Label: Self-released Artist: Vėlių Namai Origin: Lithuania
I’ve shared music by VėliųNamaibefore, for the reason that it is exceptionally beautiful, harrowing and evocative at the same time. This time Julius Mité is delving in a different piece of earth, namely that of Kurland or Kurzeme. Though parts of this are lost in history, this is believed to be the realm in the west of modern-day Latvia, currently also called by the same name, and western Lithuania.
With ‘Kúrir’, a sound is being delved into. Moving away from the ambient vibes of previous records, this feels much more like entering the catacombs of history with more synth-based sounds, stronger beats and a different level of intensity and forcefulness, but that’s never a bad thing, is it?
Instantly, you recognize the almost dungeon synth-y vibe to the sound. Though not falling into the dusty tomb cliché, we do experience that claustrophobic experience on ‘Sussrúmnir’. It swells up at some point with a clearly traditional element, which is a persistent thing in the music of Vėlių Namai. This is different though, it takes you really to a human place in history with the deep drones and easy passage of the sounds.
This record feels more like story telling as well, it really takes you through somewhere, instead of letting you simmer in a mystical atmosphere. On both fronts Vėlių Namai performs great, but for me tracks like ‘1042’ and ‘Sventovit’ speak to the innovation in a more concrete way. Granted, I’ve been to Lithuania and Latvia and have seen these lands and meditated on their past and for that, this recor is the perfect soundtrack in all its warm, overwhelming glory.
Label: Equilibrium Music Band: Urze de Lume Origin: Portugal
The album ‘As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas’ is the latest effort of Portuguese outfit Urze de Lume. Their third album in a string of releases that all carry a particular glowing tradition with them from the Iberian peninsula with gentle guitar music that harks back to a timeless identity.
Little more is given away about the entity that is Urze de Lume. To me, they carry a feeling not unfamiliar to that of Sangre de Muerdago. The same nature-steeped, exploratory melancholy is spicing up their somber music.
The music of Urze de Lume is almost like a little babbling brook, with gentle guitar play that holds an almost tangible passion and temperament of the southern heritage. The main feature for the melancholic sound of the group is the use of the rebec, a bowed stringed instrument whose fiddle-like timbre evokes medieval ideas and emotions. It is pure magic on tracks like ‘Prenúncio de Gelo’, where ambient effects and a lo-fi timbre creates that meandering, weary effect. The sound itself tells a story.
‘Encruzilhadas’ has that classic, droning, stomping sound of traditional Celtic songs, with piping and a solid beat marching the song forwards. Its strong sound breaks the soothing sound of the guitar tracks for a brief moment. The sound effects are those of nature and traditional ways, bringing together the whole story that Urze De Lume desires to tell. Solemn spoken word passages tell the story in a stripped-down way, bare of emotion and feeling. The music though, the strings and guitars, keep making magic for the listener throughout this exceptional listening experience.
Back in 2016 Ulvesang created a splash with their northern influenced folk tunes. Their self-titled record was an absolute joy to listen to. The Canadian group takes their influence from the more atmospheric and folkish black metal bands, condensing it into mournful, but clean, clear folk music. This is the same path they still walk on ‘The Hunt’, their latest endeavor.
I was surprised this band was not signed. Although it clearly is not an easy genre to sell, their music was so good and cinematic, that it must be attractive. Luckily, so thought the good people at Nordvis. This album offers the narrative of a hunt, the awareness, effort and also consciousness that is part of the killing for your personal needs. It’s imaginary and powerful, subtle and measured.
A ritual chanting opens the hunt, with ambient sounds taking you to a different place. Tranquil, wavery folk music follows and flows naturally, with mellow sounds and finger-picking guitar play. The drums give a mild bombast to the songs, taking them back to that primitive aspect inherent to the music of Ulvesang. Chanting becomes more mellow and almost Clerical throughout ‘The Dance’, which lacks the urgency the theme suggests up till the point where the guitars become a bit riffier.
One of my favorites is the title track, which meanders and dances in its simple yet beautiful way. The bass line is played with precision and a gentle touch, reminiscent of the galloping run over the wild planes of yesteryear. That is how a song like ‘The Gloom’ really feels like that remniscent moment you experience, while sitting next to a campfire in the gloomy night. When the mists surround you and time fades for just a moment. That is the absolute magic Ulvesang offers.
