I grew up in the 1980s and New Wave bands/synth-pop bands like
Frankie Goes To Hollywood,
Talk Talk and
had a huge influence on my musical taste. Just as the more guitar orientated post-punk bands. Think of
– we will get back to them in a later review –
the Talking Heads or my all-time favourite band
the Sisters of Mercy.
I loved the dark, yet romantic music, the danceable almost trance-like beats and the often sharp synthesizer melodies and guitar riffs of that era.
The New Wave scene was a very open-minded scene in a way. Ok, the dress code was black on black with some black to add to that, but musically it was quite diverse. It could be the electronic synthesizer sound of
or the dark rock-orientated sound of the Sisters of Mercy.
Soon certain bands started experimenting with non-traditional song structures, included non-pop instruments like violin, trumpet or cello and started a style we now know as post-rock or avant-garde. One of the first bands to do so were Talk Talk. Their 1988 jazzy/avant-garde album Spirit Of Eden still holds pride of place in my record collection. Another band to do so were
Dead Can Dance.
This Australian duo started weaving European, medieval and orchestral influences into their music, giving them a unique avant-garde, ambient sound. So what is the point behind this musical trip down memory lane? Well, I wasn’t the only one that loved the music of this era. A certain young lady from España did just that, especially the music of the last band I mentioned, Dead Can Dance.
This young lady we now know as Lady Morte, and in 1999 she started making music herself. But I shouldn’t tell this part of the story, she should do it herself.
-‘ I was born in Barcelona in the autumn of 1980. Since I was a child my passions have always been arts and music and specifically singing.
During the 90s I was a lover of
medieval-, Celtic-, folk- and ethnic music. I passionately listened to bands like Dead Can Dance,
and many more. In 1999 I decided to start work on a musical project which I called Trobar de Morte. It was a solo project where I played the keyboards accompanying my voice for some time. I played at other bands from Barcelona (
Dark & Beauty
) for a few years, but in 2003 I decided to create my own live band and thus I searched for bandmates for Trobar de Morte.’
The first album she recorded with
Trobar de Morte
was the mini-CD Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly (2003).
A mini-album filled with lovely orchestral pagan folk music. You can see Nocturnal Dance of The Dragonfly as a true blueprint for Trobar de Morte’s sound. Slow, orchestral melodies, with an emphasis on violins, keyboards, and guitar, with Lady Morte’s beautiful classically trained vocals over it. Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly is a beautiful cross between Dead Can Dance and
On Fairydust (2004) – Trobar de Morte’s first full-length album – the first influences of Corvus Corax crept in. That typical sound of pagan folk percussion and those strong medieval instruments that Corvus Corax are known for. It all blended perfectly with the ambient sound from Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly. The song Los Duendes Del Reloj is a beautiful example of that early Trobar de Morte sound. Listening to it now after so many years proves the band stayed very true to their original sound, as you will find out when you listen to the newest Trobar de Morte release 20 Years of Music and Sorcery (2020). Another stunning song of those early days is Ailein Duinn – found on Fairydust – an a capella piece sung by Lady Morte, showcasing her amazing voice.
Fast forward 19 years, we are now in 2018 and Trobar de Morte have just released their 9th record Witchcraft. (Not counting the Ancient Tales demo Lady Morte recorded in 1999), and as I said, it is amazing how little has changed over those years. All the elements that make the music of Trobar de Morte so beautiful are still there. The impressive orchestral ambient sound, the layered choral vocals of Lady Morte, the fairytale feel to it all. Right from the first notes of the intro La Era de las Brujas, you’ll hear that it still is a powerful mix between Dead Can Dance and Adiemus with lovely splashes of
and medieval darkness thrown in there for good measure.
Don’t get me wrong it is not like the band stood still all those years. With the second track, Zuggaramurdi, you can clearly hear how the band’s sound evolved. It’s the logical difference between a young group at the beginning of their career and an experienced band. The difference between a lovely fairytale as you read it when you are around 14/15 and a deep dark fantasy world you dive into when you’re older. The music became deeper, the arrangements more imposing, but the songs still maintained that true pagan magic it had in those early days. Only stronger, waaaay stronger, just listen to those bagpipes cutting through the song as if they were knives cutting through dark smoke. It gives me goosebumps all over every time I hear it.
Rondalla, the third song on Witchcraft, is another good example. It’s a strong dark song, based on excerpts from ancient spells and magic books. Trobar de Morte put that in a powerful dark pagan folk meets Dead Can Dance song. I just love those strong layered Latin vocals, the broad orchestral arrangements and that strong beat under it. The tubular bells ringing right at the beginning of the song already give me shivers shooting from top to bottom over my spine. The wall of organ, percussion, and vocals then finish the job, I’m lost in my own ancient medieval fantasy world. Easily one of the best songs on Witchcraft.
