At CeltCast we don’t often get post from South America. And if that envelope then also includes a Swedish folk CD, you can imagine the music team got a lot more than just interested. We were actually intrigued. The CD we got is called Dag O Natt, and the duo who sent it to us has the typical Argentine name of
A quick look at their Facebook page tells us a bit more:
-‘Vilsevind -Swedish for “wandering wind- is a Swedish-Argentine duo made up of spouses Sergio and Johanna Ribnikov Gunnarsson. As sound travels farther on water, their musical style can be described as North Sea music, a crossover between Nordic Folk and Celtic Music. Their main source of inspiration is Nordic history and folk life, superstitions and folklore and nature, especially that of the island of Öland, Johanna’s birthplace.’
And so I ended up with a North Sea folk album all the way from South America on my review desk. And I can already reveal, I am not complaining.
So Vilsevind is Swedish-born Johanna Ribnikov Gunnarsson on vocals and concertina, and Argentine-born Sergio Ribnikov Gunnarsson on vocals, Irish bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, hurdy gurdy, jaw harp and offerdalspipa (A Swedish flute based on a flute from the museum of the Offerdal Heritage Centre. It was bequeathed to the Heritage Centre in the 1960s by a man from Fiskviken, a village in the borough of Krokom.) Already an impressive list of instruments.
But the couple didn’t record Dag O Natt as a pure duo, not at all, it was a huge project with as much as twelve guest musicians involved, playing percussion, guitars, a Galician bagpipe, a Cretan Lyra, Strings and Irish whistles.
Vilsevind themselves already said that they play North Sea music, and from the first notes of Ingång: Dag you can hear this is more than just Swedish folk. This first song actually sounds more like film music with added sound effects. It sounds like a small vessel on the North Sea is washed ashore by the tides of time. In it are two musicians who wake up to tell their tale. I love the cello setting the tone in this song.
Ingång: Dag is followed by the upbeat song Fuego. Fuego is cool mix of folk influences. Think of a mix of the cabaresque sound of
Twigs and Twine,
the Swedish folk of
and a touch of medieval bagpipe.
The third song, Ödeblues, reminds me even more of Twigs & Twine. Not only in the way the music is arranged -a cabaresque, upbeat ballad that ends up as an acoustic power-ballad- but also in the vocals. Johanna has a pleasant voice that reminds me very much of Lian’s, one of Twigs & Twine’s female vocalists. Sergio has a nice warm voice that complements Johanna’s voice perfectly. As a singing duo their voices work very well together. During Ödeblues the different percussion and Irish bouzouki players join in. Where in Dag you could still say you are listening to a duo, during Fuego and especially Ödeblues it is clear that Vilsevind went for a full band sound. All in all Ingång: Dag, Fuego, and Ödeblues are a very pleasant start to this CD, that up to now is indeed more general Celtic sounding than pure Swedish.
Flat White/Elfshot is an instrumental song that starts as an instrumental Swedish folk ballad with Flat White, with a high pitched string- and tin whistle melody in it, that gives it an ever so slight Japanese/Chinese feel (to my ears at least.) I don’t think it is deliberate, but once I heard it I couldn’t get the comparison out of your mind anymore. What IS intended, is that the song is a lovely Celtic instrumental ballad that suddenly jumps to an Irish up-tempo dance song. And jump is the right word here. It really jumps from a ballad into a cheerful upbeat dance song, including an extremely cool jaw harp rhythm, bound to put a huge smile on your face (As will the story behind this song. Read it, you will laugh your a** off) A lovely musical surprise and this will not be the last surprising twist on Dag O Natt.
Thorsten Fiskare is a nice ballad based on a work by the Ölandic poet and playwright
Erik Johan Stagnelius.
Most of the songs, written by Sergio, Johanna or both of them together are in Swedish. The only two exceptions are Oración and Kalabalik which are sung in Spanish, the latter by Sergio. As far as I can tell from Google Translate (which had a looooot of trouble trying to translate the Swedish poetic lyrics into proper Dutch) all the songs are island folk poems, telling about universal themes as love, longing, loss, myth, and… wait for it… Coffee! For those who master Spanish, they can read all about the background of the songs on Vilsevind’s webpage. For those non-Spanish speaking readers, try translating the synopsis in Google Translate, that works much better. (Or you can use the link the band provided.
Coming back to Thorsten Fiskare, it is definitely one of my favourite songs on Dag O Natt. A lovely ballad to start with, The voices of Johanna and Sergio blend beautifully with the Irish bouzouki, and it would not be a Vilsevind song if the music didn’t change halfway through. In this case, you get the feeling
entered the studio to join in for a bit. Totally fitting for the story Vilsevind are telling in Thorsten Fiskare. Majsol is the loveliest of the ballads on Dag O Natt. A beautiful duet between Irish bouzouki and voice. There are moments at the start where I mistake Sergio’s bouzouki for a harp. Just stunning. The violin and concertina gliding into the sound at the end or the staccato string section after that are just the icing on an already beautiful cake. I have to compliment
Manuel Villar Lifac
on his string arrangements throughout the album, and also
Marcelo Ismael Rodriguez
who recorded, mixed and mastered Dag o Natt to an outstanding quality. I love all the bits and pieces added to the music to make it interesting. Well done!
By now we are nearing the end of the album. Virvelsinn is the song the duo wrote to give the name Vilsevind and everything it stands for its own voice. And indeed it represents the band perfectly. Virvelsinn is a celebration of poetic, European folk music. It feels like Johanna has taken the memories of her musical heritage and, together with the love of her life, and the new friends she gained, she plays it in a new land, both to cherish those memories and to give the music as a gift to the people in a new land she clearly loves too.
Kalabalik is one of the two songs in Spanish and the only one with Sergio on lead vocals, but don’t expect it to sound Argentinian at all. It’s a wonderful blend of Irish folk and Swedish traditional music in the Spanish tongue, admittedly with a bit of accordion that takes me to the lovely Celtic folk made in Brittany, as
Wouter & de Draak
would play it. And in that way Vilsevind keeps mixing the best bits of the western European folk music together. And Vilsevind has yet more tricks up their sleeve, how about an Indian sitar blended into Swedish folk for instance? In Vilsevinds musical world, not a problem. Another example is the lovely folk-pop flute melody in Tusentals Färdas, a song that could easily have been on
latest solo album too.
And that sums up Vilsevinds music. Its positive happy music, made with a big wink and a huge smile. Dag o Natt is indeed what Sergio and Johanna claim it is on their website: “A celebration of Swedish and Celtic folk music combined.” A celebration that I hope to hear a lot more of in the future. The world can use more musical smiles like this. A lot more, actually!
Editor: Sara Weeda,
Sleeve art: Sandra Núnez Castro,
Trobar de Morte – Witchcraft (2018) review
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,