Irfan – Roots (2018) review



Sunday the 25th of November, 14:45 PM, I am on Winter Castlefest, the 2018 edition. As I was getting ready to photograph the next band in ‘The Great Hall’-the name Castlefest has given to the big tent where the games are played and the indoor performances take place- I couldn’t help but notice Sowulo‘s Faber Auroch entering. The next to pass me was Sara (SeeD‘s singer/bouzouki player) and her partner. But I really started raising an eyebrow when some minutes later Brisinga‘s Fabi came by asking if I knew where the Imbue members were sitting. As I started looking around, I was also able to spot Rowan from Heidevolk and members from Sunfire and The Royal Spuds in the audience. All the members of Emian and Waldkauz had found a place in the front rows, as had former AmmA member Hanna van Gorcum and from the corner of my eye I could also see sound magician Fieke van den Hurk. Afterwards I discovered SeeD’s frontman Koen van Egmond and Sowulo’s harp player Chloé Bakker also attended the concert a day earlier. Now the Castlefest scene, as I fondly call the Pagan/fantasy folk scene we are all part of, has always been a really supportive one with bands visiting each other’s concerts and all kinds of collaborations happening on stage and behind the scenes. But even in this supportive scene it is rare for ten(!) bands to be represented at one concert. And that’s exactly what happened as Irfan got ready to play at the Castlefest 2018 Winter Edition. In a way it says all about the status Irfan has within the alternative Pagan folk scene.


Well, the concert was beautiful, mesmerising and captivating from start to finish. With the seating area placed closely around the podium, there was this real connection between the band and the audience. The atmosphere was pure magic, really captivating and Irfan were given a standing ovation at the end of the concert. It goes without saying that I acquired their newest mini-CD Roots straight after to try and hopefully re-experience a bit of that magic again at home. And that is exactly what happened when I put Roots in my CD player.

From the first notes of the opening song Mominstvo Irfan captivates you. They take you into ancient Persian times. You walk with them into the courts of India, you reminisce about the old days of the pharaohs. And it feels like the sharp desert sand brushes over your face while you marvel at the wonders of Petra. In their bio Irfan compare their music with audio-archaeology and I can clearly hear why they say that. Irfan has acquired the ability to fill their music with history. They manage to sound old and modern at the same time. Giving their music a timeless quality that is rare. They did it for the first time on their second album Seraphim. Mostly Seraphim is a mix between classical European music and Eastern European folk, -imagine Cesair meeting up with Loreena McKennitt, with Dead Can Dance or Ofra Haza joining in every now and again to spice things up-, but the song Return to Outremer, had that magical timeless feel to it for the first time. The band perfected this sound on their 2015 album The Eternal Return, making it one of my favourite ‘traditional’ folk CD’s ever. And they are doing it again on Roots. If you are a fan of the band, you can buy the album without reading any further. You won’t be disappointed.

But for those who don’t know the band yet, a short introduction:
Irfan is a Bulgarian band that formed in 2001. From the beginning Ivaylo Petrov (Middle-Eastern lute instruments), Peter Todorov (percussion), Yasen Lararov (traditional flutes and harmonium) and Kalin Yordanov (vocals and percussion) have taken influences of the traditional music from the Balkan, Anatolie, Persia, the Middle East, North Afrika and India. For centuries the Balkan have been the portal between the Medieval and Byzantine world on one side and the Ottoman world and Middle Eastern world on the other. Influences and heritage from all these areas with their ancient civilizations find a beautiful marriage in Irfan’s sound. Up till now Irfan have recorded three albums: Irfan (2003), Seraphim (2007) and The Eternal Return (2015).

