and the instrumentation is richer.

The duo succeeds in delivering an excellent record that raises even more expectations for the future. There are more folk and world music elements to be found on Garden then on the previous album. Also Pinknruby have crafted their own style more on this record. But, characteristic are still the heavenly female vocals with the Eastern European touch and the acoustic guitars.

Pinknruby are one of the most interesting singer/songwriters around at the moment and Garden is a record to check out.

Valravn – Krunk

If you know that a member of the technofolk band Sorten Muld is part of Valravn, you might be surprised in first instance with this record. The sound of Valravn is in the first song very traditional, unpolished and raw. Thus very different from the tight produced electronic dance and ambient folk of Sorten Muld.

Valravn sounds like a Faun who cover Hedningarna in a very convincing way or like an Omnia that knows something about traditional music. Still there are some songs on Krunk that feature modern electronic influences. This is both done very subtle like in ‘Drømte mig en drøm i nat but also more prominent with a dance beat in Skovedanser’. Despite this all songs have a traditional Scandinavian touch, sometimes with a Pagan folk twist.

This first cd by Valravn sounds convincing and leaves a taste for more. There is only one point of real approval and that is the singing. At times this could have been done better.

Keltia – Face ? Face

Keltia is a young Belgian musician, who creates folky, Celtic-inspired music, carried by her harp playing and chanted vocals. She already created a solo demo, which was reviewed earlier on Now she is back with a new cd, this time made with a band and recorded completely live.

The three musicians who support Keltia make the music more rich and varied, with bass, violin, all kinds of ethnic percussion amongst others. The harp playing of the young Keltia (born in 1985) is pleasant to listen to, but her chanted vocals cost me more effort to get used to. The fact that the album is recorded live, makes the music sound not too professional, but also energetic and spontaneous.

Eight songs are on the menu, including a decent cover of Loreena McKennitt’s well-known composition ‘Marco Polo’. I find the first song, ‘Chemin de Traverse’, an intriguing instrumental track, sort of a filmic ambient loop-based piece reminding me of Colleen or Yann Tiersen. The other songs are more what you would expect of Keltia: atmospheric, fragile compositions between folk and pop.

McKennitt is an obvious reference for this style music, as well as artists like Louisa John-Krol, Enya or Kate Bush. A track like ‘Brocéliande’, with its oriental atmosphere, makes me think of Francesco’s Banchini’s GOR. Keltia may not have reached the level of these famous examples yet, but ‘Face à Face’ contains half an hour of pleasant music which leaves a sympathetic impression.

Banchini, Francesco – Ciganko: A Mediterranean Adventure

Francesco Banchini is the musician behind GOR. With GOR he plays medieval orientated music. This new album, released under his own name, is a true Mediterranean folk album.

Ciganko is a beautiful album with atmospheric and relaxing music. The clarinet and the German flute have a prominent role. These instruments produce wonderful melancholy sounds. The warm voice of Francesco makes the mood of a nice summer evening complete.

Ciganko is an album to fall in love with, with the music presented and in real life while listening to it. If there is one thing this musician communicates through his music it is passion: passion for music and passion for life.

Francesco Banchini is a great musician and Ciganko is possibly his best work until now.

Corvus Corax – Cantus Buranus

One of the best known medieval bands plays one of the best known pieces of medieval music: Corvus Corax takes on the Carmina Burana. After about twenty years of playing and fifteen albums, the medieval big band has the guts to step into the difficult world of a classical masterpiece.

The first thing about this version that you will hear is the grotesque feeling and the bombastic character. Although Corvus Corax always sounds this way, their Carmina Burana is a very powerful piece of music, even more then normal. This is without a doubt also due to the help of a choir and additional musicians. However, the result is impressive, something I did not expect to be honest.

Only dance tracks like ‘Dulcissima’ and ‘Venus’ should have maybe be left out as they spoil the mood of the listening experience. But, in overall Corvus Corax have not done a bad job at all. I wonder how they do this in a live situation.

O Quam Tristis – Méditations ultimes

This is the third album by O Quam Tristis. I find it impressive to hear how the band improves with each album. Both musically and in song writing the band has grown a lot since the first album.
What is the most remarkable about Méditations Ultimes is the use of atypical electronic rhythms in the music. These rhythms are not dance beats like most of the time with Qntal, nor standard rhythm structures to accompany typical medieval gothic tunes like Helium Vola. O Quam Tristis makes use of some original and surprising rhythms like in ‘Non Eripit Mortalia’, ‘Quoniam Tu Solus’ and ‘Creator’.
Besides that, the medieval music which the band plays on top of this, sounds more authentic and pure then most bands in the gothic scene will ever sound.
Méditations Ultimes is an excellent accomplishment and O Quam Tristis is a promise for the future.

The third album of French neo-medievalists O Quam Tristis is a convincing one. I do not know their previous album “Le Rituel Sacré” very well, but compared to their debut they have clearly made a considerable step forwards. Especially in the melodic qualities of the compositions O Quam Tristis have clearly improved.

