While Angels Watch – Dark Age

After contributions to the compilations “Sol Lucet Omnibus” and “Le Jardin des Supplices”, I was curious what a full-lenght album of While Angels Watch would bring. And my first impression is absolutely favourable: “Dark Age” really is a superb album! Although this is the offical debut, this English act is certainly no newcomer. The history of While Angels Watch starts in the mid 80’s, then with temporary members as Gary Smith and Patrick Leagas, who lately departed to join Sol Invictus and Sixth Comm respectively. Between 1986 and 1991 three cassettes of While Angels Watch appeared, before falling into a long wintersleep. Ten years later ‘Dev’ revived the project, and not in vain! On “Dark Age” Dev, who plays various instruments, is helped by some experienced musicians. Matt Howden produced the album and added his typical violin sound, Jane Howden also played along and Ian Read (Fire +Ice) added his characteristic voice to a song.

But not only the combined skills of some talented artists make this a fine album. The songmaterial is also very strong. The ten songs combine epic folk, darkwave and neo-classical influences. You may have to get used to the peculiar voice of Dev, but that’s about the only obstacle to enjoying this album. Besides, most neo-folk singers are not known for their classically trained voices… The first track, ‘Our last fanfare’, is probably directly the highlight of the album. You immediately recognize the strings and percussion of Matt Howden, and the grave and dramatic voice of Dev sings a slightly apocalyptic text: “For the end will surely come / No more moon – no more sun / Death & decay rule the world.” But don’t despair, the present doomed world is not the final station: “A new world of harmony / Will be our destiny / rejoice!” Outstanding elements in this song are the flute which carries the melody and the cheerful drumming which gets more dynamic as the song evolves. ‘Sister of the sea’ is a lovely acoustic song, a tranquil and romantic piece, with guitars, a soft violin and sparse drums. “And there she enchants me again…”

More emotions follow on ‘Burn like ice’, another romantic ballad. The protagonist sings somewhat tormented: “Nights I don’t sleep – the games you make me play”. The songs gets more energetic towards the end, until a surprising poetic break follows, in which Jane Howden joins Dev at the microphone. Next is a traditional folksong about the mythical Medusa. A lovely modest song, with a deep bass and a great role for the strings. No one is more suited to sing this song than Ian Read! More mythology follows: one of my favourite tracks is ‘Death in Avalon’, a great vocal cooperation between Dev and Jane Howden (who sings a bit spooky) and with lovely guitars, strings and drums.

‘The warmth of being’ is another nice tune, with romantic flutes and piano and a few rather bold strings. The female and (whispered) male vocals are full of passion. ‘The waiting grounds’ is more grim and down-to-earth: “Seems all I do is wait and sit and wonder how”. Though the song is pretty sober, it has a nice climax. ‘Behind the mists’ tells us a dark fantasy tale about the days of Camelot, about the Silent Tower, the place were angels watched, about faeries in the mist and almost forgotten battles. The piano music of ‘Eye for eye’ starts deceptively sweet, for a song with lyrics as “Murder it tastes sweet / The smell it is strong”. In fact, this seven-minute song nicely builds up the tension, with a fabulous ending, with very intense vocals by Dev, who calls us to ‘join our song’. “Silence’ is the epilogue of the album, filled with ravens and church bells and distant voices.

Although I write this review in the first week of 2003, I consider “Dark Age” to be one of the highlights of 2002, a timeless album full of passionate beauty.

artist: While Angels Watch
label: Cynfeirdd
details: 10 tracks, digipack. limited to 588 copies.