The basis of the Irfan sound nowadays is the warm electronic string and choir carpet they lay. On top of that comes the deep, warm, hypnotic male voice from Kalin, the beautiful melody lines from the harmonium and wind instruments, the upbeat percussion from Peter and Kalin. Although most Irfan songs are slow balladesque songs, the percussion gives them a real upbeat character. The icing on the cake are then the beautiful female lead vocal lines. On their first albums, Irfan featured Denitza Seraphim as the lead female vocalist. On Roots Darina Zlatkova takes over that role. For the fans that will not be seen as a major difference, both singers are equally talented. You could argue that Denitza’s voice is a touch warmer in tone, that’s all.

Irfan’s previous album The Eternal Return was a lovely blend from all their influences. Taking us all over ancient Europe, North America and the Middle East. Their sound on The Eternal Return could be compared with Dead Can Dance meets Loreena McKennitt in her Mediterranean Odyssey period. On a song like In The Gardens Of Armida you can even hear a touch of Clannad in the vocals.
Roots is a touch different, not only is it the first album recorded with Darina, it is also the first album where the songs are not written by the band. They are all based on traditional Bulgarian songs, arranged by either Ivaylo Petrov, Darina Zlatkova or Yasen Lazarov. I can’t tell if it is Darina’s tone of voice or the concept behind the album, but Roots sounds a touch more intimate then on The Eternal Return. As if the band comes home again on this album, after the many faraway places they sang about on The Eternal Return.

It’s actually amazing how little the band needs to build up a beautiful song. A touch of keyboard, some strings, a tap on the drums and Darina’s warm voice and see, the goose bumps are already there. Build up like that Momphinstvo is not only a beautiful intro into More, Ta Nali, but also into the whole CD. More, Ta Nali is one of the more up-tempo songs on roots. Uplifting percussion, mesmerising flute melodies and again Darina’s wonderful warm voice. I just love, how in Middle-Eastern cultures the voice is more than a carrier of words, it is an instrument in itself. With the surprise percussion break in the middle More, Ta Nali is easily my favourite song on Roots. The single Rusa is equally beautiful. This ballad really features Darina’s voice. One of the members of Seed, Sara, lovingly put it to words on Darina’s Facebook page: “I think Roots is the perfect way of introducing you to the people who haven’t seen you perform with the band yet. What you can do with your voice is amazing, and hearing Rusa for the first time made me cry a little”. There isn’t anything more I can add to that well-deserved compliment.

One of the key elements of the Irfan sound is how subtle the music is, minimalistic almost. On Dyulber Yana for instance the song doesn’t actually start, it slowly evolves from a single note to a beautiful song. Solos are also not clearly ‘started’, they appear in the music, the melody lines just slide into a solo piece and they slide out again just as easily. Yasen places some really nice harmonium melodies in it, quite catchy actually, and it is surprising how this ballad picks up speed in the end.

Emeriga is -in the Irfan world- a fast dance song. Driving percussion, doubled vocals, cool string instrument, and the wonderful low ‘hoarse’ flute solo, all together make for a really powerful energetic song. A real crowd-pleaser amongst the dancers during live shows, I’m sure of it, and also one of my favourites on the album.
Lyube Le is already the last song on Roots. Sadly, because I would have loved to hear one or two more songs, Roots is that beautiful. Anyway, Lyube Le is another stunning song. A beautiful intro featuring Ivaylo on lute and -she has been mentioned before- the wonderful Darina. The tender duet between Yasen and Ivaylo also can’t go unnoticed. On this song Irfan leaves the homely feel and drifts of to the ancient world again. Back into the magical music world they so beautifully created.

To sum it all up, Roots is a beautiful addition to your Irfan collection or a stunning gateway into the musical world of this wonderful Bulgarian band. Either way if you love the music of Dead Can Dance, Cesair and Loreena McKennitt, then this is a must-have CD. 10 out of 10 if we were giving points.