The power of Trobar de Morte is that they can take that huge orchestral avant-garde style and make it sound natural and small. The song The Black Forest is a good example of that quality. Yes, there are those layered vocals, but the song is carried by a nice bouzouki riff, a lovely violin melody and some cool tribal percussion under it. The bridge in the middle of the song, for example is just pure acoustic pagan folk. It is THAT which makes Trobar’s music so strong: the clever contrast between all the broad electronic sounds and the natural feel of the acoustic instruments. It is THAT which makes the Witchcraft album such a strong, almost religious, pagan folk experience. Not to mention the lovely solos you hear from both the violin and the flute in The Black Forest. In the end Trobar de Morte is a band playing real music.
There is no song in which you hear that more clearly than in Sister Of The Night. It is a song that Dead Can Dance would be proud to have recorded on one of their own records. That lovely contrast between the acoustic guitar intro, giving it a lovely Spanish touch, and the dark, medieval pagan folk feel with its whispered vocals. A stunning song which, because of its natural feel, captures me even more than the music of the Australian band that inspired Lady Morte all those years ago.
Lady Morte and Daimoniel know how to write a good song. All of them creep easily into your ears, and one of the catchiest ones would be Mater Luna, with stunning vocals by Lady Morte. It starts as a lovely
ballad, with a touching guitar intro and violin melody over it. The low whistle solo is a treat, but the
best part is the
like bassline and violin part that lead us into a cool witch pop final to this song.
Ritual is one of the last songs I want to mention. It just feels religious, the whole arrangement of the song. The dark feel of it all, the orchestral carpet of keyboard and violin. The deep, deep percussion, slow but seemingly unstoppable, not to mention those haunting horn-like sounds at the start. An intense pagan folk cross of avant-garde and ancient traditional music. I know I mention Dead Can Dance a lot in this review, but somehow the theme of witchcraft brought out an album that is the closest to the Australian duo’s strong orchestral sound. And if it’s as extremely beautiful as Trobar de Morte do it on Wichcraft I am not complaining.
I could still mention The Circle, with its clear Arabian influences, reminiscent of
The Moon And The Night Spirit’s
sound, or The Wind, another lovely orchestral ballad with another beautiful low whistle solo, but, or Stramonium,….. But no! This is not an album I should split up into thirteen little segments. This is a wonderful record that you should listen to as one piece. If your heart opens up to slow, balladesque, dark, pagan folk music, with a lot of ritual feel to it, this is an album for you. Fans of Trobar de Morte’s music and fans of the bands I mentioned in the review will most likely have added Witchcraft to their collection months ago. Will you?
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve art:Victoria Francés
Picture:Cliff de Booy
Philip Xander – Prelude (2019) review
Can you put the feel of an early spring morning on a CD? If you are a talented musician like
you can. With Prelude he has written and recorded the perfect soundtrack for a lovely sun-filled April morning drama movie. Prelude is filled with twelve instrumental songs that combine the magic of folk- and world music with touches of gypsy cheerfulness, prog-rock twists, and contemporary music quality. Philip felt no boundaries while writing the material for Prelude. No, on the contrary, he clearly used only one criterion: ‘if it sounds right, use it.’ and that makes Prelude a lovely album, that I highly recommend to any contemporary music lover.
Philip Xander is a Dutch multi-instrumentalist who started his folk career as the guitarist of
and is now dividing his time between the gypsy-, chanson-, klezmer- and Balkan folk band
in which he plays eastern/Arabic percussion and the Irish folk band
in which he plays guitar and mandolin. Besides that, he often accompanies musicians like
during their live shows
And now I hold his first solo album Prelude in front of me. A CD he recorded with the help of his friends:
Anouk Platenkamp (harp);
Judith Renkema(double bass);
Otto de Jong (drums, tabla, and percussion);
Erwin Tuijl (piano, keys, Rhodes, synths, harmonium, therevox)
and of course Philip himself on guitar, mandolin, darbuka, and frame drum. Philip also composed and produced all the songs and Erwin Tuijl was responsible for the recording, mixing and producing of Prelude.
