It’s always an exciting moment when a new CD arrives at CeltCast HQ and it goes into the CD player. What can we expect? is it good? Do we like it? Which songs can we play? All questions that are spinning through our minds as the first seconds of a new CD tick away. In the case of
these questions were quickly answered. Yes, we did like it and soon enough the music team started sending each other messages, telling us about how much we liked this beautiful, calming CD.
But this album also posed a problem: Although it was recorded by a member of the Dutch folk band
although it was acoustic guitar music; although it was recorded by the amazing ‘sound witch’ (Hans’ words, not mine) Fieke van den Hurk at her
one thing it wasn’t: folk music. A slight problem if your station’s format is based on acoustic ‘folk’ music. So we had a quick virtual team meeting and decided to bend the rules as far as we possibly could because this album deserves all the attention we can give it.
So here we go, we give you Introspective, an instrumental album by Dutch acoustic guitar – and flute player Hans Elzinga. We have already established that Introspective isn’t a folk album as such, so what is it then? Well, I would call it one of the best contemporary instrumental guitar and flute albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Hans is a D.I.Y artist and a very, very talented one for that matter. He composed all the songs, played all the guitar most of the flute and whistle. He often – during live performances at least – uses a loop pedal so he can accompany himself on rhythm guitar while he plays the guitar- or flute solos. He also made his own nylon string flamenco guitar, and he deliberately uses heavier strings for the 1st and 6th position on his steel-string guitar, so he can get the lower, more rich sound he is looking for. Combine a musician like this – somebody clearly seeking his own way in music- with Fieke van den Hurk and something really special starts to happen. As we all know Fieke will also go the extra- sometimes unconventional- mile to find that specific sound an instrument, a song or even a single note needs, so combine those two together and you get a silver disc filled with magic.
If you also add Rob Musters on soprano sax, Davide Lionette on percussion, Stan Stolk -former
on double bass ánd Parsley colleague Maaike van der Waal on Irish flute, then heaven opens for the true music lover.
With me talking so much about compositions and acoustic guitars it’s easy to think Introspective consists of classical guitar recitals. When you look at the song titles, De Klank Van Wierook, Sterrenlicht, Dryadendans, you are just as likely to think Introspective is a new age music album. Neither are true. All songs are true and proper pop songs, with a clear start and finish and a down to earth feel to it. A soulful feel as well. Sometimes the songs are clean ballads, sometimes bluesy grooves, sometimes jazzy improvisations and sometimes even acoustic prog-pop soundscapes. (I didn’t even know those existed, but Hans plays them.) He himself refers to 80’s acts like
as possible references. With his slightly bluesy, soulful, clean way of playing, I would like to add the acoustic segments played by
in his 80’s
days and the solo work of
one of the former solo guitarists of
that sadly passed away way too soon. (Just give Gypsy Soul a listen and you’ll know what I mean)
Many of Hans’ songs remind me of the acoustic guitar sections that were so common in the music of ’70s and ’80s- just think of
intro of Wish You Were Here, Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road or Once Upon A Time In The West, But where bands of those days then went into the rock part, or the voices came in, Hans keeps it acoustic, the voices replaced by either his lead guitar melody or the flute/whistle tunes he plays. And I’m loving every note of it.
Now I won’t go into every song individually, that would be silly – for one how many times can you say this is beautiful acoustic guitar music before it gets boring to read- So I’ll just pick out my favorites as I listen and comment on those.
My first favorite is opening song De Klank Van Wierook – the sound of essence- Just as essence this song fills your whole room with gentle, beautiful (first time) guitar chords but, as I said before, in a pleasant ‘grounded’ way. It’s a song, not a floating spacy soundscape. I love how this song just seems to slow down time and make you feel all relax in your mind. The soothing low whistle part just adds to that feel perfectly. The best cure against stress I used in a loooong time.
Lu Core Meu is partly inspired by a painting from
called “Het vertrek van de tempelschatten, and partly by a south Italian folk song: Lu Rusciu Te Le Mare. The beginning of the song has this slight Mediterranean, slightly Spanish feel to it. That feel ends when Hans starts looping the second guitar theme he plays and starts playing bamboo flute over it. The loop has a hypnotizing effect, used just as effectively as a certain
did many decades ago in songs like Incantations part 2. The mesmerizing bamboo flute gives this song a lovely pagan folk feel.
If I wasn’t calm by now, the sound of waves, used as an intro for the song Golven -waves- will do the trick quite nicely. But not only the sound effect does. Hans’ beautiful (second time) guitar melody again has that calming tranquil effect. Listening to Golven I also find it unbelievable how much ‘sound’ Fieke manages to pull out of a single guitar. It is as if every string has its own little microphone. Astonishing work.
The title song Introspective, as almost all the songs on this album, starts with a ‘simple’ but beautifully (third time) calming guitar melody. In all his compositions Hans takes his time to develop these melodies further and further, and Introspective with its length of 9:12 minutes is no exception. And the best bit: every note is there for a reason, it has a place and a meaning. therefore the music flows through your mind as a total bliss of calm notes. Then, in this song Introspective, the pace picks up, the energy level rises and percussionist Davide Lionetti joins in while Hans’ whistle playing turns this calm peaceful bit of guitar music into a weird acid jazz acoustic rock thing. It is as if I’m back to the days when I heard my first Flairck album. Peter Weekers, then Flute player of this groundbreaking Dutch formation, could literally talk with his flute, something I also know from Acid jazz rockers
lovely flute player Koen van Egmond and, now also from Hans Elzinga. Easily one of my favourite bits on this impressive album.