– Cliff

Editor: Diane
Pictures: taken at Winter Castlefest by Cliff de Booy Photography

Sowulo – Sol (2016)



When I started as a reviewer for CeltCast in the autumn of 2017, I wrote several reviews in one go. Most of them are published, but two were put on the shelf for later use. As is common with stuff on shelves, they were forgotten, collecting dust in a dark corner of my laptop. Now, with Sowulo already recording their third album, I dug the review of Sol up again. We finally focus our attention to Sowulo’s second album, and everything which happened before that, because you can’t introduce Sol without mentioning their first CD Alvenrad. So we start the story with that album, taking us all the way back to 2010.
In 2010 Faber Horbach started developing the concept of what would become Sowulo – a project named after the Germanic rune for the Sun – and started composing the music for what would become the Alvenrad album. An album Sowulo described back then as ambient folk music inspired by Germanic mythology. The name Alvenrad came from the Germanic name for the sun and the album was a celebration of the pagan year festivals. Nowadays Sowulo refers to this CD as ritual music.The album came out in 2012 and the band members were, besides Faber Horbach on piano and chant, Klaartje van Zwoll on violin and chant, Koen van Egmond (SeeD) on flute and Tom Latten on percussion. The recordings were done by Fieke van den Hurk.

Looking back at this period Faber Horbach explains: ‘I did indeed compose Alvenrad all by myself.The concept of Alvenrad was the sun, the four seasons and the pagan festivals that go with it. The subtitle of the CD was: celebrating our great pagan legacy. The whole idea was born out of my own wish to be able to play appropriate music to the specific pagan festivals we celebrate nowadays. The music on Alvenrad is therefore dedicated to those yearly festivals and the wheel of life, the way nature evolves during a year, because these are universal themes within paganism. I didn’t restrict myself to a Germanic or Celtic view on those festivals. We don’t exactly know how they were celebrated anyway. Instead I let myself be influenced by the different ‘feel’ of those festivals and tried to express that in my compositions.
Funny story is, when I started recording Alvenrad at Fieke van den Hurk’s Orchus studio – the predecessor of the Dearworld studio – I had just gotten all the musicians that I needed together. In the studio I worked with all of them on their parts separately. It was only after recording Alvenrad that they all came together for the first time to shake hands. In that meeting the idea was born to try and play the music live. That’s how Sowulo as a band came together.’

As Faber explained Alvenrad is a concept album themed around the neopagan festivals. The CD is divided into four sections; winter, spring, summer and autumn, ending with the song Winter Solstice to complete the circle again. Every section starts with a sound sample setting the season. Be it footsteps in the snow, the crickets in the full summer sun or the thunder of an autumn storm. In between there are eight songs representing all the pagan festivals, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon and Samhain. Although they are all separate songs, I cannot listen to them as such. In my eyes Alvenrad is a paganfolk / classical symphony with a continuous flow. Every piece has its time and place within the whole composition.
Yule and Imbolc start the CD of in a classical style, the piano setting the tone of the music, with the violin and the wind instruments weaving in their melodies. It’s the percussion and the chants that stops you from seeing this as pure modern classical music. That balance between the two is maintained throughout the album, although the ritual folk influences get stronger and stronger as Alvenrad continues, building up to the beautiful climax of Lammas and the darker but equally beautiful Mabon.
It was with this CD that I fell in love with Fieke‘s recording talents. Just as with Cesair‘s Dies, Nox Et Omnia she gave Alvenrad a powerful damatic orchestral sound that fits so well with the music and the idea behind the album. If you love classical music and instrumental ritual pagan folk This is a CD you want to have in your collection.

