Neofolk

Monumental Folkish & Folk metal playlist

1. Fleurety – Fragmenter av en Fortid disappeared from Spotify just a while ago, it will be added back when it comes back around. Full-length Min tid skal komme from 1995 is the real jewel of their discography. One of many “lost” metal releases that many consider a classic but most people have never heard about. It’s definitely a must checkup for fans of folkish metal.

1. Fleurety’s place was taken by Pillorian, the newly formed line-up of ex-Agalloch John Haughm. After Agalloch split into two pieces in 2016, the remaining three members went to form Khôrada that is due to release their first album. Pillorian‘s 2017 release Obsidian Arc starts with it’s brightest spots, By the Light of a Black Sun (+ Archaen Divinity) should sate most Agalloch fans.

2. Fen is not a band that I’ve tracked, even though it’s similarities to Agalloch have been known to me since their first full-length Malediction Fields in 2009. It is only lately that I gave a true chance to their unpolished first album and it unveiled a real jewel in Lashed by Storm. The weak clean vocals in the very end are it’s only grey spot. Fen’s 2017 release Winter materialized on my listening cycle; it does have some very atmospheric sections but its also really-frigging-long (75 minutes!). I would deem it very possible that a track from it appears to my playlists later on.

3.-4. As a humble praise, Wilderun‘s Sleep at the Edge of Earth might be my favourite metal release of past 5 years. It has a glorious quaternity Ash Memory (trinity has 3, quaternity 4, yeah i just looked it up from google…), from which 2 well fitting tracks were chosen. Hope and Shadow (II), and the The Faintest Echo (IV). The traces in the beginning of Hope and Shadow that clip in this collection are from the 1st track of the quaternity. Wilderun really took care to make it a logical entity which I then disturbed!

The Faintest Echo’s 3.20 monumental symphonic centerpiece and outro of the quaternity is a prime example why Wilderun’s output doesn’t pale in comparison with any symphonic and folk metal bands of today.

5. Tore Hund is by Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik’s Skuggsjá. It is a project by Enslaved and Wardruna veterans, which may run below radar cause of it’s eccentric name that sounds like artsy folk music. Well um, it is kind of that actually, in a lot of ways Skuggsja sounds more like folk with metal elements than the other way around. Though even the folkier tracks often have a heavy backbone that owes to metal and makes these two elements come together naturally.

6. In Zuriaake‘s Afterimage of Autumn‘s most stunning moment, the chorus of 歸兮 / Return Journey Zuriaake seamlessly adds a traditional sounding Chinese tremolo melody to a slow doomy basis. Unfortunately I could not pick the name of this guitar like string instrument as the booklet is all in Chinese (except track titles). Zuriaake’s black metal focuses on entwining natural atmospherics, ambience with very overdriven guitars and depressive black metal vibe. I also reviewed them in the past (https://likemusictoyourears.com/2016/01/26/zuriaake-afterimage-of-autumn).

7. October Falls is an interesting beast for their first promo was metal but three of the first four official releases were acoustic guitar driven material with a lot of natural ambience. Since then they’ve mostly strolled on the metallic grounds, always with quality but rarely with something that really catches my ears. A Collapse of Faith Part III, from 2010 A Collapse of Faith must be their best track to date. I must admit however that I have spent way too little time in adjusting to 2013, The Plague of a Coming Age. That ought to be my next listen.

8. The noise / drone wall of Sol InvictusEnglish Murder‘s intro make it a significantly difficult piece. But I am not making these collections for layman listeners quick fix. The controversy and paradox of a folk track being actually heavier and darker than the following metal track make it a juicy addon.

9. Logically following Sol Invictus is Agalloch, who have listed Sol Invictus as one of their big influences. Agalloch is one of the very first metal bands that I got into and surely the first folkish metal band. Yet in their sound progressive elements, post-rock and melancholia are also ever present. Limbs 10 minute brilliance is started by deliciously annoyingly long 10 second note after which it goes all post-rock. Climbing to mountains, descending into valleys and drifting among the transparent mist.

