Archive for neo-folk

“Revamped Too” – Tim Bragg (2012)

Revamped Too is largely a compilation of various tracks from Tim Bragg’s back catalogue but also features some brand new recordings plus previously unreleased material. Tim Bragg is a talented and engaging multi-instrumentalist who has composed an impressive body of work comprising several albums that range from protest folk to jazz-rock to pop ballads with an obvious Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy influence. He is also a novelist who has covered such genres as science fiction and political social commentary in works such as “The White Rooms”, “The English Dragon” and “Oak” – themes that have also inspired an earlier album “Fields of England”. Three tracks from this album (which is due for a revamped release in 2013) are featured on Revamped Too: “Rock the Boat” concerns political-correctness; the gutsy “My Family” and my favourite track: “England’s Seal”, a brilliant Marleyish piece of reggae “agitist” reflection.

The album is impressively produced and mixed with a highly attractive cover and features a wonderful assortment of various well-crafted contributions by various musicians – although Bragg at times performs most of the instruments. There is also a rockier cover version of Phil Lynott’s “Kings Call” and a country-rock version of Little Feat’s “Willin’”. Other tracks to look out for are “Sometimes” (which opens and closes the album with different versions) and “These People” (a reference to those folk who wreck other people’s lives!).

An instrumental album “Crossing Over” concerning spiritual themes and exploring the human predicament of death has been recorded and awaits release sometime in 2013, plus the aforementioned revamped version of “Fields Of England” (a work that demands more recognition). Bragg’s move to France has certainly given him a warm objectivity, Buddhist-like detachment and inspiring artistic perspective in the composition of his music – informed as it is by his writing and philosophical insights particularly concerning his former native land. He delivers these songs with heartfelt conviction and integrity. They come from a real place but as someone once said “a prophet is without honour in his own country” (how sadly true of Bragg). Nevertheless this compilation expresses a freshness and positivity rich in soul and genuine creativity, a work that is topical, relevant and delivered with a gritty rustic realism but shot through with warmth and compassion.

Wayne Sturgeon

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Revamped 1

Revamped 1 by Tim Bragg

This revamped compilation of songs comes from a number of previous albums that are no longer available, although listeners are rewarded with one new song, The Fighting’s Over, and a pleasant slow cover of the Thin Lizzy classic, The Boys are Back in Town.

Tim Bragg offers a number of memorable melodies and catchy guitar riffs, notably in the opening song, Rise Above It and in Of Doubts and God. This album explores love and loss, whether it’s looking for an elusive girl in a white dress or a dad’s pride in his son.  My Boy contrasts completely with Harry Chapin’s estranged son in the bittersweet The Cat’s in the Cradle.  This dad takes time out for walks by the river with his boy, perfect walks where he can take pride that his boy is growing into a man.

Not every song has to talk about love, however. Common Courage suggests something else is needed.

The re-release of Fields of England is timely, given the Con-Dem government’s recently announced scheme to wipe out planning laws in order to allow a property developer’s free-for-all. This would make an excellent soundtrack for a YouTube video protested at George Osborne’s scheme to bulldoze the fields of England into oblivion.

This album is permeated by a sense of spirituality, reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset, especially in the track, Holy Spirit with its commendation of quiet meditation.  The catchy Heaven on Earth suggests that you can find heaven on earth, working the land. In Of Doubts and God though, Bragg declares with frank honesty that, ‘I’ve got doubts about everything’ and that ‘I don’t know anything about anything’.  This questioning attitude is the mark of true faith in which the Way is a Journey rather than ‘The Answer’ to everything. Like much of Bragg’s work, this song provokes deeper thought that is not dispelled by its infectious melody.

The production values on this album are high, given that it is self-published, but it’s a shame that no lyrics were included on the CD booklet. That’s only a minor criticism.  It’s superb. Let’s hope that we won’t have to wait too long for Revamped 2.

Available for download from Amazon.co.uk or ITunes

The striking cover of Revamped 1.