Label: Supply and Demand Music
Band: The Huntress and Holder of Hands
Origin: United States
When David Lamb passed away, the band BrownBird ceased to be. After years of making music together with MorganEve Swain, this was the end of the group under this moniker. It’s a sad story and the early death of Lamb due to leukemia is the story no one hopes to ever have to experience with a loved one in their lives. But what would be the best way to then honor the deceased? I always think it’s in continuing the work you’ve set yourself to, which is what MorganEve did.
The Huntress and Holder of Hands is the shape of what follows. Folk and blues meet on indie turf, with the sound of a haunting autumn day. I find this record exceptional, which the story behind it only emphasized. After years of collaborating, Swain marches on alone and that is the brave thing to do. It results in a magnificent record. The title is that of the lost realm of Avalon, a mythical place connected to the Arthur myth. Always in our minds, but never to be attained again.
I have to say, that the folky blues combination of The Huntress and Holder of Hands is something special. With stylistic links to groups like Neutral Milk Hotel and maybe even Stornoway, their folk has something of a forest on a sunny autumn day. The sound is continuously flowing, while simultaneously bewildering and haunting you, as would be the buzzing liveliness of the forest. There’s a sense of departure, when Swain sings on ‘Borealis’: “Cut the ties that bind us. My chest will cease to rise. Bear in mind my likeness eternal in your eyes.” The words would appear to say enough.
The singing is weary and laborious at times, betraying the struggle inherent to the emotional charge of this record. From the meanderings of ‘Severed Soul’ to the string sections on ‘Ètude’, there is a continuous flow of feeling in the album. I also have to say the sound is groovy, languid and remarkably catchy with its bluesy passages. The vocals just linger in the air, with the right timbre to really team up with the music. It’s a remarkable record, that I could listen to again and again.
There’s no huge audience for folk music. Not when we start talking about real, authentic folk music. Sure, we’ll love a bit of Wardruna thanks to the epic Vikings series. The Hollywood experience leaves the music in itself is largely misunderstood though. That’s a massive shame because people miss out on groups that really bring it the way the gentlemen from Byrdi do on their latest album Ansur: Urkraft.
Byrdi has been around for a bit now and this is the follow-up to their debut album Eventyr. On this record, they go deeper though, more intimate and personally they approach heathen folk of the forgotten ages. Digging deep into northern history and mysticism, the group produces an album that really fascinates and tantalizes the listener on a primal level.
Though its title may be funny, the harmonious singing on ‘Blaanane blaa’ serves as a gateway into the realm where Byrdi operates. Tempered, tribal drumming comes up in the background. While minimal, it’s effect is so heavy with the rumbling in your gut. The music doesn’t need any heaviness or density. The full, warm sound and smooth production allow for an optimal expression with just simple instruments and vocals. Sometimes that can sound a bit more boisterous and manly, like ‘Myrpesten’. At other times they sound intimate and melancholic, like on the visceral ‘Celebrata’. The bass tones and eerie atmosphere takes you away.
One thing that I find surprising is how easily the mood and emotions change with the songs of Byrdi. The directness of the songs really goes straight to something inside you, tugging the heartstrings so to say and evoking images of more archetype-like experiences. The way the gentle guitar picking on ‘Ren’ focuses the attention is just magical. When the vocals come in, you’re already in a trance-like state mentally. Byrdi has made an album that puts you in the heart of the forest, in the shadow of mountains and the cold stream of a river. The magic that inspired our forefathers to make their earliest folk art and songs. This record is pure magic.
I’ve penned something about this band before. I was intrigued by their approach of a forgotten language, the dedication and bravery in trying to put these ancient pieces back together and reinvoke a culture. The group Romowe Rikoito has done five albums this far. I’ve not managed to grab a hold of those first two, but it is on the third where they immerse themselves in the forgotten world of the Prussians.