Philip playing New Heart, New World from his first solo album Prelude
The new album Prelude
Philip Xander isn’t the person to claim the spotlight, so Prelude is not an acoustic guitar solo extravaganza. No, it really is a collection of lovely songs with a real band feel to them, starting with the lovely song Drifting; a beautiful tender guitar melody that I could listen to for hours. Although it is only Philip on guitar playing this song, I would not call it a solo. It is a melody, a thought, a feeling put down to music. Seamlessly it flows over into Children of Chance. A fun, slightly jazzy cross between a gypsy folk song and a contemporary pop song with a piano melody that could have been written by
This really IS spring in music form: lovely and funny with so many interesting melodies. The show is stolen, not by Philip, but by the beautiful violin of Anne Bakker. Gypsy style violin, distorted psychedelic sounds, gracious classical melodies, she does it all. What a lovely start to this CD.
After the slightly odd intermezzo of First Rites, Prelude continues with another beautiful instrumental ballad: Generations. ‘Tender’ is the word for this song. A tender piano melody to start it, tender guitar playing by Philip to continue it, and a tender transition of tempo halfway through the song representing the different generations -question mark- who knows. You make up your own mind. In the meantime just enjoy the musical experience.
And that experience continues with a huge smile on my part when I hear the cheerful mandolin melody that starts the fifth song: Dawn. Philip and his friends have really managed to capture the feeling I get when I go out in the wild before sunrise. The feeling I have sitting somewhere along the water’s edge, waiting for the world to wake up.
As I said the power of Prelude is that it doesn’t sound like a solo escapade. Philip didn’t write twelve guitar solos. No, he wrote twelve real songs, sometimes dreamy, sometimes folky, sometimes just acoustic guitar songs, and sometimes all of those at once. As you can hear in Nadir – Zenith. The song starts off really dreamy, then picks up speed to become a nice acoustic guitar song only to speed up again and have the talented Emelie Waldken join in with her Nyckelharpa, making it a lovely contemporary dreamy folk song.
In the first section and most of the second section of Prelude– the record is divided into 3 sections of each four songs- the album is a lovely sweet instrumental CD, drifting between dreamy acoustic guitar melodies and enjoyable folk tunes. With Gallery of Faces Philip introduces a new tone. a wee bit harsher, a wee bit more psychedelic. As if the innocence of youth is gradually lost. As if something went wrong in this lovely musical dream world.
This tone is continued on the third and last section of Prelude. The song The Puzzlebox is played on a baritone guitar, making it sound lower, more ‘adult’ to me. On Enthaos we really start to hear Philips psychedelic side. Still subtle, still tender, but clearly shifting towards the style of Jyoti Verhoeff. It contains an odd, somewhat jazzy melody that seems to be played on a xylophone; and piano chords that -for a brief second- reminds me of a famous
song and I’m loving it all. I am loving The Puzzlebox’s ‘weirdness’, its uniqueness. Philip’s subtle play with emotions within the music.
The psychedelic tones of Enthaos flow effortlessly into Children of Suffering. Again a song that breaches the gap between dream folk and Jyoti Verhoeff’s contemporary avant-garde style. Children of Suffering has a fuller, more poppy arrangement than the other songs on prelude. Partly because of the full hammond organ and other keyboard sounds, and partly because of the full string sound under it. Not to mention the grand prog-rock finale, full drums, keys, and strings, all coming together in a sudden stop. Philip did mention his solo album would be [quote]: “An instrumental art-folk concept album, blending various kinds of folk- and world music with contemporary influences and psychedelic undertones.” Well in Children of Suffering he brings all of this together
Coloured Smoke is the perfect, balanced ending to a wonderful debut CD. Highly recommended to those who love contemporary music in the style of
or the Dutch band
There is a clear story flowing through the CD, but it is done so subtle that you can either choose to take the music as is, as lovely melodies to enjoy, or dive into the music and create your own story while listening. Either way Philip and his friends have created a beautiful album, that will make many, many more rounds in my CD player. I have absolutely no doubts about that.
I can still remember putting my first
elpee on the record player as a teenager. It wasn’t the obvious choice Tubular Bells -that came later- it was Incantations and I bought it on a second-hand market, together with a lot of other classic rock albums. Up till then my idea of pop music was based on songs I heard on the radio. 4 to 5 minute long things with an intro, a couplet, a chorus, often a solo on 2/3rds of the song and a nice ending or intro where the DJ always would talk over to announce the next song. The idea that a song could last a whole side of an album, the full TWENTY minutes, and that music could contain just as many classical elements as pop was something I could not believe. So listening to Incantations was something of an eye-opener. And I fell in love with that record straight away.