The traditional medieval structures sound convincing, while the modern electronic elements fit in nicely, a combination which we know from bands like Qntal. One of the most attractive features of the band is the harmonic combination of ‘earthy’ male vocals and ethereal female voices, in a somewhat comparable manner as for instance Love is Colder than Death. All songs have (liturgical) lyrics in Latin by the way.

The musical spectrum of this album is quite varied by the way, from tranquil acoustic songs to dark gothic hymns to uptempo ‘crossover’ tracks. The electronic elements are combined with traditional instruments like bagpipes, flutes, dulcimer and percussion. Some of the more striking pieces are Ó langueo’, the sensual ‘Confiteur’ and the nice choral chanting of ‘Ad esse internum’. The absolute hit is ‘Terrae’, with an addictive beat, a wavy keyboard sound and a catchy refrain. It reminds me a bit of some material by Argine.

Méditations Ultimes is certainly a recommended album, though perhaps not for medieval purists.

V/A – Summoning of the Muse

This is not the first album in honour of the influential group Dead Can Dance, and probably not the last. Cleopatra for instance released the tribute “Carnival Within” in 1997, with unlikely participants like Leaetherstrip. Last year the partly succeeded double cd “The Lotus Eaters” appeared on a Greek label, with both bands from the gothic and metal scene taking part. “Summoning The Muse” is a more focused affair, with acts which are musically not too far removed from each other. Projekt is of course a likely label for a DCD tribute, with many bands on their ethereal/darkwave roster which seem to be heavily inspired by the work of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard.

The general conslusion of this tribute album is that there are no big surprises, but that the average quality is very solid. About half of the tracks are exclusive to this compilation. Most acts involved manage to convey with their interpretations the beauty and mystery of the music, without straying too far from the orginal versions. The solemn neo-classical sound of Arcana has always been compared with Dead Dan Dance, perhaps that’s why they are present with two convincing covers.

One of the more original songs is ‘Musica Eternal’ by Autumn’s Grey Solace, with lovely shimmering guitars and heavenly voices. ‘Faith & the Muse’ stress the dark ritual aspect of ‘Chant of the paladin’, making it sound close to The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud. Also quite striking is the very percussive ‘Bird’ by Kobe. The only cover which is not really to my liking is the contribution of Chandeen, which sounds a bit hasty, with a singer who appears to be out of breath. Otherwise this is a worthy tribute, made with respect.

Truppo Trotto – Månemælk

Like Ars Ultima, Truppo Trotto is a crazy band playing medieval music. And like Ars Ultima they have a style of their own. Their music is unpolished and the songs have a very authentic feeling. You hear the organic sounds of fiddles, drums, bagpipes and many more traditional instruments. The Danish lyrics make their music complete and original.

Most songs are traditionals from Scandinavia, but on the cd are also a few tunes written by the musicians themselves. These originals sound like traditionals both in melodies and overall sound.

Truppo Trotto doesn’t aim to make people dance, judging on this cd. A few tracks are more uptempo but most have relaxing and tranquil rhythms. This is also what sets the band apart from many other medieval bands. Next to that the craftsmanship of the musicians stands out.

So, if you want to hear medieval music in a different and more authentic way than what you hear most of the time, Truppo Trotto is your band.

Olen`K – Silently Noisy

Olen’k was one of the surprises on the Cold Meat Industry compilation cd Flowers Made Of Snow. The debut album of the band opens with ‘Season Of Tears’, the track that was featured on this compilation. Even after hearing this song many times it stays a magical track with a beautiful serene atmosphere. Despite its tranquil nature the song is powerful and very lively.

What follows is an album that fuses subtle electronics with dreamy wave elements and some ethnic influences. But, not in one other track the band is capable of creating the magical ambiance of ‘Season Of Tears’.
The music is performed professionally, the instruments are played very well and the songs are good, but the music becomes a sort of muzak. It is nice to hear in the background, but never really catching the attention.

Not even the trip hop beats on some tracks can change this. Maybe I am not made for this record, because as I said I recognize the quality. It is just that the album in general doesn’t impress me much. Possible other people well be touched more by Olen’k.

France seems to be building up a reputation of good music. Recently the Boredomproduct label already surprised me with very good (synth/electro) releases. This time it is Cold Meat Industry that comes with another French act I like a lot. Olen’k combines traditional influences with modern electronic elements. A band with a melodic style that one would not expect on CMI (normally reserved for Swedish acts with a dark ambient/industrial sound), but which fits in when it comes to the high quality of the release.

Dead Can Dance is a band that pops up in my head quite a lot when listening to this album, but Olen’K adds more elements to their sound, like electro. Furthermore the French trio also adds triphop, heavenly voices and tribal influences to their musical mix, everything seems to be possible. They use traditional instruments supported by electronic strings and the varied female vocal lines are a characteristic trademark.
All styles are interwoven by Olen’K in a wonderful way, creating an album that already makes you wish for a live-performance by this band (they play in Den Bosch at 11 June 2005 and at the Summer Darkness festival in Utrecht in August).

Listening to the album one can’t escape the impression that it is an album by a band that has been together for years.. no greater is the surprise when one finds out “Silently Noisy” is only their first real album (they had already produced an EP). If this is just a starting point, I can’t help wondering to where they will progress. A band I will for sure keep an eye out for.