Talking about Flairck, one of the many former Flairck members Stan Stolk plays double bass on Sterrenlicht – starlight- he is, after Percussionist Davide Lionetti, the second guest musician to appear on Introspective, in this song together with Rob Musters on soprano sax.
Sterrenlicht was written while Hans was playing on the
Taribush Kuna festival
in the art installation of Bart Ensing and
A fairylike experience he says, never to forget.
So you might think this could finally turn new age-ish. Not Hans, we go jazz, easy jazz, think
Gare Du Nord
without the beats. Lovely calming again, but always grounded, it always serves the song. This is the music you want to hear in a small amphitheatre. With some easy lights and everybody sinking in real comfy in a huge pile of pillows instead of hard theatre chairs. (That would be a magical experience, a concert played by Hans like that.)
Drempel – threshold- has a soulful acoustic Mark Knopfler feel to it and would also fit perfectly in that pillow themed concert. The seventh song, Dryadendans – dryads dance-, is another song that has all the ingredients for a pagan folk- or new age song in its title and in the explanation about its origin in the booklet. But again no. The song flows from a typical Hans Elzinga solo acoustic guitar opening into lovely acoustic prog-pop, then into some prog rock meets Dire Straits as Hans brings that low 6th string into full use. I didn’t know acoustic prog rock existed, but Hans is playing it right here, right now. What a lovely section around that 4-minute mark.
And things are about to get even better. (better if you have the same taste for music as I have that is.) Hans brings in Stan Stolk and Rob Musters one more time for another song based upon a Johfra painting: Middernachtmystie -Midnight Mystery-. This song has Flairck written al over it. Strong guitar chords, a lovely free jazz improvisation part by saxophonist Rob, Hans his intriguing style of talking whistle cutting through the music. This is really the highlight of the CD for me, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was done in one recording session, it sure feels like it. It has this feel of musicians starting a song, flowing with it, not knowing when it will end, not caring about that anyway and a sound genius capturing it all. To be a fly on the wall at that moment. I really wish I was.
Just as Flairck does, Hans brings down the intensity of the song halfway through again for a lovely bit of calming flute and beautiful (fifth time, is it getting boring already?) Spanish style guitar. But not for long. Rob’s Soprano sax starts ripping that calm moment to pieces again, quick to be followed by Hans’ spoken whistle improvisations. In one word, A-MA-ZING.
Well, that -only point out a few of my favorite bits- idea turned out nicely. NOT! With the ninth song Onder De Oude Eik – under the old oak tree- we are at the end of Introspective and I mentioned them all! It says a lot about this album actually. Introspective is a highlight that lasts 54:09 minutes.
Timeless acoustic guitar music at its very very best.
shared with kind permission of
Editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Nienke Cleveringa
Imbue – Ut Solis Radium (2019) review
According to their website, we can find
music somewhere on the edge of the old medieval times and the new Renaissance period. I can add they also stand somewhere between the Classical world and modern balfolk. In 2017 Imbue released their debut album In Quatuor Tempora, a collection of 12 [quote Imbue]: ‘old and nigh forgotten (folk)songs’, and now, September 2019, their new album Ut Solis Radium was released in the place where it all began. the Gasthuiskapel -guesthouse chapel- in Zaltbommel, the exact spot In Quator Tempora was recorded.
Luckily nothing changed in the Imbue world. The new album is again a beautiful collection of medieval and renaissance pieces, skillfully recorded by these 5 talented musicians.
Let’s introduce all the Imbue members to you. First off is Robin Lammertink on lead vocals. She is a classically trained mezzo-soprano who is not only interested in polyphony -singing with multiple people who each have their own independent melody, something she herself explains more about at the end of this review– but also in history, especially the history of Tudor England (1485 – 1603). During her current studies at the Conservatorium of Utrecht, she started composing and arranging herself, a skill she gladly uses in the music of Imbue.
Robin shares her love for old English times and creating music with Meidi Goh, who has a specific love for the music of Elizabethan England. The period in the Tudor times when Elisabeth 1st ruled (1558 – 1603) and Englands most famous son, Shakespeare, lived. Meidi is not classicly trained as such. She got a deep love the Viola da Gamba -the bass viol- and Renaissance music through her mother, who played in a recorder quartet. She started taking lessons with a Baroque violinist and then turned towards the tenor viol and singing. Her love for folk started when she joined the Dutch band
and she loved the freedom it gave her to improvise and create her own music, a freedom that accumulated in her first solo CD
that came out earlier this year.
Remy Schreuder (picture left) is the third vocalist of the band and he is also a virtuoso on recorder and cornett – an early wind instrument. popular in Renaissance and Baroque times.
Remy is classicly trained from a young age, and – just as Robin and Meidi- stepped away from the sheet music at a certain point to enroll in a musical training course, which taught him to play different styles of contemporary music: pop, jazz, blues, and even metal. It also taught him the skills of solo improvisation. At the moment he’s studying at the Historical Performance Department of the Conservatorium Utrech, all skills he puts to good use in Imbue.
Laurens Kah is Imbue’s Irish bouzouki player. He has had classical piano lessons from an early age and then took a detour through heavy metal. But the love for, as he describes it, “peaceful piano music”, which he kept through that time, brought him to folk music, where he now not only shares the stage with Imbue, but also with the folk band
as an accordionist.