Fast forward 4 years. Pan Bartkowiak became the new percussionist and Celtic harp player Chloe Bakker also joined the band. In this configuration Sowulo recorded their second album Sol. A CD with 7 new compositions and 6 that we know from Alvenrad, the songs Beltane, Ostara, Imbolc, Yule, Mabon and Lammas. So the big question beforehand was, is Sol a pimped up mini CD. Well the answer is a definitive no. Opening track Noodlot (fate) picks up where Alvenrad stopped. It is a slow, classically influenced duet between flute and violin, with percussion and choir giving it that ritual pagan feel again. Ginnungagap, the second song, starts in a similar way, introducing Chloé on harp, but it’s Koen van Egmond who is the star in this song. His beautiful flute melodies just dance through the music, absolutely beautiful, especially when Klaartjes viola joins him for a musical pas de deux. One of the highlights on Sol.
It took till the third song, Skoll, for me to finally realise what the big difference between Alvenrad and Sol is. The lack of piano. Faber changed his piano for the bouzouki, the hammered dulcimer and the nyckelharpa, wich gives a totally different, much opener sound. Skoll even has some Eastern European, Irfanesque moments in it. Songs like Beltane, Lammas or Mabon, that sounded really dramatic on Alvenrad, now have a more cheerful, springlike bounce to the music, while keeping the spiritual message.
Listening to the rearranged songs it becomes clear Sowulo wants us to celebrate those ancient festivals, dance on them. Whereas on Alvenrad we were invited to join in the sacred circle, hand in hand, closed eyes, with the druids leading us in chant through the greatness that is life.
The band themselves describe Sol as: ‘Much more energetic than the first album.’ and I totally agree. Asking Faber about this he replied: ‘With the re-recording of some of songs on Sol we did change the tempo and even the key they were played in. Some parts have been rewritten and parts have been added as well. The idea was to make it sound less melancholic, more happy, free and dynamic. A bit more ‘grounded’ in a way. For me it’s important that people know that, although the music on both CDs is inspired by the pagan traditions of the old Northern European cultures, it is music meant for the ‘now’! It is music made for modern people who feel inspired by those old traditions.’

The last two songs on Sol: Arvakr and Alsvidr clearly have a different feel than the rest of the album. They are Swedish dancesongs featuring, besides Koen on flute and Pan on percussion, the nyckelharpa, giving Sowulo’s music a whole new dimension, more towards Oliver S Tyr’s project Kaunan. Will this be the direction Sowulo is gonna take on the next album? Only time will tell.

A year after writing this review I’m still in love with both CD’s. Which one I prefer mostly depends on the mood I am in. On a sunny day when I want to celebrate life, I turn to the more cheerful ‘pagan folk meets chamber music’ album Sol. On that cold winter morning, when I want to sit, be carried away and re-energized, I put on the more classical, ritual music of Alvenrad. Either way, both are well worth adding to your collection.

-Cliff

-editor Diane
-pictures taken at Castlefest, winter 2016 and Summer 2018, by Cliff de Booy photography

Meidi Goh – Heartstrings (2018)



The autumn queen came home again,
she flew with geese by starlight.
Acorn and chestnut called her name,
as did rain and flame and twilight.


This is part of the poem The Autumn Queen which opens Meidi Goh‘s first solo EP Heartstrings. Meidi wrote the poem herself and to her it is a portal into her work, her music. After some years studying classical and baroque violin, Meidi started playing with the baroque ensemble Kolibrie. After that she joined the Dutch jazzy folk band AmmA. The last year Meidi devided her attention between the Dutch historic folk band Imbue and her first solo album.
“After many years in bands I wanted to share my own musical ideas and my own personal stories.” Meidi told me: “This is how Heartstrings was born. I wanted to make music that was a bridge between Elisabethan baroque music and folk. I wanted it to have as pure a sound as possible. I wanted the listener to hear every stroke of the bow over the strings we played. I also wanted the music and my voice to sound as honest as possible. With my perfections but also imperfections, everything as pure as possible. The lyrics straight from my heart, hence the title Heartstrings.” Well I can tell you, she absolutely achieved that.
Heartstrings contains 7 tracks, one poem, one traditional, two covers and 3 original compositions written by herself.
Lovelorn is the first of Meidi’s own compositions and it’s a beautiful ballad. It is, obviously, a love song, a bit melancholic in text and music as most of the songs on Heartstrings. It tells about a love that is not to be. The string section in this song is already lovely, but what really jumps out are the voices. Meidi has a wonderful skilled soprano. When she goes into the heights of her voice she hits the notes perfectly in what I would call ‘classic’ soprano style, but in the lower regions she returns to her ‘normal’ voice, giving the song so much more personality. Her voice has this youthful fragility and purity that make the hairs stand up. So beautiful. From the beginning I had to think of some of the top young boy sopranos, hearing her voice. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.
Everybody who has seen the musical Oliver Twist for instance, will remember young Oliver singing Who Will Buy This Beautiful Morning. There is this youthful innocence when he sings that song, one we all know will disappear when he gets older that makes it so touching. Somehow Meidi managed to keep that young and pure quality in her voice, although she is an accomplished singer. And somehow Jacco de Wijs-van Gorcum has managed to capture that while recording the vocals. Of course we know him as one of the frontmen of the Dutch folk metalband Heidevolk, but here he proves he is just as talented behind the mixer. Especially in the chorus, where Hanna van Gorcum joins Meidi in a call and answer that is as pure as crystal. Stunning.