Something similar happened to me while listening to
Jyoti Verhoeff’sTouches, I Speak With My Mouth Shut for the first time. No, she didn’t record a 20-minute epos. Nor did she use as much time or as many instruments as Mike Oldfield did recording Incantations or his classic album Tubular Bells. But Jyoti and her musical partner in art,
Fieke van den Hurk,
again questioned my perception of pop music. The boundaries of it, the very nature of it all. And as happened so many years ago, I also fell in love with her record head over heels.
Jyoti Verhoeff is a Dutch singer-songwriter who already has 3 albums on her resume. Playing the grand piano since her 8th year, this is her main composing tool and live instrument. On her second album Riven she explored the borders between pop and classical music, ending up with an intriguing combining of
and classical -chamber- music, but in her own tantalising, mesmerising style. All who know her last EP Bare -an album she made together with cello player
will know she isn’t afraid of pushing the boundaries of modern pop music, ending up with songs that wouldn’t sound out of place in a performance of a modern ballet company like Het Nederlands Dans Theater.
On Touches Jyoti decided to make the boldest statement a singer-songwriter can make. She does not sing! Jyoti herself explains why in the booklet added to the CD: ‘The album Touches – I Speak With My Mouth Shut- questions the way humans relate to the world around them, to each other, and to themselves. Instead of using all the senses, more and more of our interactions consist solely of words -spoken or written or on glowing screens- the world more or less completely disposable. People never stop talking. While putting so much significance on words, a lot of our communication is left out, hollowed out, made shallow.’
With that concept in mind, Jyoti decided to make an album purely with piano music she had written in the previous months.
Enter sound engineer Fieke van den Hurk. Now I never made it a secret that I love the talent that Fieke has for music. Both playing it and recording it. Fieke normally hushes Alex Sealgaire or me down when we compliment her on her efforts. Always saying we exaggerate (no, we don’t Fieke 😉 ) – and in a way I understand why. For Fieke creating music is not about her. It’s about the sound of the instrument, the beauty of the songs and to record that in the best way possible, so that the instruments can shine, the artists playing them. And she does that in such a pure, beautiful way.
The funny thing is when you hear Fieke talk about Jyoti and vice versa you will notice that both friends actually praise each other’s talents while hushing their own achievements down. Well, I can tell you those two lovely talented ladies create magic together. And there is no hushing me on this occasion.
Touches opens with the song Humans And Machines, it starts -as most of the songs on Touches- with Jyoti on the grand piano. The beginning is gentle, classical, a beautiful melody, interrupted by a heavy bass effect. Then comes a shift in tempo with glockenspiel and some guitar chords, short, subdued, almost percussion-like. Let me be clear about this straight away. This is not folk music. This is a style totally on its own. Is it classical? Pop or art? Dreamy? All I know is that it is beautiful.
At some points, it has a close resemblance to the dream folk of the dutch duo
Rosemary & Garlic.
At other moments the synth effects and another metallophone kind of sounds remind me of Mike Oldfield’s way of building up a song. A break during Humans And Machines brings us to a small moment of piano pop music before we continue with more Mike Oldfield synthesizer and glockenspiel effects.
There is only one small problem. There is no guitar, no glockenspiel, no percussion instrument, not even a synthesizer. All sounds were made using only acoustic keyed instruments that were available in the studio they were recording in at the time. So you just hear grand piano, celesta, spinet, pianet, a harmonium, accordion and ok one hidden vibraphone. So where do the guitar-, metallophone-, glockenspiel- and all the other sounds that you hear come from? Well, they are what you get when you climb in a grand piano, mute it with kitchen paper, tape it and play it with a screwdriver, a mallet, fingers or even a toilet brush. To enhance the concept behind Touches even more, Fieke worked with vintage analog distortion, delay and reverb effects, ‘playing’ them as if they were instruments as well.
You can find all about the recording of this album in the CD booklet. In which both Jyoti explains all about the concept of Touches and Fieke tells you all about the recording process
In the end this review is just filled with words, going against the concept of TOUCHES
Now I could go on about lovely songs like Sharing Dreams – with it’s beautiful ‘music box’ sound; personal favourites Rides or the song Shards– in which Fieke really plays with the effects as if it was just another instrument; the beautiful song Isles Of Hope; or The Reason Of A Rose and Hours Within Hours or Virtual Sea– both last songs making me think about the hectic speed and pressure of modern life, the shallowness of it all. But that would be filling this page with words, and totally goes against the concept of Touches, I Speak With My Mouth Shut. So instead I’m gonna fill this page with music.
the beautiful song Sharing dreams that we added to our CeltCast playlistsIsles Of Hope, One of my personal favourites, where you can hear how Fieke beautifully plays with the effects as if it were other instruments added to the songVirtual Sea, another one of my favourites, making me think about the hectic speed and pressure of modern lifeAn ocean to still me, the official video to go with the release of Touches
Together Jyoti and Fieke made a wonderful album, full of soundscapes, intimate moments, strong dramatic chords but most importantly with beautiful songs. Jyoti kept the soul of the singer-songwriter in her compositions. It are all small intimate songs with a story. The effects and sounds are just intriguing tools to tell the story within the music.