Revamped 1 is available for download on Amazon.co.uk for £7.49 or £0.89 per track or from ITunes for £7.99 or £0.79 per track. Find out more from tahbragg[at]googlemail.com if you want to buy a physical CD.

David Kerr

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CD Review: Àrnica – Viejo Mundo CD (Percht)

ÀrnicaViejo Mundo CD (Percht)

Click on image to buy this CD

 

HAVE YOU ever touched a pig?  A living, breathing, snouting, snuffling pig, that is, not one that’s been turned into bacon, sausages, ham and other tasty pork products? When you lay your hand on a pig, try patting its flanks, rubbing its snout, and scratching it behind the ears (pigs love this as much as cats do).  You’ll find its skin surprisingly warm – like humans, pigs have no effective furry insulation, so they get cold easily – and rough in texture.  The hair they do have is very coarse and springy – it’s used for making artists’ brushes and shaving brushes.  The reason I mention this is because Àrnica’s debut album Viejo Mundo (Old World) features several pictures of wild boar.  Now, I’ve never touched a live boar – they’re much less common than farm pigs, and have a nasty reputation for unpredictable aggressiveness besides – but I’ve handled tanned boar hides, and they are a lot tougher and hairier than pig skins.  The kind of qualities that are evoked when I think of the tactile qualities of pig and boar skins – their roughness, their heat, their fierce vitality – are exactly the qualities that I find in Àrnica’s music.

I first encountered Àrnica in the middle of 2008, at the Madrid Le Blanc neo-folk festival (my scene report from the festival can be found elsewhere on Judas Kiss).   This was the first ever live performance of the Barcelona-based trio, and they had no recordings available at the time, so no-one really knew what to expect from them, but their shamanic presentation of primal Pyrenean folk made a deep impression.  I said at the time that this band obviously belonged on the Ahnstern label, and 2009 saw my prediction fulfilled.  Àrnica’s first couple of releases, the self-released Live In Sintra CD-R and a split 10” with Wolfsblood on the American label Pesanta (reviewed elsewhere on Judas Kiss) were swiftly followed with South European Folk Compendium, a split release on Ahnstern shared with Svarrogh and Défilé Des Âmes, and now this debut album on Percht, the Sturmpercht-related subdivision of Ahnstern.

 

Viejo Mundo contains 12 songs, totalling 43 minutes, with lyrics delivered in a mixture of Spanish and Catalan.  Àrnica, in common with other Ahnstern bands such as Sangre Cavallum, Sturmpercht and Svarrogh, have a highly developed sense of ethnic identity and love of the folk traditions of their homeland.  There are no English translations provided, which does mean that it’s difficult for non-Spanish speakers to appreciate the lyrics on a literary level.  On the deeper emotional level, however, it’s not necessary to be able to understand the literal meaning of the words in order to tune in to the primordial, nostalgic atmospheres evoked by the music.  Most of the instruments used are acoustic, and they include guitar, accordion, mouth harp, bodhran drums, tambourine and other hand percussion, horns and flute, variously played by Dani, Saul and Carles.  A guest musican, Raul Guerrero, contributes gaita, or Catalonian bagpipes, to a few tracks.  A couple of songs, Urogallo and Hijo De Deva, employ samples, but these are quite subtle and unobtrusive, never overwhelming the rough-hewn, organic quality of the music.

The album opens with Última Hoguera, a sound-montage of field recordings – footsteps, creaking doors, crackling flames, a lonely flute melody – and narration delivered by an old man.  This is evidently a framing narrative – ‘a tale narrated by an old man as his last legacy to a casual traveller’, according to the press release – but as noted before, without knowing Spanish, it’s hard to understand this.  This leads into the first proper song, Ilmatar, a gentle guitar melody punctuated with deep chanted vocal refrains.  Ilmater is a Finnish goddess, air spirit and mother of Väinämöinen, so I’m not really sure what this has to do with ancient Iberian culture, though the song itself is very pleasant.  The clicking wooden percussion, wheezing accordion, and theremin-like background samples of Urogallo recall the work of Àrnica’s Catalan compatriot Ô Paradis.