Imbue’s last band member we also know from Pyrolysis: He is of course percussionist and vocalist Tim Elfring. Tim is not classically trained, but equally talented and in his own right is just as important for Imbue’s sound as the other bandmembers. Medieval music sounds totally different from modern music, so Tim helps arrange the old sheet music into a more modern form. How he does that Robin explains herself at the end of this review.
From the introduction of the different band members, it’s already clear what you can expect from Imbue. Ut Solis Radium is filled with 12 beautiful medieval/Renaissance pieces with a good splash of balfolk to cheer it all up. And, I can already reveal, these songs are like honey to your ears.
It starts with the very first notes of Worldes Bliss, two beautiful female voices that instantly grab you. Did I say two female? I make that mistake e-v-e-r-y time I hear the beginning of this 12th century a capella English song. Because it is actually Robin and Remy singing here, so a female and male voice, but Remy has such an amazing range. He easily matches Robin’s voice, not only in height but also in the purity of tone and beauty. Really amazing. I think the official term for it is a countertenor. I know the unofficial term for it is a jawdropping “AMAZING!”
To make things even more impressive in Hanacpachap Cussicuinin – a 17th century Peruvian hymn in Quechua – Remy takes on the bass ánd tenor voice. A simply insane range. But let’s not forget the third beautiful voice that Imbue has, Meidi Goh, also joins in. The first two songs are all about Imbue’s voices. A simple drum, flute, viola da gamba accompanies them, all done in such a controlled delicate way, yet with feeling and intent. When so much musical talent comes together in this way the result is just stunning. A compliment to
recording and mixing) and
(mastering) from the Dutch
who together managed to capture every single note, but also every single moment of controlled silence perfectly.
O Madame is a lovely cheerful 16th century song with Remy playing lovely ‘ornaments to the main melody’ on the recorder (a quote from a conversation I had with Robin Lammertink about the new CD that describes Remy’s style of playing perfectly and she added that it is sort of his specialty).
With the next song, J’ai Vu Le Loup, we have another French song, a classic among medieval and folk bands. Always fun to hear and Imbue’s version is no exception.
For now, I’ll keep focussing on the cheerful songs, Bobbing Joe is another one that puts a huge smile on my face, its a traditional song with words put to it by Meidi Goh who also took the lead on it, together with the fourth beautiful voice Imbue can put forward, that of Tim Elfring. This is also the main difference between the first album In Quator Tempora and this one, Imbue makes more use of all their vocal talents, making the album more varied.
I have to say I love the cheerful, dancing feel of Bobbing Joe. It is so Meidi Goh. You can hear her sparkling joyful energy in every note she, Tim, Laurens and Remy play. I loved it on her solo album Heartstrings and I love it here too.
It also is the strength of Imbue. That match of classical talent and folk talent together, giving them a unique sound within both the folk- and the classical world
On Stella Splendens Robin shines. How she has grown as a singer since In quatuor Tempora. Mind you what she did on the first album was already impressive, but a couple of years of conservatorium brought out the best of her obvious vocal talent. It’s on moments like this I am grateful my mom used to play classical music a lot so that I learned to appreciate this side of the musical spectrum too. I would have missed so much beautiful music if she hadn’t. Imbue’s wonderful interpretation of this 14th century Latin song would be one.
Hemels Dauwe is a fun song, again different (compliments on the varied song choice Imbue) and in Dutch. It comes from Het Antwerps liedboek (The Antwerp songbook) and has balfolk written all over it. Can medieval music be cool? Well, the answer comes with the stunning last song om Ut Solis Radium. A resounding yes!! As I listen to the beautiful high notes that Robin is hitting in Mirie It Is While Summer Ilast, I can only come to one conclusion. Imbue’s music isn’t building a bridge between two worlds, no it is bringing four worlds together, that of medieval music, the Renaissance, classical chamber music and balfolk. And in a fresh contemporary way at that.
A must-have for all who love historical classical balfolk music.
editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Robin Lammertink, Meidi Goh
photo’s: Cliff de Booy
PS: As promised Robin Lammertink took some time to explain a bit about the different ways of singing harmonies.
Robin (middle): ‘The most common vocal style is the monody. This is a solistic vocal melody accompanied by an instrument who plays chords. When you sing with more people you could all sing the same melody; which would be singing in unison. But you could also sing in vocal harmony, which is when all the voices sing in the same rhythm, but different notes from the chord. Or, when every voice has an independent melody, ingeniously intertwining to become one composition, we speak of polyphony.
A good example of singing in vocal harmony is ‘O Madame’ was the second vocals of Meidi are simultaneous with the lead vocals, but on a different pitch, creating a harmony. A polyphonic example from our album is ‘Bobbing Joe’, where Tim’s melody has a different rhythm from Meidi’s melody; he sings long notes, while Meidi sings shorter notes. Btw it’s not only polyphonic, but it’s also polytextual; singing two different texts at the same time. This was actually quite common in the Middle Ages. Speaking of which; ‘A Round of three Country Dances in One’ (which did not end up on our album, but is on our Youtube) is polyphony ánd polytextuality at it’s best! 😉
Another interesting thing about medieval music is that before the 13th century the barline was not invented yet. Meaning there was no ‘pulse’ the way we feel the beat in modern music. Nowadays most music is divided in a 4/4 measure, with four beats in one bar, or a 3/4 measure with 3 beats in one bar. The ‘one’ is usually more accentuated (or ‘heavy’). This is a feeling we as modern music consumers all recognize. The ‘one’ is also very important for dancers.
