Tag Archives: folk

Forbidden realms and forgotten places: the sound of out there

There are many places in this wide world. Some are hidden, some forbidden and some are lost in time. Music can take you there and this collection is a little tribute to that magical journey, but also a showcase for some great tunes about forbidden realms and forgotten places.

John Levy – Tibetan & Bhutanese Instrumentals and Folk Music

Origin: Tibet/Bhutan
Label: Sub Rosa Records

John Levy is a London ethnomusicologist who explores the musical materials found in the far and remote areas of Tibet and Bhutan (and many more. He explores the almost Delta Blues-like sound of Go-Te Do-Pe (immediately on the first track, by Tashi Laso). From lute and fiddle to the rattling percussions of Tibetan monks, the music takes you to a place beyond, with a meditative feeling through repetition and soft, rounded sounds. I particularly enjoy the singing by Trinlem of Tongsa, who with a slightly nasal sound, brings you to a soaring height with her singular voice. This is a collection of sounds, that take you on a journey to a sense of calm and tranquility. I don’t know exactly how (or why), but it has something to do with the repetition, the ease, and intonation and timbre of the music. For that, this collection is absolutely marvelous. I can’t get enough of the chanting, drumming and droning. Exquisite.

Rhian Sheehan – A Quiet Divide

Origin: New Zealand
Label: Loop Records

To see a composer score big with an album is an unlikely event, but Rhian Sheehan managed it. The New Zealand musician created ‘A Quiet Divide’, which is a wonderful piece of music. The cinematic qualities of this record are quite outstanding, making it substantially captivating for the listener. It takes you over the land, in that bird view perspective familiar from the epic movies as the gentle sounds evolve, grow and rescind into milder territories. At one point the music swells to major, warm proportions, while a moment later the pace goes slow again. From trickling piano to soaring synths and strings, Rhian Sheehan takes you there as the songs gently swoop over and under the clouds in a high-over way, with green fields below. It’s perfection.

Old Tower – Stellary Wisdom

Origin: Netherlands
Label: Tour de Garde

There are some undoubted masters in the genre of dungeon synth at work and if there are any rockstars (apart from Mortiis), Old Tower must be one of those. The vaporous sound of his synths, combined with crips and clear melodies, is a rarity in balance and composure, with minimal shifts and deftly statuesque delivery. The sound of Old Tower is one of melancholy and abandonement. Well, as if everyone has left the place a long time ago and all that is left is this empty, vast space with dust settling and gentle synths rolling over the place. While the gentle steps of the instruments barely disturb the dust, you traverse these halls in deep silence and deep thought. It’s music to get lost in, to take you to different realms to traverse in toughts with some absolute tranquility.

Gaetir The Mountainkeeper – Norðr

Origin: Serbia
Label: Prometheus Studio

The north has beckoned for many artists and Gaetir the Mountainkeeper is no different. The journeys his music tells of (knowingly I speak of a he, but I have no idea) are those from the ancient mysteries from the Edda. The travels of Odin, across the far and wide realms of fire and ice. This means a feeling of lengthy travel, which is captured in the dense, droning ambient and nordic mysticism of ‘Norðr’, which is delivered as 6 parts in one hour long track. At times it is really the wind blowing, the swelling drones and icy hails, but then the drums come in and take me to the Paleowolf-like sound of tribal doom. It’s a record, taking you on that heroic quest where you face the most desolate and threatening aspects of nature. This, makes it a grand experience to indulge in as you mentally traverse the great north.

Andrew DR Abbott – Live On Daisy Hill

Origin: United Kingdom
Label: Bloxham Tapes

The north of England may now have you think of chavs on street cornersrun-down down industrialism and a place where ‘Britain First’ is a popular slogan. But that’s not the only side of it, as Andrew DR Abbott explores with his baritone playing on this record ‘Live on Daisy Hill’. The former mill towns and cities have a character of their own and a simple beauty. Quaint, would be the word that springs to mind with the mild, folky tunes by Andrew DR Abbott, that feel like an origin story for the Appalachian folk medleys from across the ocean. A little Nick Drake here and there perhaps, as the tones gently caress the inner ear, like ‘Whatsandwell’. Americana, but then Britticana, with more Fairport Convention and less Johnny Cash. It’s weaving patterns remind you even more so where it comes from and what shaped its sound, making this a remarkable journey to a forgotten harmony.

Tallawit Timbouctou – Takamba Whatsapp EP 2018

Origin: Mali
Label: none

Agali Ag Amoumine’s WhatsApp cassette 2018 captures the cassette culture of the desert music in this new age of digital accessibility. Played traditionally on a teheredent and calabash, it captures the traditionally popular music and was send by Whatsapp from Timbuktu to Portland. The recording may be lo-fi, but captures the haunting repetition of the sahel sounds, as the lyrics are chanted over the clapping sounds in one rough cut. It is odd, as this tradition means the recording has an introduction and shout-outs throughout the recording, delivering a very special experience of a time past for the listener in an age of fast traveling media. Listening to it is immersive, as you have to focus. Best listened to on a cell phone, it says in the description, and this is very true as that is the means which allowed this recording to be made, send and uploaded on the same day for your listening pleasure. So indulge yourself, and venture into the desert with the twangy, scrappy, scrapy sounds of this distinct, bluesy music for a while. You’ll not regret it.

Forest Sounds: Stworz/Alne – Warńija

Label: Werewolf Promotion
Band: Stworz/Alne
Origin: Poland

This collaboration is particular since it is not really clear where the split between Stworz and Alne is actually split. The voice of one lends cadence to the song of the other and vice versa, creating a mesmerizingly beautiful Slavonic folk album that sounds just right with the sun up in the sky these days.