If you love neo-classical music meeting experimental pop; surrealist music where everything is not what it seems, yet right where it should be at the same time, then this is a must-have album. One of the best albums I had the pleasure of listening to in 2018.
Come to think of it, probably one of the best albums I heard in years!
editor: Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve design: Fieke van den Hurk
Sleeve photo: Sander van den Berg
Photo credits in sequence of publishing:
-Sander van den Berg
-Fieke van den Hurk
-Sander van den Berg
Nemuer – Urðarbrunnr (2019) review
March 11th, 2017. On the stage of the Gothic & Fantasy Fair in Rijswijk -now known as the
we find a duo from the Czech Republic. Their name?
Their music? Atmospheric dark pagan folk. During the concert, Michael Zann and Katarína Pomorská intrigued me with their slow, mystical, slightly eerie folk sound. Especially Michael’s acoustic guitar playing and the voice of Katarina impressed me enough for me to buy their second CD Labyrinth Of Druids, an album I would describe as a long dreamy atmospheric yet eerie pagan folk soundtrack. Very intriguing, with its mix of delicate acoustic guitar, female vocals, and carpets of slow symphonic keyboards underneath. This CD would work perfectly as a score for any slightly darker fantasy movie.
Fast forward two years and I found myself in 2019. After publishing the review for
latest album, Mann, I got an email from Michael asking if I would be willing to review their latest record, Urðarbrunnr. Remembering how intriguing I found Labyrinth of Druids I didn’t hesitate to say yes. And Urðarbrunnr didn’t disappoint. The band still makes slow, atmospheric, dark, pagan folk that really captivates the listener, in its own unique way.
As I said, Nemuer was formed in 2014 when multi-instrumentalist/ singer Michael Zann and collegae multi-instrumentalist/singer Katarína Pomorská started putting a captivating mix of dark fantasy, eerie dreams, and mystical atmosphere to music.
From the beginning they have aimed to bring ancient myths and stories back to life, using authentic dead languages and ancient instruments to do so.
Their first album Irenthot’s Dream (2014) was set in the ancient Mayan Empire. Their second album Labyrinth Of Druids (2015) is described by Nemuer themselves as a Lovecraftian music album.
In 2018 they released their third album Gardens Of Babylon during a concert together with the kindred spirits of
The Moon And The Nightspirit.
As the title suggests, Gardens Of Babylon is set in the ancient city of Babylon and talks about the heaviness and beauty of death. The album itself sounds a lot more open and ‘positive’ than the theme suggests. The focus is less on the symphonic keyboard carpet giving Labyrinth Of Druids its special soundscape feel, but more organic, more acoustic. It is actually the folkiest album Nemuer has made to date. And there is indeed a similarity to the music of The Moon And The Nightspirit that fans of that group may find interesting.
And now there is Urðarbrunnr. The band -In 2019 Nemuer grew to a full band with Alex Pantea on Duval and vocals and Martin Kopl doing the programming and live samples- takes us to another period in ancient history with this album. An entirely different part of the ancient world altogether, I may add. Readers interested in Nordic mythology will recognize the album title as the well of Urd, the well as described in the famous Edda, to be found beneath the world tree Yggdrasil. And indeed, true to form, all the lyrics are composed of extracts of the Edda, the old Norse sagas. I just have to mention track titles like: Ymir’s Death; The Binding Of Fenrir; Yggdrasil trembles and Thor’s Final Battle, and the true fans of Nordic folk and folklore will know enough.
The first track, Ymir’s Death straight away sets the tone for what you can expect from Urðarbrunnr. Deep low keyboard samples setting a grim atmosphere and the acoustic sound of the bass tagelharpa- an ancient Nordic lyre type instrument- giving it an authentic touch. You could call it a mix between the atmospheric semi-acoustic sound of
Trobar de Morte
and the slightly sharp, grim, big sound of the early 80’s gothic rock bands. Especially Michael’s style of whispered throat singing that Michale uses throughout the whole record takes me way back to
the Fields Of The Nephilim.