Before this division in equal chunks of 4 or 3, there would just be a musical sentence with a random amount of beats, simply following the text. So this is where Tim comes in. He is there to find the “one’ in those sentences and create a suggestion of logic. Like for example in Stella Splendens. The first and the fifth bar of the couplet have 5 beats, while the rest have the ‘normal’ 4 beats. This feels strange to our modern ears, so it’s is Tim’s job to camouflage it gently without losing the old charm.”
Emian – Egeria (2019) review
It’s Monday morning, October, 08:17 in the morning. Outside it is cold, dark and pouring with rain. Literally pouring! I find myself on the train, on my way to work, with a newspaper that tells me a cold front will pass over Holland and it will bring lots of rain during the whole day. Well, looking out of the window I can confirm that. Walking out of the station it gets even worse. Every single bucket of water that every single god of the pagan pantheon could find is thrown down right here, right now. So without any hesitation, I walk past my trusty bike and step right into the city bus, out of that waterfall of rain into the warmth of the bus cabin.
As I get comfortable on the bus seat I put the Emian’s new album in my Discman. And their music takes me deep into the magic of the Arabian desert. I can feel the hot wind rub my face as the sand dunes open up in my imagination. The contrast could not be bigger with the world outside my window. So I crawl even deeper into the corner of my seat and drift away in the warmth of Emian’s ever-expanding musical world.
From the first album, Aquaterra up to, their third album Egeria, Emian has been on quite an interesting musical journey. You only have to look at the list of instruments they play on every CD to see it. On Aquaterra it is the ‘common’ Celtic folk instruments; Irish harp, fiddle, flutes, tin whistle, Irish bouzouki, and acoustic bass. On the Mediterranean pagan folk album Khymeia the band added castanets, hurdy-gurdy, and Persian santur. On Egeria we suddenly see a whole range of ‘exotic’ instruments. Medieval bagpipe, bombarda, a Greek Aulos, the ciaramella, a marranzano, the Tibetan horn, an Indian harmonium, the Algerian mondol and a bandola, all new instruments to the Emain sound.
You can also see this journey back in the booklet as Anna Cefalo told me. In many ancient cultures the dragonfly, depicted on the sleeve art, stands for rebirth and transition. for Emian the dragonfly represents the transformation the band made from its birth to where the band is now. To my question, if the album title is also connected to that idea of transition Anna answered yes. Egeria is not only an ancient nymph, a Camena of the Roman pantheon, she was also an ancient traveler and as such her name is a worthy title for this CD. On this album the band decided to travel back to their cultural roots, all the way back to Roman times, the Etruscans and even the Middle East.
It’s only while listening to the new cd’s of Emian and Vael, and talking to Anna Cefalo about it, that I realized that there is more to pagan folk than the Celtic and Nordic folk that I started to associate the genre with through Omnia, SeeD, and LEAF. Looking at the roots of the Mediterranean bands there is ancient Greece, the Romans or Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Spanish Celtic tribes, the ancient cultures in the middle east, even the Egyptians are all part of the roots of Mediterranean people nowadays. Just as much as the Celtic and Viking culture is part of our western European pagan legacy.
So on Egeria, Emian explores their own pagan folk roots and with it new musical possibilities and you can clearly hear it on the new album. Where, on Khymeia, the focus was still on the open sound of the harp, bouzouki, and fiddle -with the hurdy-gurdy mixed more in the background- on Egeria the focus shifted towards the reed instruments, the medieval bagpipe, and the hurdy-gurdy. Another thing that changed is the production. Khymeia had a very rich sound, The music had many layers woven into it. Egeria is soberer, more focused on the melody and the lyrics. You could say Khymeia was a pop-folk album where Egeria has more of a singer-songwriter feel to it.
The best example of that ‘new’ sound is the fifth song on Egeria, La Casa Dell’Orco. It’s only the bouzouki, harp, and flute that start this beautiful song. The single sound of Martino’s drum then leads us into this ballad about the shepherd Silpa, that manages to slay a giant orc, but loses the one closest to his heart nevertheless. Anna Cefalo really shines in this song. With every verse, her voice gets more intense. You can really feel the hurt and sadness coming through with every note she sings, the medieval bagpipe and bombarda solo at the end only helps to tell this tragic story based on a legend from the area of Irpinia in the Italian Alps. (for those interested, Anna kindly translated the text into English, you can find the translation at the bottom of this review.) La Casa Dell’Orco is easily my most favorite song on Egeria. And although at certain moments I do miss the rich sound of Khymeia, the singer-songwriter approach brings out a new side to Emian that is equally nice, because La Casa Dell’ Orco isn’t the only lovely song on this album, Anna, as always, shines on more songs.
There is the lovely folk-pop ballad Rasabella, a traditional song from Calabria. The mouth harp intro puts an instant smile on my face, and then Anna’s soothing voice just lets me drift into this beautiful song, Emian at their very best.
Fronni D’Allia is the first surprise on Egeria. The intro makes me think of Valravn Or Lys, the last record of Kati Ran. It is as if Christopher Juul was asked to do the mix on this song. I like it, the eerie, slightly shaded tone of this work song from Basilicata works wonders with Anna’s crystal clear, soothing voice.
Spirit Trail is another surprise. This song honoring the native American tribes, as depicted by Martino D’amico in the booklet -although it is honoring every free-spirited person out there if you read the lyrics well- is also written and sung by Martino. And I hope it won’t be the last time he does so. His voice is just as open, friendly and pleasant to listen to as Anna’s. The song itself is again singer-songwriter folk material. A guitar and a voice, that’s all Emian needs to tell this story. Yes, they do work towards a grand climax but in the end, the essence of spirit trail is found in the magic between those two ‘humble’ instruments, voice and bouzouki.
