Sol Invictus

Sol Invictus 1990-1994 Best of Collection – Bootleg playlist

Sol Invictus is an English neofolk group, fronted by Tony Wakeford. As they have released a huge amount of quality albums since their formation in 1987, I decided to compile a bootleg best of collection as a Spotify playlist. Soon however, I realized that it would have to include about a quintillion tracks. A natural way to tackle this turned out to be dividing the collection into 4 parts by the release years. As always I wanted to make the collection like a “real” album entity.

The first of the four, 1990-1994 includes a few of my favourite releases: Trees In Winter (1990), King & Queen (1992) and Death of the West (1994). Almost every other full-length and live album between these years is also included!

A sharp-eyed lad may notice the absence of Lex Talionis (1993). That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, actually the opposite. I struggled hard in adding 3-4 tracks of industrial neofolk noise into an acoustic guitar driven collection and decided to make the more experimental Sol Invictus tracks into a separate collection. Also the lo-fi Against the Modern World (1988) will suffer the same fate! Nevertheless, I decided to include Angels Fall from Black Europe (1994) live album to make a cameo appearance.

Musings on some tracks

The starting track, The Man Next Door is Very Strange is my favourite rendition of Trees in Winter’s Sawney Bean. Many consider it a classic Sol Invictus song and I like to think this 1991 Killing Tide version is more definitive than 1990 Trees in Winter version. I do prefer the title Sawney Bean though. The track is chilling and has an extremely chilling backstory too: “Alexander “Sawney” Bean was said to be the head of a 48-member clan in Scotland anywhere between the 13th and 16th centuries, reportedly executed for the mass murder and cannibalisation of over 1,000 people.” There are old folk versions of this track but I cannot say whether the composition or lyrics have been influenced by any of them.

Talking about folk ballads the 6th track Sheath and Knife is one the Child ballads (folk songs collected by Francis Child during the second half of 19th century). A lot of musicians have made new renditions of these ballads, many extremely dark in nature. Sheath and Knife portrays a particularly tragic and a bit violent love story. And the ending… Sheesh.

Quite a few Sol Invictus listeners that found the band in 2000s came through the metal band Agalloch. They released a cover of Kneel to the Cross in their EP Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor (2001). This lead me to the unpolished version on Kneel to the Cross on Lex Talionis (1993) which I could not fathom at all. However I also found Death of the West (1994). It hit the mark almost instantly and is featured as the 9th track in this collection.

Tracklist

The Watching Moon sketch by Tor Lundvall (https://tonywakeford.wordpress.com)

1. The Man Next Door is Very Strange (The Killing Tide, 1991)
2. The Watching Moon (King & Queen, 1992) – one of the many occurences of nihilist pitch-black humouristic lyrics. Just some lovely piano-dibbling on the composition too!
3. Death of the West (Death of the West, 1994)
4. Media (Trees in Winter, 1990) – probably the most loved Sol Invictus track, straight to the point, melancholic and melodic.
5. Sheath and Knife (Death of the West, 1994)
6. Angels Fall (Black Europe, live, 1994; originally Against The Modern World, 1988)
7. Like a Sword (Let Us Prey, live, 1992; originally The Killing Tide, 1991)
8. Amongst the Ruins (Death of the West, 1994)
9. Kneel to the Cross (Death of the West, 1994)
10. The Return (King & Queen 1992)
11. Tears and Rain (King & Queen, 1992) – Seek out Tor Lundvall’s cover; it’s even more chilling.
12. English Murder (Trees in Winter, 1990)
13. Sun and Moon (King & Queen, 1992) – bonus track

 

The next collection will cover the years 1995-2000, it will be linked here when it’s ready!

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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.

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