An underestimated Gothic rock band from that 80’s period that I just love, but way, way slower. Bands like
The Sisters of Mercy,
and Fields of the Nephilim used to have a quite danceable, relatively fast beat under it. But Nemuer plays their music much slower. Their drumbeat is more similar to that of Trobar de Morte or even
Compared to the previous Nemuer albums I find Urðarbrunnr darker, less open in production. Quite fitting for the Nordic themes Michael “whispers’ about. Also, the female vocals from Katarína seem almost non-existant on Urðarbrunnr. Again a choice that I well understand considering the current theme of the songs
The second song Snýsk Jörmungandr is again a very good example of Nemuer’s present sound. The drums are slow and deep. With the repeated bass tagelharpa, the female vocals – yes here Katariína makes a vocal appearance- weaving in and out, Micheal’s combined slightly distorted deep throat singing combined with whispered Nordic vocals, and the carpet of keyboards under it the song becomes almost trance-like. But not boring. Just at the right moments a whispered voice, a sudden female vocal or even a tempo change comes in to keep the song interesting, intriguing, 07:34 minutes long.
Not all tracks are that long, but Nemuer do take their time building up a song, as you might expect from a dark, atmospheric, gothic, pagan folk band.
Hel is one of those shorter yet equally powerful songs. A single shaman drum being hit, each new hit several seconds after the other, eerie whispered vocals drawing you in, a single horn-like sample, some keyboards setting the tone. It is all the song needs. Listening to Hel I suddenly realized how well the music fits with the painting on the CD cover. Grey, grim, but not utterly black. Just many shades of beautiful grey (Pun not intended).
The Binding Of Fenrir is another one of those beautiful repetitive grey songs. Again that slow, deep shaman drum sound captivates me. The start I find almost minimalistic by nature, and slowly, ever so slowly building up to an epic track with strong choir-like vocals, an electric guitar, picking up the melody in such a way, that for a moment I’m sure that I’m listening to the violin on a track from Turn Loose The Swan, that legendary album of
My Dying Bride.
But not long. The horn section coming in takes me right back to Nemuer’s own specific style. Michael’s throat singing vocals are the finishing touch on this wonderful epic, dark song.
I’m quite aware that Urðarbrunnr will not be everybody’s cup of tea. But I personally love songs like: Odin’s Quest For Wisdom; Heimdallr Blows Gjallarhorn; The Allfather Dies -with a nice bit of overtone singing from Michael- or Thor’s Final Battle. They all are beautifully dark, slowly-played, gothic songs, drawing me deep into the Nordic mythology. Michael and Nemuer play very cleverly with the contrast between the mystical electronic samples and the clarity of the acoustic instruments and the sudden shifts in tempo like on Odin’s quest For Wisdom -I love the tribal ending of that song – regularly add interest, preventing the music to become boring. And there are more of those clever arrangements to be found on Urðarbrunnr. In songs like the -almost- cheerful Freyr’s Lovesickness, or my favourite song Yggdrasil trembles, with that lovely low tagalharpa sound that makes me think Faber Horbach (Sowulo) joined in.
If you like your clothing dark, and if you share my love for:Nordic folk; atmospheric folk bands like Trobar de Morte; slow, almost doomy songs that keep drawing you in a trancelike state; and gothic acoustic rock, then check this Czech band out. Nemuer made a very strong -and within the limitations of the genre- even varied album. For the true connoisseur of dark music.
-Editor: Sara Weeda.
cover art: Kuba Vaniš
-Cliff de booy,
M’anam – M’anam (2019) review
When I think of Ireland I think of the obvious postcard pictures: The rugged coastlines, the misty moors, the ancient ruins, the monks that travelled to all the corners of the medieval world. I think of foggy greens, rainy blues, and cloudy greys. I think of mystery and adventure. And I think of the ambient sounds of
the first introduction to Celtic music I heard on the radio as a young lad, many years ago. Well, now I also think of
for the music they make, the music
(the artistic leader of ANÚNA) wrote for this collaboration with members of the Dutch a capella singing group
The Olga Vocal Ensemble
and the male voices of
takes my heart to ancient Eire. The times when the Tuatha Dé Danann could still be seen as shadows in the mist. The days when the footsteps of the great hero Cúchulainn still shook the earth. The times when the Morrigan was still flying over the dark battlefields and the dark nights when the druids were still leading their ceremonies within the ancient standing stone circles, waiting for the solstice sun to arise. But also to medieval times, when the Irish monks spread over the known world and shared the knowledge of the antique world that was almost gone.
With their deep full voices, M’ANAM takes me with them to those long-gone days, in a more than stunning way.