As always Emian also recorded some instrumental songs that are well worth mentioning. The first one is Ay Yildiz that flows into Le Navi Di Istanbul. And as to be expected from the titles it has this lovely middle-eastern feel to it that actually blends in really well with Emian’s ‘normal’ Mediterranean pagan folk style. In a way, Ay Yildiz starts just as Spirit Trail, small, with just two instruments. In this case its the harp and a Middle Eastern string instrument that I don’t even dare to guess at what it might be. It’s not important anyway. What is important is the beauty of the theme they play together. How the variations on that theme build and build to make a lovely dance song. (Anna did tell me what the mystery instrument is after she read the review. It’s a Turkish oud and it is played by guest musician Peppe Frana)
Another lovely instrumental dance medley is Evoe Evoe that gracefully flows over in Vesuvius.
Again the melody starts small, this time it builds up faster, growing into a song that easily could have been on Khymeia too. Again Emian at their best. in Evoe Evoe / Vesuvius they are mixing delicate sections with lovely dance tunes, upbeat vocals with delicate solo harp moments, and the new middle eastern influences with the ‘old’ Mediterranean folk style we found on Khymeia; the best of both worlds.
Fans of Faun, Waldkauz and of course Emian themselves, will fully enjoy this new album of theirs.
– editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
– sleeve art: Martino D’Amico
– photography in studio (1)
– photography on location (2,3,4)
Giulian PisapiaThe translation of the lyrics of La Casa Dell’Orco by Anna Cefalo
Shepherd Silpa walks among the mountains
the beasts (sheeps) follow the master safely.
Winter is near, a shelter is worthwhile
that takes away the bitter cold.
He plays to his flute sweet music,
tenacious it creeps among noble oaks,
with Matulpa his bride going down to the valley
and the dogs watching his back.
But a distant song reaches the procession,
a lugubrious chorus carried by the wind.
Curious Silpa, trembling Matulpa
– Stop your step, wayfarer! –
They entered the orc’s house:
Cronopa the giant before his altar,
in his hand an ax ready to vibrate
on a man his mortal blow …
Fee Fi Fo Fum … Fee Fi Fo Fum …
Escape Silpa, don’t turn away go away!
Escape Silpa, you know the way!
Fee fi fo fum … Blood your wine will be!
Fee fi fo fum … Meat its bread will be!
On the edge of the ditch, Silpa shows itself,
the song stops, the giant turns.
The victim flees and Silpa runs fast
the hand to his bow leads.
The arrow shot at the heart strikes,
Furious Cronopa staggers and roars.
The mountains tremble, a chilling scream,
two steps and the giant perishes.
The saved men are on him,
armed with stones they die to death the monster,
then they moved towards shepherd Silpa
proclaiming him liberator.
But in the heart of Silpa there is no victory,
Matulpa has disappeared, this is not the glory!
He throws himself to look for her, but finally he finds
his beloved eaten by wolves…
Silpa sat on the stone, leaving his head on his chest.
A great silence grew around him…
The last corpse remains of Matulpa were buried and night fell.
Silpa lay down on the ground, closed his eyes and let himself die.
Sleep Silpa, go to her again.
Sleep Silpa, still playing for her.
Fee fi fo fum… This is the grave for me …
Fee fi fo fum… I still play for you …
Vael – Kairós (2019) Review
I found a nice surprise in my inbox: the debut album of
a Spanish pagan folk band whose existence I totally didn’t know about. When I got the files from band member Daniel Iturriaga, he told me he was very much interested in reading how I would describe their music, and in which context I would place it. So I took on the challenge: I listened to Kairós many, many times, had loads of fun doing so, and now I can come to a final conclusion: Vael sounds like…, …Well, …they sound like…, ….ahm, .actually…, like Vael! And with that conclusion, we can end this review 🙂 Next up: Eregia by
No, no, I won’t make it that easy for myself. Not with a cheesy joke like that. But it’s true that Vael has a unique place within the pagan folk community. Yes, they do take on the main pagan folk themes: love of nature, traveling back to their cultural roots, their myths and legends, but the motivation for doing so is special. According to the band themselves in their biography:
Introducing Vael; a short interview“For many centuries, cultural barriers made it impossible to understand that all peoples come from similar roots. We share a good number of traditions, beliefs, and in general, everything that makes us human. Due to globalization, some of these barriers are falling while others are rising, fueled by prejudice, hatred, or fear, without understanding that beauty is found in diversity.
With this project we aim to send out a social and cultural message, mixing the multiple musical traditions of around the world with the richness of ours, making it clear that even though the people of different cultures see each other very differently, we have so much in common. Also, with our songs, we deal with issues such as the rural exodus and the loss of traditions or myths and legends shared between peoples.“
This concept also comes back in their band name Vael, as Daniel (left) told me:
“About our name: as you can see in our logo, it has something to do with wolves. Here in the Iberian peninsula we had many Celtic tribes – not only in Galicia (the best-known, internationally) but in almost all the territories that make up Spain and Portugal today. Some of these tribes had a wolf god in common, and his name was ‘Vaelico’, We just kept the name’s root ‘Vael’. Why the wolves? Because it’s a very international animal, present in most cultures, myths, and legends. We have notable wolves not only in our own fairy tales but also in the well-known Nordic myths, in Japan, Native America, the pre-Columbus regions, Africa and many more. So, our band symbol became a wolf, because it represents our wish to mix musical traditions of all the cultures, and an Iberian wolf, because we are from Iberia.