Let me give you a little background, since Prussia often makes people think of Germany. Prussia was a Baltic nation though, but washed away by German immigrants from the 14th century onwards. The language disappeared in the last century. A people forgotten so to say. Brave revivalists put new life in the language. Romowe Rikoito is instrumental to this effect. We can actually call this modern Prussian.
The gentle opener is ‘T T T’, with the soft voice of Alwārmija resounding warmly over the trickling tones. Main man Glabis Niktorius has a certain bite to his voice, a particular tang when he pronounces the words in this ancient tongue with conviction and resolve. The music of Romowe Rikoito is like a gently trickling brook in a hidden grove somewhere in the ancient lands of the Prussians. Gentle bells and other metallic instruments play a pleasant song for the weary wanderer.
On songs like ‘Rōma[nā]wa’ we hear the percussion work its magic, weaving a song without ever really hitting a melody. It creates the feeling of ambient, of something natural in harmony with the universe. The music holds on to something meditative, something ritualistic that soothes the mind when listening to it. It’s melancholy is also hard to miss on songs like ‘Waīstis waistā’. Even the voice of Niktorius has an element of desire to it, an almost gasping hunger for life of the forgotten ways of the Prussians.
This album tells you secrets, it whispers in forgotten tongues and takes you away to a different place. I really recommend you listen to this closely, because it is one amazing record.
Label: Wolfspell Records Band: Hermóðr Origin: Sweden
The man behind Hermóðr is Rafn, a man who has been active in dozens of black metal projects in the past (like Mist, Deadlife and Vredesmod but an uncannily long list more). This one has been one of the longer running ones. Atmospheric black metal with a focus on nature, the north and the ancient times when the world was still younger and more close to us.
In the music of Hermóðr the listener finds something grand, the uncharted nature and the wide stretches of uninhabited ground. On the cover alone the cliffy coast beckons in a golden morning light, while calling the brave and bould to approach. I’m immediately pulled in by that imagery. There’s definitely a strain of folk music present here too.
The trickling intro promises mystery and adventure as well, but also the feeling of autumn in the air. The music never really transgresses into the tremolo and blast beat grounds of more traditional black metal and remains a more ambient metal-like soundtrack to the season. The slow progressions on songs like ‘Summer Ends’ are more inward. Introspective tunes that make the listener look back at himself. Thoughtful and with a haunting beauty the songs wander by, with an odd guitar riff spinning out or a bass line clinging to the inner ear for a moment.
Even on ‘The Mystic Forest’ the leaves are turning and icy vocals reach out to you. They’re buried deep in the mix, which I don’t always get. Lyrics should be audible atleast I feel, but it works here. The repetitive shimmering guitar parts lull the listener into a dreamy state, enjoying the natural state of the world around them. It reminds me a bit of Falkenbach, though maybe with that modern element of Drudkh. The slow, pastoral progressions, the laborious toiling of nature. The music falls in with the current movement that takes out the human part and shows nature in a pure, unspoiled way. A tradition harking back to the ‘Dunkelheit’ video by Burzum even.
A good example of really going in that direction is the song ‘Snow and Ice’, which really fades in a noisy snowstorm towards its end. The dirge-like sound just fades away due to a hazy cloud of noise. This album is one that is special. It certainly possesses its own darkness an depressive qualities, but these are just the shifting elements of nature. There’s a simple grandeur to a track like ‘The Howling Mountains’. There lies its beauty, in its uncomplicated appraisal for the natural.
Label: Nomos Dei Band: Coume Ouarnède Origin: France
I’ve been intrigued by the releases of Russian label Nomos Dei, since I found out about them. This is another mysterious release, that is in fact a quest of discovery to find our ancient roots in the mighty mountains of the Pyrenees through music, ritual and ambient sounds. Something profoundly archaïc can be found for those who dare search for it.
Yan Arexis is a percussionist, who also has been active in Stille Volk (pagan folk)and Sus Scrofa (pagan black metal). He pretty much founded all those, but also La Breiche and Cober Ord. Another set of projects unveiling archaic Pyrenean folk. So, all in all Yan Arexis is at home in the field of music he is practicing on this record. This explains the compelling force of the record for sure.