Danzas De Guerra (War Dance) is a stirring Celtiberian battle-hymn, using Catalan bagpipes and bodhran, very much in the style of Sangre Cavallum, who use Gallician pipes.  Bagpipes also dominate the later track Caballos Solares (Horses of the Sun), alongside stentorian shouted vocals and thunderous side-drums, making this the album’s noisiest track, and one of its best as well.  Tu Tierra and El Trashumante are both quite gentle accordion-based songs, the latter adding clanking cow-bell, but sandwiched between them is Hijo De Deva, which uses layers of droning horns, deep chanted vocals and hollow drum beats to produce ur-folk quite similar to Waldteufel.

Aguarda (Wait) is perhaps Viejo Mundo’s most delicate song, a lilting ballad with plucked Spanish guitar, tambourine and twanging mouth harp.  Tormenta is a tribute to the Austrian industrial folk band Allerseelen, ‘grabada en directo en el bosque’ (‘recorded live in the forest’), complete with chirping cicadas.  Gerhard of Allerseelen also witnessed Àrnica’s performance in Madrid, and was mightily impressed – he contributed Viejo Mundo’s cover photo of wild boars in the forest, and I believe he played a part in securing Àrnica’s deal with Ahnstern.  Galdr, like Hijo De Deva, recalls Waldteufel with its background sounds of crackling flames, eerie chanted vocals, dry rattling drums, and wavering flute melody.  The album closes with Tu Miedo (Your Fear), a disquieting track of hypnotic beats, low drones, distant flute, and the cawing of crows.

 

Overall, Viejo Mundo is an excellent debut album, brimming with confidence and vitality.  Anyone who enjoys the ethnically-rooted heathen folk of bands like Sangre Cavallum, Sturmpercht, Svarrogh, Waldteufel or Hagalaz’ Runedance will easily warm to Àrnica.  Àrnica may be a relatively new band, but the old world they evoke is at once both enchantingly strange and strangely familiar – they are tapping into very deep wellsprings of ancestral spirits and folk memory.  Close your eyes, relax into the music, and you can almost feel that boar-flesh grunting and heaving beneath your fingers.  So warm, so earthy, so full of life.

 

There’s also a 200-copy wooden box edition of Viejo Mundo, which comes with extra inserts and a bonus 3” CD containing exclusive collaborations with Dimo Dimov of Svarrogh, Max Percht of Sturmpercht, and folk singer and Sol Invictus member Andrew King.

www.myspace.com/arnicaband

www.steinklang-records.at

www.myspace.com/ahnstern


Reviewed by Simon Collins. Reprinted with acknowledgements to Judas Kiss web-zine.

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From the Archives – Flux Europa

From the Archives – Flux Europa

FOR TEN YEARS Flux Europa“dark music and more” – provided an alternative review of art, books, films and music.  It seems that the initial inspiration for – and direction of – Flux Europa was provided by Tony Wakeford (1) of Sol Invictus fame (2).  The site was created by Rik and launched in October 1995.  However, it ended active publication in April 2005 and sadly now only lingers on as an archive.

This is a great pity.  It carried excellent reviews of both mainstream artists – such as All About Eve (3), Gary Numan (4) and Soft Cell (5) – and relatively unknown bands like Death In June (6), Inkubus Sukkubus (7) and Minimal Self (8).

Although it modestly describes itself as “an arts zine” it really is much, much more.

Its two core areas are music and art.  Of music it says:

“We specialise in ‘dark-edged’ alternative and avant-garde music variously categorised as neofolk, neomediaeval, ethereal, filmic, apocalyptic folk, dark folk, gothic-industrial, goth-rock, darkwave, dark-ambient, ambient-industrial, dark metal, military bombast, electronic and noise etc. We also cover some early music (Mediaeval and Renaissance), traditional folk music and neoclassical music.”