It has a second even more symbolic meaning to us and our music: the wolves have been co-living with us from the very start of our kind and know our species well. As a band we want our music to reflect the gaze of the wolves over our nations. We humans traditionally see ourselves as very different, especially culturally, and due to that we had – and still have – a lot of prejudices, but this is nonsense and only brings us fear and misunderstanding. The wolf (like all animals) sees us like we really are, what unites us instead of what divides us, and that’s the message we want to communicate. We are against racism and violence. So we have a wolf howling in our logo, representing all of this. The logo was made by
Is that the same Diego that made the equally beautiful sleeve art?:
-“No, the album’s artwork was created by
Diego Rodríguez Robredo.
You also asked about the meaning of the word Kairós. Kairós is the ancient Greek word for ‘the right moment’. We like Greek because it’s one of the classical cultures and philosophies that have greatly influenced most Euro-cultures.”. The Greeks divided time into ‘Cronos’, the actual time that passes, and ‘Kairós’, the time as we perceive it inwardly – for instance the moment we daydream and time seems to disappear, or that moment we are fully concentrated and time seems to flash by. It’s in those ‘gaps’ of time that creativity is born, and the Greeks connected this to Kairós, the youngest son of Zeus.
We named the album Kairós for less philosophical reasons. To all of us, Vael arrived at ‘the right moment’. Kairós is the result of everything that has happened from that exact moment in time in which we met. Kairós is not a concept album, but a compilation of our path so far. In the future we want to create conceptual works, but with this one, as it is our first CD, we wanted to commemorate our coming together.
About the album’s art! You can see the wolf I have described to you on the cover, that wolf of knowledge and understanding of the human nature, but you can also see a lot of archaeological finds, representing the history of humankind over time. And in the hands of the figure we find two things: an olive branch – representing our land, full of olive trees – and the astral figures of the Nebra sky disc.
Our CD cover is also based on it. The
Nebra sky disk
is a bronze disc found near Nebra in Saxony Anhalt, Germany. The Disc is a very ancient astral chart or astral representation. That also has a symbolic meaning for us, because all humans share the same sky, the same sun, and the same moon.”2016; Vael is starting to form
The band spent the last couple of years working out the basic ideas of what would become Vael. During the autumn of 2016 the outlines became clearly shaped and from that moment on things went fast. Songs were written and band members found until Vael came to the following line-up:
– Macarena Pingarrón – Nyckelharpa, vocals.
– Violeta Moreno – Violin, chorus.
– Daniel Iturriaga – Whistle, hulusi, Galician bagpipe, zither, guzheng, throat singing.
– Guillermo García – Davul, bodhran, darbuka, tabla, udu, chorus.
– Camilo García – Classic guitar, bağlama saz, chorus.
– José M. Vicente – Spanish guitar, chorus.
– Teresa Peciña – Hurdy-gurdy, flute, whistle, daf, vocals, chorus.
In September 2017 their demo Mure came out as a free download, which you can still find here
on their bandcamp page. They played on several Spanish festivals while working on more material, and just before Castlefest 2018 Kairós came out. This was followed by their first performance outside of Spain. And where else than on the wonderful stages of Castlefest, where so many bands have been introduced to a large audience?
The Castlefest programmers have a good eye for spotting talent. We all probably remember another talented Spanish band making their debut on Castlefest not that long ago,
and keen observers might have spotted a former Cuélebre member among the line-up of Vael, Teresa Peciña (right), but Vael makes a totally different style of music – where Cuélebre is a bit dark and almost gothic in their approach to folk, Vael is just the opposite.
Diving into the new CD
Cheerful, extremely cheerful, that’s the first thing you’ll think when Caravanserai, the opening track of Kairós, starts. The female vocals make for a welcoming intro into Vael’s music, the enchanting sound of the hurdy-gurdy says ‘pagan folk’ straight away, while the rhythmical strumming of two guitars and the fast, cheerful and varied percussion are so typical Spanish to my ears. This is just the music I was expecting from a Spanish pagan folk band – Mediterranean energy with some exotic Moorish flavor. You find yourself in a Bedouin camp, deep in the desert, where the mood is good and the dancing is plenty after a long day of travel. Tomorrow the caravan will travel on, deeper into the ocean of sand, but tonight it’s time to celebrate!
However, all those Spanish preconceptions fly out the window with the second song, Harsha. The first shouted ‘Hoppa!’ briefly makes you think of Greece, but then the music takes you deep into the Russian taiga to another group of nomads, the people that traveled the vast Asian steppe for hundreds of years. The ships of the desert make way for noble horses, and the music, especially the percussion, is fast as hooves galloping towards the horizon. A wonderful musical celebration of a traveler’s life, and it’s astonishing how well the fast Russian music blends in with Vael’s Spanish roots – seamless, actually.
Harsha stands out for another reason: the stunning vocals of Macarena Pingarrón (left). The pagan folk scene has introduced me to some stunning female vocalists:
Monique van Deursen and
Robin Lammertink, to name just two, and Macarena’s voice is right up there with theirs. She has such a strong, classically trained soprano that she gives Vael’s folk music a unique touch of opera. As if
wrote a hint of folk into his opera Carmen. A joy to listen to.
Her voice is featured again in Prometeo, a three-part homage to the Titan who, according to Greek folklore, created mankind and gave them fire, for which he was severely punished by Zeus.