The name of the record translates as ‘those who the empty trees’ and the purpose is to create music, like it was 10.000 years ago. In awe and respect of nature, to please the gods. The percussion you hear is natural. In the description Arexis claims to use stones and rocks. The forest sounds surround the central musician, who murmurs ancient words on a whispering tone, while tribal drumming sounds softly. The sound of howling birds sounds in the background as the listener is slowly talked into a trance.
Sometimes the music is barely audible, but it’s a constant trickle of sound. Mild ambient, softly blaring sounds and the echo of something akin to bells. In particular the track ‘La Coume Ouarnède’ is a track to sink into and let go of all other things. The tribal drones are the leading element, helping the listener to find a calm. This whole record is hard to describe as a rational experience. It’s a primordial expression of spirituality and offers a meditation gateway for the listener. One needs to be open for that. If so, you’ll find a wealthy, rich album of ancient folk.
I’ve come across many kinds of music and many artists and some stick. Sometimes I don’t even get the words directly, but something in the way they are sung tells you of their meaning.
Header photo by Olafs Osh
One of those artists is Imants Daksis, a latvian singer/songwriter, who makes ‘screaming folk’ music. Daksis is a peculiar figure in the Latvian music scene. Deeply artistic, expressive and solitary caught between the east and west. Check out the latest record right here by the way.
I was extremely excited to find him willing to answer some of my questions, so without further ado, here goes:
How did you get into music and how did you end up on this specific path? Which artists inspired you? When I was 15 I realized that guitar is my instrument. I began writing songs at 17/18 and at the same age I had already planned and written down concert repertoire for many concerts which was even far from planning. So it happened quite naturally.
In 2001 we made a post-punk band together with my friends. The band was called “Pasaulesgaisma” (Light of The World). After few years I began my solo act.
I experienced my first musical revolution at 13 when I heard Jimi Hendrix. I am still fascinated by the way how liberated he was in his playing. In my opinion, it is possible to reach true virtuosity by doing things your own way and not according to the so-called canons.
My own music has been influenced by 60s’ psychedelic music and ethnic/world music, post-punk bands (such as Swans, Bauhaus, JoyDivision, etc.), Russian punk scene (Grazhdanskayaoborona, Instrukciya po vizhivaniyu, etc.), and some local artists as well. Also I have great love for Russian singers-songwriters VladimirVisotskiy and Alexander Bashlachev. I have always been loyal to independent music and ground breaking avant-garde, though I am more interested in particular artists than genres. Not to mention the influence left by classical music and music for cinema. The last one has particularly leaded the way on how I make my own albums.
However, for the past 5 or so years I am mainly getting inspiration of my own musical work which has been recorded in the past and developing my own ideas.
Are you involved in any other projects at the moment? Right now I have collaboration with one electronic music artist and I am also a lead singer in s rock band. At this moment these projects are focused on making records and there are my songs involved.
Music is not my only occupation. For the past six years I have also been making photo collages.
What does making folk music mean to you? I don’t associate myself as a folk musician and I have never felt the need to belong to any music scene. I think that my music is more expressive and controversial than a typical folk musician could tolerate. I could say that it is somewhere between folk, psychedelia and post-punk. Some time ago my Latvian audience invented a new genre to describe what it sounds like – screaming folk.
What are the thoughts, images and messages you try to convey in your music? I am into such themes as death and transcendental processes of any kind of consciousness, weather it be human mind or mind in wider meaning.
Is there any political element to your music? Or a religious one for that matter? In my music I actualize the need for spiritual freedom. That is the most important thing for me. There are also motives of reincarnation and transformation in general. My music is not political. However, from all political systems social democracy is the one I prefer the most.
How important to you are the traditional elements in music and culture in present day Latvia? Where do you see your own role in this? For me traditional elements are as important as any other elements are, if they are used to create something good.
Not too long ago I was a vocalist in a post-folk project “Pērkonvīri” (Thundermen). We were looking for innovative sounds and interpretations of Latvian traditional music and recorded a very good album together, which you can listen here. This has been my closest affair with traditional music so far. However, I have composed a couple of songs by the same principles as Latvian folk songs are based on (speaking of the text layout and rhythm). I don’t like to tag my music with genres, but I see it more as a combination of acoustic post-punk, indie, psychedelia and folk in general.