Stworz has been around since 2007 and revolves around W., who also plays in  Kres, Prav and Wędrujący Wiatr. The band has done songs for various heathen circle compilations and produced a fair share of music, gradually moving to a more folky sound, throughout the years. Alne is also a Polish folk act, with metal ties, that has been around for years. Together they created this album, with vocals provided by Alne’s Anna Malarz (ex-Thy Worshiper).

From the first listen onwards, it is clear that this is not just 2 records thrown together. This is a cooperative piece of folk, in honor of the land of Warńija. An ancient part in northern Poland, bordering old Prussia. Warm waves of acoustic riffs are like the reeds in the wind. The pleasant vocals add a flavor to the repetition, which is typical for ancient folk songs, that usually were sung during work. Ambient sounds and flutes enrich the music, to give it the natural feel. At times, this can create an intensity with the spoken word passages and inherent drama of the music, like on ‘Pieśń Warmianki’. Songs that meander like the river, ever so beautifully.

The songs by Alne are only four, but most notable is the dramatic vocal style of Anne Malarz on ‘Warmińska Noc’. It’s disrupting the tranquility evoked on the earlier songs, but with a powerful, melancholy attached to it. The classic, more grand storytelling continuous on this side of the record with ‘Tęsknota’ and shows a different side of the regional tradition and experience on this all over fascinatingly pleasant record. The words in the traditional language have a power to convey the magid, even if you don’t understand one iota of it.

Underground Sounds: From The Bogs of Aughiska – Mineral Bearing Veins

Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft
Band: From the Bogs of Aughiska
Origin: Ireland

From the Bogs of Aughiska returns with their masterpiece ‘Mineral Bearing Veins’. A harrowing piece of dark ambient, black metal and folklore, with samples, stories and spoken word. After their previous experiments with Irish culture and atmospheric music, the group hereby establishes themselves as frontiersmen in the advancement of dark music.

It is the third record by the act, under the guidance of Conchuir O’Drona. The sound is ever still bleak, full of threat and with an aura of otherworldliness. Ken Soceron (Abigail Williams, Perturbator, Leviathan) mastered the album and the artwork was done by Ken Coleman (Morbid Angel). The cover depicts druidic figures, in front of a megalithic structure. The figures are facing away, eyeing the moon, but their inhuman features are clear to see. A notable departure from their previous style of work.

Intro ‘Scuabtuinne‘ offers gentle waves, that just move with an easy grace. Named after the boat of Celtic sea deity Manannán mac Lir, it immediately sets the mood for the whole album in another time and place, far from Instagram-fame and famous vloggers to a place of loneliness and self-reliance. ‘Poll An Eidhneain’ follows with the sound of water dripping, under the earth, cavernous and cold and desperate black metal starts to unfold. When it then launches, the music is slithering, raw and merciless, but also contained. Constricted by the narrowness of its underground domain.

Departing from those realms, we enter ‘Wake of Buzzards’, a tune that takes us to the ambient/drone roots of the group. A story is told about the birds, who are squawking you hear, and what this means. Here we are taken into the seanchai-storytelling that is so much the distinctive part of From The Bogs of Aughiska, which we stick to on the following ‘Crataegus’, which is done in Gaelic. It has a peculiar frantic drumming passage in it, that suddenly breaks through to the surface and just hits home in stripped-down, cold tone. The track unfolds in a bit of a Bal-Sagoth-esque grandeur, where the teller speaks in a booming voice offer hemorrhaging black metal blast beats. The song ‘The One Whitethorn Bush’ deals with o lone faerie bush and its dark story, told by Eddie Lenihan, with the animated voice of an experienced storyteller. The eerie sounds surrounding it, make the track so suspiciously powerful and nerve-inducing. A highlight of the album.

But this only brings us to greater depths, with the abyssal drones and church bells from ‘The Devil is an Irishman’, which builds up laboriously and stumbling to a black metal barrage with a deeply melancholic angle and cold atmosphere. This slides into traditional Gaelic sung ‘An Spealadoir’, with that sensitive waver and shiver in the delivery, drowned in distortion and hazy guitars, that slowly slip away.

‘Lios Duin Bhearna’ is the all-consuming outro, where ambient violently merges with the black metal explorations of From the Bogs of Aughiska. It brings this trip to a close, after traversing the deep realms and the mysteries of the green island. These mysterious explorers of the dark and obscure have definitely found a new place on this record, which will probably haunt your dreams.

Underground Sounds: Vėlių Namai – Kúrir

Label: Self-released
Artist: Vėlių Namai
Origin: Lithuania

I’ve shared music by Vėlių Namai before, 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.

 

Underground Sounds: Urze de Lume – As Árvores Estão Secas e Não Têm Folhas

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.

Underground Sounds: Ulvesang – The Hunt

Label: Nordvis
Band: Ulvesang
Origin: Canada

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.

Underground Sounds: The Huntress and Holder of Hands – Avalon

Label: Supply and Demand Music
Band: The Huntress and Holder of Hands
Origin: United States

When David Lamb passed away, the band Brown Bird 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.

Underground Sounds: Byrdi – Ansur: Urkraft

Label: Trollmusic
Band: Byrdi
Origin: Norway

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.

Underground Sounds: Romowe Rikoito – Namawār

Label: Dangus
Band: Romowe Rikoito
Origin: Lithuania, Old-Prussia

Forgotten words, forgotten places

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.

 

Underground Sounds: Hermóðr – The Howling Mountains

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.