You would think there is no way I could do a review about M’ANAM without mentioning Micheal McGlynn, the founder, composer and artistic leader of ANÚNA since 1987. Michael is named as the artistic leader of M’ANAM, he co-produced the album, he contributed to almost every song, so it would be easy to think M’ANAM is just another Michael McGlynn project. But it is NOT!!! To use Michael’s own words: “M’ANAM is very different. It’s a band of brothers! It’s a true band – like any other – and they act like a band. My role in M’ANAM is that I am a composer and someone who inspires others to create for themselves. Nothing more.”
Talking to Michael McGlynn about M’ANAM it became very clear to me he doesn’t want to be the leader of them. He wants them to shine and wants to help them with ideas and their talents in any way he can. M’ANAM is a true band and Michael just happens to be one of the members.
The idea for M’ANAM started when Michael discovered a Dutch a capella group on Youtube that sang one of his pieces. He was really taken by the quality of their version. That a capella group was the Olga Vocal Ensemble and Michael got a chance to meet them when ANÚNA gave a performance in The ir hometown, Utrecht. Philip Barkhudarov, a member of the Olga Vocal Ensemble describes them all coming together as follows: ” In a way, the development of M’ANAM and the connection of ANÚNa and Olga Vocal Ensemble were inevitable. Our shared love of the ancient and the commonality of the rugged Icelandic landscapes and culture put us on a collision course long before we knew anything about it. It was this shared interest that first drew us -the guys from Olga- to perform some of Michael McGlynn’s ANÚNA songs, which eventually led to us meeting up. And things just took off from there.”
Not taking anything away from any member of the Olga Vocal Ensemble, who are all very talented singers, Michael was fascinated by the voice of Bjarni Guðmundsson who has, as Michael explained: “a strange and ethereal tenor sound that I really wanted to write for” In March of 2017 Bjarni joined ANÚNA and together Michael and Bjarni selected a song that would showcase that unique voice of the latter. That song became Gunnarshólmi. A song that would, in the end, prove very influential for the direction in which M’ANAM’s sound would develop.
The lovely ballad Gunnarshólmi, solo vocals by Bjarni Guðmundsson.
Touring with a vocal group like ANÚNA and working so extensively together unavoidabley means that colleagues become friends. And having so many artistic talents together in a group of friends almost organically leads to them make music together. And that is what happened with M’ANAM. A band formed from friendship and the wish to make music together. The final touch was when Philip Barkhudarov from the Olga Vocal Ensemble joined the M’ANAM idea with his deep rich Russian bass sound. Bitter Wind and Deyr Fé were born, and with it the distinctive M’ANAM sound.
Philip’s thoughts on it:” It was a huge collaborative effort – the inspiration and stories behind the songs come from all of us, and each singer’s unique sound and vocal/instrumental skills can add to the sound in surprising ways. Some of the songs didn’t take on any kind of recognizable form until we’d spent a good while experimenting in the studio and finding out what the song actually was. When I went into the studio to work on Bitter Wind for the first time, I had no idea what it would end up being. But with some experimental input from the singers, and with a few epic layers of percussion from Noel Eccles, it became something greater than any of us had anticipated.”
With ANÚNA being an Irish choir (with their own unique twist to the genre. Hopefully I can come back to that in an ANÚNA review) and The Olga Vocal Ensemble being an a capella singing group with a Nordic influenced record under their belt: their second album Vikings!– it would be obvious to think that M’ANAM would be a mix of the two, and in THIS case, it IS actually true.
M’ANAM -the album- is a lovely mix of the choir influences from ANÚNA and the acapella sound of the Olga Vocal Ensemble, making it an album that sounds classical, yet free-spirited and very Celtic at the same time. Which in a way is a funny comment because the first song, Celeuma actually is a poem describing the rhythm of the Roman oarsmen beautifully put to music. The strength of the low voices makes it almost mystical and the different melody lines weave together effortlessly, even if you’re not used to listening to choir-like vocal music.
As I said, most of the music on M’ANAM has a Celtic background, mostly putting old Irish, Scottish or English texts to music or rearranging old traditionals and the M’ANAM singers were clearly involved in it. The Hound’s Cry, for instance, is co-written by Cian O’Donnell, and the English traditional The Sheep Stealer is rearranged by Fergus Cahillane and Michael McGlynn together.
Fergus Cahillane also had the lead voice in Ardi Cuain, a song full of longing and melancholy, and I love his voice. So pure, so warm, it really struck a chord within me. The choir behind him even enhances that melancholy and do I hear a bit of overtone singing there too?