I do appreciate a well timed and set up grunt, John Haughm’s 6.35 effort is one of the prime examples! “These boughs were said to be lost! Torn, unearthed and broken –  IYRRRRRRRRRRRR”. What the fuck is he even singing about? There must be something to it as it inspires genuine sing-along grunting from yours truly. When it comes to grunting, Haughm is right up there with Thomas Gabriel Fischer.

10. Skyclad‘s past two albums haven’t been nearly as notable as most of their 12 full-lengths before them (many of them are masterpieces after all). I would only rate A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol and No Daylights Not Heeltaps on level with the new albums. However, on In The… All Together from 2009 Skyclad formed possibly the best track of their career, The Well-Travelled Man. The vocalist Kevin Ridley is on fire, shouting half of the track. Lyrics and composition communicate perfectly into a folky, dramatic, upbeat, yet melancholic tune with a heart-wrenching ending. Wow.

Dies Natalis – The Bright And The Pure

Released in 2004 the 30 minute LP The Bright And The Pure is the gem of Dies Natalis discography.

The Bright And The Pure is not essentially just a simple neofolk album, it has a lot of neoclassical and cinematic hues. The starting three headed beast Near Heaven / The Bright And The Pure / The Fortress is a joyous glimpse of a 70s psychedelic western film that never existed. This trinity is tight with atmosphere and lo-fi-massive and organic with mystic compositions. I can’t help thinking The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Three following tracks are sung neoclassical / neofolk that retain the cinematic mysticism. Really far from regular neofolk really. The atmosphere is unlike earlier or later in Dies Natalis discography. Occitanias Knights is the least impressive of these 3 tracks but the intro builds tension wonderfully with deep ambience and acoustic guitar. Later on the march drums keep the weirdly bumpy verse on the bright side.

Rich female vocals are an essential texture to the release. La Complainte Pour Esclarmonde De Foix a French art film track (!) highlights the vocals and woodwind instruments while gently overpeaking. Perhaps it is just my copy that does it, but I do love some gentle overpeaking!

My hate relationship with the 7th track The Upward Spiral turned to a friendship yet ultimately it is on a wrong release. Nihilistically symphatetic lyrics on a bright, major key composition are a nice paradox but thematically it does not really fit on The Bright and the Pure. It is like a disjointed Ben Stiller film scene in an art film.

The Upward Spiral is musically very close to other releases by Dies Natalis. Their earlier releases suffer from accented German vocals which aren’t that well sung either. A lot of great Neofolk is not that well sung though, so the dislike of German lyrics and accent may be my personal problem. Dies Natalis did correct that to their later album The Phoenix Contradiction (2008) but compositions are a lot more straightforward and acoustic guitar driven than on The Bright And The Pure. This may be a positive or a negative feat, depending on the listener and the mood!

The final track, another cinematic trinity, Near Heaven II / The Bright And The Beast / The Stake, shifts from ambient to finale after halfway mark and resembles the title track of the album. It grows in tension until suddenly ends. Actually it sounds like a duality, unlike the first track that has clearly three different sides. Be it a duality, trinity or a quadruplicity, the finale really weaves the release together.

The Bright And The Pure might be a bit difficult album to get into and even more difficult to find these days, yet it has continued to grow in our over 10 year old relationship. Very much recommended for seekers of strange neofolk and neoclassical who are not afraid of a dose of lo-fi.

9/10

Owls – The Night Stays

mi0003157707Owls’ 2011 album, The Night Stays starts with a bang. The first two tracks Hide and Seek and The Night Stays unite bass-rich downtempo with intense atmosphere and acoustic guitar & keys lusciously but most of the rest album easily sinks into just rather pleasing somber soundwave. If the Night Stays seems redundant or hard to grasp after the surprise of such captivating dark beats wears out, you need to give it some time.

It took about a year’s pause for the album to grow from tasty bits to a rather fantastic entity. Yet it is undeniable that the tastiest bits are served in the start. Title track’s luscious distortion and bright xylophone, bass backdrop and gloomy yet blackly humorous Tony Wakeford lyrics explore such depths of brain activity you’d be surprised.

Tony Wakeford’s vocals which always divide opinions fit the pace so well you come to hope Sol Invictus had more electronics. The lyrics are strangely more exposed than in Sol Invictus and as strong as one can expect from a Wakeford record. Occasional very neofolkish guitarwork commemorates the dark toned compositions. I have been told the genres in question can be classified as trip hop or downtempo.