And of art, Flux Europa notes:

“We cover a number of contemporary artists connected with the above musical genres, but we also have a special interest in Futurism and other aspects of early twentieth-century modernism.”

However, it also features books, films, personae, miscellany and a massive links section.

Although it’s been archive site for six years, we’ve noticed that these sometimes have the habit of suddenly disappearing.  If this happened to Flux Europa it’d be a real tragedy.

Many of its reviews and articles are timeless.  As such they deserve to be syndicated out – to reach as wide an audience as possible.  With this in mind we hope to reproduce as many articles as possible from Flux Europa, to whom we give our acknowledgements.

As these reviews are fairly old, we apologise in advance for any inactive links.  We’ve also had to change some of the pictures used to illustrate a few articles as the originals weren’t as clear as we’d like.

We kick off our homage to Flux Europa with a look at a couple of bands featured in its music section:

15 DELIGHTS OF DIONYSUS

The Nightmare Museum
2002
Limited CDR
The Fossil Dungeon

The 15 Delights of Dionysus (Mike Bull, and Mark and Michael Riddick of The Soil Bleeds Black) emerged from a desire to explore “fringe consciousness and the bizarre in art & sound”, and the group has had several releases on “obscure underground labels”. This one is via Michael’s own Fossil Dungeon and features industrial-ambient and electronic samples but nothing too harsh. I particularly liked the heavily reverbed sixth track where a sort of dark Kraftwerk meets Dead Can Dance.

Excerpts from this CD were featured on a Discovery Channel documentary about ‘Sleep Paralysis’, Alien Abduction: The Mystery Unraveled.

Rik – 23 July 2002

AARDIA

Fairy Tales From Beyond
2003
MCD
Witchcraft and Folklore ARD 003
15:59

Dramatic and menacing percussion, celestial choirs and neoclassical piano characterise Aardia’s debut MCD of film soundtrack music. It’s composed by Patrik Söderlund and Daniel Johnsson and reminds me of those historical epics that my grandmother took me to see as a child, although the actual musical inspiration here is Fabio Frizzi, Carl Orff and Ennio Morricone rather than Cecil B de Mille. One rather suspects that the fellow Swedish project, Arcana, and the American neo-mediaeval project, The Soil Bleeds Black, have also had some influence. On the literary front Aardia cite Lovecraft, Poe and Tolkein as inspirations.

In an attempt to sound literally like a film soundtrack, ‘The Summoner’ begins with a Mediaeval convivial, while ‘Call To Arms’ features whinnying horses and the sound of mortal combat. Incorporation of ‘historical’ SFX and other material always treads a fine line between the convincing and the kitsch. I think Aardia get away with it, but I tend to feel more comfortable with the other two, less literal, tracks. ‘The Wandering’ is percussive enough, but generally less epic in scope and features female vocals by Maria Carström. I think the best track, however, is the title one, ‘Fairy Tales From Beyond’, which has the dramatic neoclassical qualities of the first two without the SFX.

The recording can be downloaded free of charge from the Aardia MP3 website, although you may prefer to own the CD replete with Tolkeinesque artwork.

Rik – 3 March 2003

(1)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Wakeford

(2)  http://www.tursa.com/index.html

(3)  http://www.goony.nl/aae/aae.htm

(4)  http://www.numan.co.uk/

(5)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_Cell

(6)  http://www.deathinjune.net/

(7)  http://www.inkubussukkubus.com/

(8)  http://boomkat.com/cds/95511-minimal-self-formula-of-reversal

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Sagittarius – Songs From The Ivory Tower

Sagittarius – Songs From The Ivory Tower (Cold Spring Records)

SONGS From The Ivory Tower – has any album title ever more succinctly summed up the elitist and idealist aspirations of neo-folk and martial industrial music? Sagittarius is the solo project of German musician Cornelius Waldner, and Songs From The Ivory Tower is the band’s second album following 2003’s Die Große Marina, released as a limited edition vinyl LP by Renovation Verlag, and still available as a free download from the Sagittarius website and from Neo-Form magazine (www.neo-form.de). For the recording of Songs…, Cornelius Waldner has assembled a formidable array of guest musicians, including Marcel P. of Von Thronstahl, Halgadom etc., Herr Twiggs of Kammer Sieben, Damiano Mercuri of Rose Rovine E Amanti, Troy Southgate of H.E.R.R. and Seelenlicht, and Philipp Jonas of Secrets Of The Moon.