It wasn’t until I read the blogs on Michael McGlynn’s personal webpage that I understood what makes Ardi Cuain -actually the whole album- so special. Fergus doesn’t sing the solo as a classically trained tenor, which I would expect from a classic choir album. No, he uses his normal voice, well-trained of course, but still, his voice stays as it naturally is. And I suddenly realize that with the added amount of technique you put in a voice, you lose some pure, raw emotion. Not so in Ardi Cuain. It’s pouring over with emotion. A lovely blend between the old Clannad, a Gregorian choir and a touch of pagan folk with the overtone voice. You can just feel the mist drift over the Irish shore while you listen to this. Easily one of my favourite songs on the album.
On the fourth song, Bitter Wind, M’ANAM manages to keep this ancient mystic atmosphere, this pure rawness of strong emotions. The intro sound is already creepy, indeed a bitter wind comes out of my speakers. As I already told in the intro, this time Philip Barkudarov has his moment to shine. His voice has that deep rich Russian sound and he makes the most of it. Especially the way he actually holds back to make it sound even deeper, even stronger, sounds so impressive. But I shouldn’t focus on him alone here. The group as a whole makes the most of their deep male voices. Agreed all the layers of a male voice are there, high and low, as you would expect from a choir or acapella singing group. But the focus is on that low, rich, deep sound, with another bit of overtone singing just as icing on the cake. Another stunning song.
Tenebrae comes a bit closer towards what I would expect from a male choir. But in this case, it is Gavin Brennan’s subtle saxophone which adds that touch of difference. that extra touch of beauty that pulls you in. It’s those touches that make the music accessible for people who have never listened to classical choral music before. If you are interested in discovering this type of music, M’ANAM is an ideal album to start with.
With Deyr Fé we go into those dark deep voices again. Bjarni Guðmundsson is the lead vocalist on this song, and his high tenor cuts right through the wall of low chords the choir is laying down. That moment where acapella singing, meets new-age choir singing, meets the intense power of the Icelandic landscape in this 10th-century Viking text put to music by Michael McGlynn.
The lovely Icelandic ballad Gunnarshólmi; the English traditional The Sheep Stealer -with its strong Celtic folk feel the most acapella style song on M’ANAM- ; and the title song M’ANAM are all also beautiful slow choir songs that are like balm to the soul. If ever there was an album you could totally unwind on, this would be it.
Bandó Ribineann (video above) is one of the very few upbeat songs on M’ANAM, the tone goes up in the direction of the tenors and it feels like spring just sparkled through your window. Another one of my favourite songs.
Keen eyes will now have noticed that I missed out three songs, The Hounds Cry, Ag Iascaireacht and La Chanson De Mardi Grass. There are not bad songs, not at all. Ag Iascaireacht is a cheerful Irish melody made even more cheerful by the upbeat bodhrán under it. La Chanson De Mardi Grass sounds to me like Gregorian chant (I know it isn’t actually Gregorian at all, it just sounds that way), meets French African country singing. And The Hounds Cry is a seriously catchy Celtic pop song gone choral, especially with the electric guitar melody in it. But, the thing is that they, for me, feel out of place.
The overall feel of ancient mystique, those strong impressive vocal songs, they catch me emotionally and take me back to times long gone by. That overall feeling clashes with these three songs. It’s like watching a thrilling episode of Twin Peaks and suddenly having three scenes from Who framed Roger Rabbit cut right through it.
Again, I do like the songs themselves, but for me, they would only work if they were put in a different place on the album. I would suggest after Bandó Ribineann so that there is a more natural flow of music for me. But that’s only a small glitch on an otherwise impressive album. Something that wouldn’t bother people who are less emotionally involved while listening
All in all, M’ANAM is a powerful, impressive album. One of the M’ANAM members mentioned that although most songs are slow songs, ballads, there aren’t any love songs on the album. At that point, I don’t agree. Granted, there are no traditional love themes to be found on M’ANAM. But the whole album is filled with love. A love for music. A love and respect for each other as friends and singers. And a love for the land and its history, not only of their (adopted) homeland Eire but also for Island, two naturally rich and rugged countries with stunning landscapes, one wild and ancient, one young and turbulent. Two sister countries that in their history are so intertwined.
M’ANAM managed to capture that in their songs, in their performance, I could clearly feel it. People who love the music of ANÚNA, the early Clannad, or the wave of new age albums from the late 80’s – think Gregorian chant or
will love this album. People who are new to choral music, this truly is a lovely CD to discover its power in all its beauty.
Editor: Sara Weeda