Owls is indeed not just Tony Wakeford, but a threesome, the electronicswork of Eraldo Bernocchi and Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari cannot be underestimated. Both also have a gazillion other projects including Somma, Obake, O.R.k (Pat Mastelotto :O). and collaborations for example with Mick Harris (of Napalm Death), Ephel Duath and Eivind Aarset (a man with another gazillion projects).

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Owls live @ Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, 2011.

Perhaps the reason for the slow reception of The Night Stays is the difficult track order. It kicks right in but it takes until the 8th track We Took This Land to find a really tight footing again. A fragile guitar driven track that portrays great nihilistic lyrics about American oppression and breaks loose to a distorted and powerful chorus:
o, we took this land with bribes and murder,
and we will keep it too
don’t pretend to be so shocked,
it’s what the right (or white?) men do [i may have misheard some of this part]

In the middle part perhaps the brightest glimmer is the the glorious end to the repetitive Come Back, even though I have no idea what they are singing about. Strange Kind of Beauty is as titled, a touching slow burner which creates magical twinkling atmosphere in minimalistic ambientish/neofolkish background.

With Tony Wakeford’s solo album Not All Of Me Will Die, The Night Stays fits to A-category only shallowly under the best bits of Sol Invictus.

8½/10

Music quickies – Vektor, Current 93, Katatonia, Devin Townsend Project, Behemoth

vektor-terminal_redux Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016)
Vektor’s hyped 2016 release is astronomically progressive metal. Vektor was the best modern thrash metal band for years, it is about time for them to get recognition. For an album that sates me midway, it is astoningly good but it would be more enjoyable shorter. It’s really not a better album than their previous efforts but still ridiculously good and full of everything tasty.
9/10
Listen: Mountains Above The Sun + Ultimate Artificer

0Current 93 Calling For Vanished Faces Calling for Vanished Faces (I: Funeral Music for
Us All) and (II: Love, Sleep And Dreams) (1999)

David Tibet’s overtheateritical aesthetics drove this Sol Invictus fanboy mad for half a decade. “Maybe, I might finally appreciate something of theirs?” I thought. I: Funeral Music for Us All starts as an oddities collection I cannot recommend less but picks up on Coal Black Smith, staggers to its most annoying pieces and picks up decently at Hourglass (For Diana) soon to turn into 1 hour 30 minutes of pure neofolk bliss. Probably my favourite release on which I completely skip 1/3 of it.
I 7/10
II 10-/10
Listen: The whole second side, except the 4 ending tracks, is blissful.

570160Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts (2016)
Some outerworldly charm with heartbreaking atmosphere. Drags time to time yet still wrenches heartstrings every minute. Passer‘s descending scale should be obnoxious yet it is genuinely alluring. How on earth did they make it work.
Listen: Decima & Residual for angsting in a dark room, Passer for prog.
Grade upcoming

 

devintownsendprojecttranscendencecdDevin Townsend Project – Transcendence (2016)
Middle aged Devin is zen and re uses his components but those lures still amount some catch. Not bad, but I may have heard too much “c-grade progressive metal” (quoting their own making of documentary) to fully appreciate this kind of polished sound anymore. Danger lurks somewhere else. Here’s hoping the next album goes permanently Higher.

The second album is simply too much as can be noticed from the lack of recognition it has gotten. The (demo) titles are a very Devin Townsendish joke, the stuff is nearly as polised as the first. Love the commercial suicide though, it could have well been released it as a lone piece.
Listen: Higher
7ish/10

395440Behemoth – The Satanist (2014)
If you can think of a more epic way to start a track than in the title track of The Satanist please let me know. The track does not carry the weight of its beginning but the album does. The wall-of-sound production, mildly reminiscent of Emperor, gives it weight unlike many releases.

Incorporating a massive and satisfying finale that only runs through the last minute of Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel requires so much finesse. O Father O Satan O Sun! towers above the rest of the release with another finale, this time based on a monster riff and oration like an esoteric sermon. Here’s hoping The Satanist won’t be the last of Behemoth like Nergal hinted in the past.
Listen: Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel & O Father O Satan O Sun!
Grade upcoming