He was chained to a rock, where his liver was eaten by a giant eagle every day, only to have it regrow during the night so that the eagle could return again and again. This song really showcases Vael as talented musicians and songwriters. It starts with a delicate violin solo, while the underlying gentle sound of the acoustic guitars leads you into the song. Simply beautiful. Daniel’s spoken word part then leads us into the second part of the song: the guitars pick up the pace and the vocalists join together in a lovely choral part – a flute solo flows out of these vocals. Then follow a spoken word section, a violin solo, an enchanting soprano line, rhythmic guitar chords – all woven together into a wonderful blanket of sound, making Prometeo one of my favorite songs on this CD.
With Montañas de Jade things get really interesting. Vael is the first folk band I know to incorporate Chinese influences into their music. And it works. It begins with solid drums, another strong point of Vael – the varied percussion. I imagine it to be the sound of a wolf tribe on the hunt. They start high up in the hills where the Mongolian tribesmen shout to bring in their cattle, safe for the night, as the wolves move in fast under the cover of darkness. Then the pack reaches the bottom of the valley, and in the distance the lights of a city shine. They can see the junks sail over the yellow river and hear the song of the workers as they rest after a long day of work. Ok, I admit this story exists only in my imagination – as the song is actually about tribal warriors being far away from home – but that’s the beauty of instrumental music: if done well, you can drift off into any dream you want. And Montanas De Jade is done very well. Mongolian upbeat chants flow effortlessly into the delicate beauty of Chinese music – one of the highlights of this album.
To my joy, Vael does it once more on Czarne Czary. Better yet: they blend an entire world of cultural influences into one up-tempo folk song. Starting with an eastern European upbeat chant, followed by Nordic nyckelharpa mixed with a native American cry, and drums that could’ve come straight from a pow wow. Then we’re back to the eastern European chant mixed with Mongolian throat singing, Russian dance music, and an
-style overtone flute. It all blends together as if it was always meant to be. And that is the whole point of Vael’s music: to show that it ís meant to be. That all those styles, all those cultures, indeed mix together harmoniously to become one of the best songs on this CD.
There is one more song I want to single out. That song is Nimue. This song brings together everything I love about Kairós and Vael: The lovely delicate double guitar lines, the beautiful melodies of Vael’s two main solo instruments (the violin and flute), the rolling percussion of Guillermo García. and, of course, those stunning vocals by Macarena Pingarrón.
The song Nimue is a crossover between the melodic folk of Emian, the medieval music of Imbue, and the epicness of Cesair, including that fierce, characteristic staccato violin that Sophie Zaaijer is so well-known for. All of this combined makes Nimue probably the most exquisite song on Kairós. Pure beauty!
All in all Kairós was a big surprise for me and a really pleasant one at that. With all those influences flowing together into one single style, I would call the band’s music pagan ‘world’ folk. Beautiful pagan world folk, I want to add. Beautiful, not only because of the soloists or the breathtaking vocals, but also because of the songwriting skills of the band – the way they managed to combine all those influences and ideas into harmonious and coherent songs, and to get the balance between the instrumental solo parts and the vocals just right – and because of the whole concept behind the CD.
All of this makes Kairós a special album. Fans of Emian, Imbue, and the ballads of Cesair shouldn’t hesitate to buy this wonderful CD!
-Editor: Sara Weeda
-pictures: Andre Willemse
Sowulo – Mann (2019) Review
Mann, the third album of
came out and it has been spinning its rounds in my CD player ever since, slowly revealing its inner beauty to me.
Slowly because I have to admit, it took me a while before I finally understood this album. In pop music (and pagan folk is in essence a subgenre of pop music) we are used to albums containing 3 to 5 minute long songs that each tell a story. Sometimes these stories connect together as chapters in a concept. But we still listen to them as individual things. With their first album Alvenrad, Sowulo took a different route. Main composer Faber Horbach made a piece of art, a mix of classical – and Celtic/Nordic music that sounded like a classical folk suite, celebrating the beauty of nature and the neo-pagan festivals. On the second Sowulo album Sol, the music was approached more as individual songs, in the tradition of a pop format. Listening to Mann the first few times I thought the band kept that song-orientated approach. But there is more to Mann than that, wáy more.
Mann is another musical journey, just as Alvenrad was. But this time it is not a journey through the year, a journey through nature, no, it’s an inner journey. As Faber described in an
we had with him earlier this year, these songs represent his inner four seasons. The different sides of his personality, represented by the warrior, the lover, the magician, and the king. It is a musical expression of these personalities, their struggles, and their growth. But not in the style of a singer-songwriter. No, it goes so much deeper, it is way more primordial. Yes, the album consists of 12 songs, with clear beginning and end, but they are so interlocked that you can only fully understand Mann if you see it as one concept, as one piece of musical art. I think I would describe it best if I said that a ‘normal’ pagan folk album is a collection of poems, whereas Mann is a book, a piece of literature, with the songs being chapters of a bigger thing.
As a piece of art Mann is a strong, a very strong statement. It was born as the soundtrack to a possible movie about a Dutch Celtic tribe in the early Middle Ages. The film never materialized, so Faber decided to use the material he already had for a new Sowulo CD and it became his most personal album yet. The golden moment was when Faber found an Anglo-Saxon rune poem that fitted perfectly with one of the tracks. The concept of Mann was born.