Songs… opens with a song in English, Nihil Arisen. Cornelius Waldner’s wistful piano finds an apt counterfoil in Philipp Jonas’ guitar, as Waldner intones the mournful lyrics in a clear, simple spoken recitative. The general effect is similar to Golgatha or some of Karsten Hamre’s (Penitent, Arcane Art) work. However, the song is marred by the words simply not fitting the rhythm of the music, which is a shame. Fortunately, nearly all of the album’s remaining tracks are either instrumentals or in German, so this problem doesn’t arise again. The following four songs form a sort of suite, all being based on poems by Timo Kölling, the former editor of the German black metal magazine Moondance and a member of Trist. All the lyrics are given in the album booklet, but without English translations, so you’re on your own there. Musically, the songs are dominated by neo-classical piano work. Marcel P. contributes cello to Du Stehst Am Alten Gartentor Und Schweigst and An Des Meeres Strand and An Des Meeres Strand features vocals by Herr Twiggs, who arguably has a deeper, richer voice than Waldner.

Later songs feature lyrics by other German poets, including Stefan George, Bernhard von Uxkull-Gyllenband, Gottfried Benn and Ludwig Uhland. Of these, the most famous is undoubtedly Stefan George, whose Das Lied is the seventh track on Songs…, with the vocals being handled by Marcel P. Cornelius Waldner contributes piano and flute, at least according to the album notes, but this doesn’t sound like a concert flute to me, more like a wooden flute or recorder.

The following song, Der Gute Kamerad has vocals by Troy Southgate. Now, those who have read my previous reviews of H.E.R.R. and Seelenlicht will know that I’m not the most ardent admirer of Troy Southgate’s vocal stylings, but here, he’s not half bad. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this is the most enjoyable work I’ve heard so far from him – his voice suits the material, it melds well with Damiano Mercurio’s acoustic guitar, and overall it sounds quite a bit like Ian Read of Fire +Ice. A stately, formalist minuet by Johann Krieger follows, also with Damiano Mercurio on guitar and more of that mysterious flute.

The thirteenth song is Europa Calling, a cover version of the song originally recorded by Forthcoming Fire, but made famous by the several different renditions of it released by Josef K.’s subsequent band, Von Thronstahl. This song has become something of a neo-folk anthem, a rallying cry for the Children of the Black Sun to rival Death In June’s Runes And Men, and Sagittarius fully do it justice:

Don’t you hear Europa calling
For him who leads the children home…

(This song, incidentally, is not to be confused with the Sol Invictus song of the same name, which is also very fine, but is entirely unrelated.)

The album concludes with a bonus track, The Song, an English rendition of Das Lied, with Tory Southgate again handling the vocals, and again sounding good. Apart from my reservations about the opening track’s clunky lyrics, Songs From The Ivory Tower is an effortlessly pleasant listen, with many talented musicians playing real instruments, strong lyrics and beautiful neo-classical arrangements. Praise and plaudits to all involved – this is another quality release from Cold Spring fit to stand beside Von Thronstahl, Rose Rovine E Amanti and Werkraum at the more melodic end of the Cold Spring roster.

www.sagittarius.de

www.myspace.com/marblecliff

www.coldspring.co.uk

www.myspace.com/coldspring

Reviewed by Simon Collins. Reprinted with acknowledgements to Judas Kiss web-zine.

Songs From The Ivory Tower by Sagittarius is available from: http://www.coldspring.co.uk/discography/csr89cd.php

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