Can you tell a bit about your latest album ‘Mūžīgā ģeogrāfa piedzīvojumi’, which is a great record. I understand it’s an album with global themes, for example the Judah Song. Why did you choose such topics?
“The Adventures of Eternal Geographer”. This album is dedicated to the eternal geographer – a character which has repeatedly appeared in my music. For eternal geographer our so-called reality and civilization is something only so-called. He does not cling to anything and does not see the statements and ideas made by this society as something unconditional. Eternal geographer is not attracted to any ideology – he laughs about the borders which are made by human society (for him human life is only a temporary challenge). This album is not only about global themes, but the abstract nature of them. It is about human in the world and the world in human, and in general it tells about spiritual processes.
When I try to read translations of your lyrics and texts accompanying music, I feel and see a lot of poetry and literature, also in referencing. Do you take this as an important influence on your work and which writers most of all? I have always had an ability to perceive and memorize huge amounts of information. When interested in something, I literary start studying it. So when an image, reference, rhyme or anything else is needed, it just emerges from this storehouse. I am interested mostly in spiritual and explorative literature. And in some spare moment I will read children’s or adventure books – that adds some ease and buoyancy to my daily life.
Folk music has a risk to sound outdated, how do you keep your music so catchy and relevant? It never feels repetitive to me. My life is hard both internally and externally, that makes my music catchy… Well, every joke has a gain of truth. I have very wide range of interests and influences. For example, right now, besides answering these questions, I am listening to Syrian traditional music and Sardinian polyphonic singing. I also experiment a lot till my music reaches my mental state (a song has often gone through several wholesome versions). My aim is to achieve unexpected results, while using minimal resources (that especially refers to live performances).
What plans do you have for the near future? I have some very divergent musical plans and projects for this year, and also my photo collages soon will be finally finished.
If you had to compare your music to a dish (food) what would it be and why? I would like to think that my music is more eternal than food. Food is something that has to be taken to provide this physical life, but I make music to transform it.
Label: Self Released Band: Ēnu Kaleidoskops Origin: Latvia
Sometimes you need to find the sound that is lcoser to nature, by venturing into nature and trying to get in touch with it. This is what Mārtiņš Links did, while studying in Lithuania. It is the origin story for the band ĒnuKaleidoskops from Latvia. A group that creates neo-folk with a particular calm and natural feeling to it.
This is as far as I can gather the third full length album of the band. The engineering work was done by Kaspars Barbals, who is a familiar name due to his work in Skyforger in the past. The group is a loose collaboration of artists, joining forces where needed to create beautiful music. On ‘Tie, kas šķietami zuduši’, the third effort under this name, they succeed for sure.
The music is typical for the Baltic tradition. A bit heavy handed, a bit dark sounding, but also very cozy and natural. A lot of chanting and a wide array of instruments to create all the different little sounds in the clean recorded songs. The vocals are mostly in harmony with backing vocals and instruments, like very clearly audible on ‘Asā zāle’. Meandering, wavery instrumentals put no pressure on the listener.
The playful folky medleys, like ‘Elpa’ with a Jethro Tull-y flute are very pleasant to the ear. Catchy, but also a little dark and unpredictable. On ‘Bula Laiks’ we even hear the intense rhythm section stepping back for just an idyllic bit of flute a few times, which sounds so heavenly peaceful and calm. The combination with the vibrant energy of the percussion is a thrill for the ear. I think that ‘Rūķu armija’ with its jolly intro is even a little bit of a hit potential song.
The core of the music is typical for Baltic volk. The reciting tone of the vocals, the repetitive patterns of the music and all are very much reminiscent of an act like Romuwe Rikoito and I guess a dozen groups, since this style of folk is simply quite popular. Not that it’s a casual thing that the people enjoy, it seems that there’s quite some younger people inspired to re-invoke the heritage in this type of neofolk music. The repetitive element is a common feature, but the flute play and expansive instruments are not necessarily so. It does function in such a way to create a feeling of otherworldliness, even trance by the repetition. The listener sinks away into a much emptier, younger world.
The mystical sound of this group definitely works for me.