Those of you who have already heard the single Brego in Brēoste will have noticed a big difference in Sowulo’s music. Where Sol and especially Alvenrad were instrumental albums, with the violin and flute weaving beautiful melodies together, representing the beauty of nature, Brego in Brēoste is very much more percussion and especially vocal orientated. It is an intense song, very intense actually.
In our interview, Faber told us he had written this song at a time when major things were changing in his life and the world he knew seemed to fall apart. Well, you can clearly hear that in this extremely powerful song. Some of you may know that Faber is also the vocalist of the Viking/folk metal band
a band that mixes melodic metal in the style of
together with screamed vocals and folk influences. It’s clear Faber weaved elements of that particular style into the writing of Brego in Brēoste. He combined the clean double vocals and power of a metal band like Heidevolk with the strong percussion of
and mixed it with the classical harp, nyckelharpa, string ensemble set-up of the Sol album.
The result is intense and pure. Just as
manages to capture melodic heavy metal in a classical orchestral setting, Faber managed to do the same with Nordic folk metal. The vocals, in particular, seem to come from deep within his inner soul. He pours them out in an epic, theatrical way. For those who like Viking metal, this album is a treat. To those that love the melodic gentle classic melodies of Alvenrad and Sol, I should give a heads up. Although still based on classical instruments like the violin, viola, harp, and nyckelharpa, Mann has a different, more dramatic feel to it. You can see Brego in Brēoste as a blueprint for the whole CD. So if your not sure about that song you might want to listen to Mann first before buying. On the other hand, if you love Brego in Brēoste (and I know many do) you’re in for a treat.
This is also the point where I would normally mention I miss a wee bit of variation, especially in the vocals. They are constantly in that same, double vocal, theatrical, slightly screamy style. The constant driving percussion will only enhance that. Some listeners will find this too intense after a while. (In all honesty, this happened to me too the first times I listened to Mann.) But, as I said earlier, this is not a collection of songs. This is an artist expressing himself through music. This is a composer showing his inner self to the world. And in that case, there is no right or wrong.
Having said that, it’s not that there aren’t beautiful songs on Mann. Especially in the second part of the album, there are plenty. Fægru Fara for instance. One of the lovesongs on Mann, although you have to expect a warrior style lovesong. Even in his lovesongs, Faber keeps using those double vocal power chords. It’s the string section -Sophie Zaaijer on violin, Klaartje van Zwoll on viola, Faber on nyckelharpa and Chloe Bakker (right) her harp melodies under it that make Fægru Fara a very nice love song.
There is also Dēoplīcu Ðearf a lovely song with strong vocals, tender moments, but also a lot of the beautiful orchestral parts we know from Sowulo’s previous albums Alvenrad and Sol. One of my favourite songs on Mann. And there are more.
Wulfwiga is another one of them. It starts intriguing with some wood percussion and chant-like singing. But it’s after the intro that the song reveals its true beauty. Strong, almost shamanic percussion, epic vocals and a catchy melody played by the string section, featuring the nyckelharpa. Epic stuff! This is a song you should play loud, just to feel its full impact. I can’t wait to hear this life over a full stage sound system. It’s gonna bee something, I’m sure of that.
My absolute favourite song is Slincan Snīcan. It combines everything that is good about Mann. It starts with a lovely atmospheric intro played by Faber on synthesizer and Chloe on harp. Like morning fog hovering over the music. Faber’s vocals work wonders here. I really like those Anglo-Saxon lyrics and never knew they were so closely related to modern Dutch. Then suddenly Faber opens up his full lung capacity for a vocal climax in the song, even enhanced by the powerful orchestral string section. This is Faber, the composer, at his very best, making full advantage of the talent of his fellow musicians, and the song is wonderfully mixed by
Fieke van den Hurk.
Really something special.
The last song I would like to pick up on is also the most ‘extreme’ one, Berabeorn. In this song Sowulo comes closest to an acoustic version of Myrkvar. This is pure acoustic Nordic folk metal and probably not everybody’s cup of tea. But honestly, I love it for its pure emotion. The start is especially raw, distorted and rather disturbing in a way. Yet it is beautiful, actually because of that. This is the point where music becomes art. It will not be for everybody, but that’s not the intention of this album anyway. Mann is not about recording 12 joyful folk tunes. This is about an artist expressing himself in the purest form.
As I said at the start, this review took me a while. I had to learn to love this album. At first, it was too much for me, too strong, too much raw emotion pouring out for me to handle in one go. It was one looong epic scream with heavy percussion under it. But listening to it again and again, Mann started to grow on me. Starting with the songs that are a bit ‘ lighter’, Wōhs Wildum, Slincan Snīcan, Dēoplīcu Ðearf, Hēahlufu and Wulfwiga. I started listening to what was behind those power vocals. I started recognising the individual songs and started hearing the beauty of the melodies under them. I also started reading the lyrics with the songs, and in that way deepened my understanding of the music Faber composed. In the end it all started to make sense to me.
Mann will always divide people. I’ve seen a lot of responses from people that love it for its power and its intensity, and I can fully understand that now. I can also understand that for some it’s too much. All I can say is give this album time, open yourself up for it and start discovering its beauty even if it is one song at a time.
I for one know that this album will keep me busy for quite a while to come. And I’m actually looking forward to that. Mann intrigues me, it grabs me way more than I thought it would the first time I listened to it. It has gotten deep under my skin. It provokes me every time I listen to it. Just as a good piece of art should do.
Editor: Diane Deroubiax
sleeve art: Jasper van Gheluwe & Samiye van Rossum
photography: Wolfgang Schmitt