After I asked Meidi about her singing style, she explained more about it:’ When I was young I grew up with ‘old’ music. Music from the renaissance and baroque era. One of the stand out features of these periods is the different use of vibrato in the music and in the singing. A lot milder and totally different in intensity from how we use it today. In those days people were more interested in purity of sound. And indeed that is just how the boy sopranos sing. That style actually originates from this early period. the heavier use of vibrato started to appear in the 18th century, with the first operas from the classical time period which followed the baroque, and even more so in the romantic period. Hanna van Gorcum is much more classically trained. You could call my voice an ‘old’ or baroque music voice.’

Jacco is not the only talented musician involved in Heartstrings. I already mentioned Hanna van Gorcum (TDW & Dreamwalker inc, former AmmA) on voice and nyckelharpa. There is also Coca Román (Kelten Zonder Grenzen, Violet) on harp, Hester de Boer (Violet) on cello and quinton, -a 5 stringed violin that was build and played between early 18th century and the French revolution, you could call it a viola and a violin in one instrument-, and Imbue colleague Tim Elfring on davul. All but Tim join Meidi on the next song, Waltz For The Little Mermaid, written and partly arranged by Meidi. The other musicians where all given room to arrange their own parts on this song, giving them all a chance to shine.
Meidi insisted that all the songs would be recorded as an ensemble, in one take, keeping with the pure natural feel that she was after, only the vocals were recorded separately. And I can only say, it worked. The songs just sparkle. Jacco did wonders catching it all on tape, and after that, mixing engineer Fieke van den Hurk and mastering engineer Sander van der Heide made the most of all the quality that they were given.

My favourite track on Heartstrings is another original composition, Foxskin. Balfolk people will love this song, I’m sure of it. This cheerful fun song brings together all the elements that define Meidi Goh’s classical folk style. It’s the perfect blend between the baroque music that she started out with and the English folk she fell in love with later on in her musical career. English because of the pronunciation of the lyrics. It is as if Loreena McKennitt and Johann Sebastian Bach did a baroque minuet / folk CD together. Sounds odd? Maybe but believe me it so makes sense when you hear the songs. The two worlds just blend naturally together in Meidi’s compositions. The song itself is about a young lady who, at night, turns into a fox to dance with the elves and other magical creatures in the dark woods

My Love Came To Dublin is the first cover I want to mention. It’s a song originally co-written and recorded by June Tabor. And it fits perfectly within Meidi’s own songs. I once called Gwendolyn Snowdon a storyteller, well Meidi is a poet. And her songs are poetry in music form. The Lyrics of My Love came To Dublin fit right in, with that slight old English feel. It’s a melancholic song full of longing for an absent lover. The deep sound of the seven stringed bass viol enhances that sad autumn feel and is a lovely contrast to Meidi’s angelic voice. Coca’s harp then enhances the purity of it. Again a lovely song. Recorded and mixed so well.

Konungen Och Trollkvinnan, is another cover. It was originally recorded by the Finnish folkband Gjallarhorn. As Gjallarhorn hail from the only part of Finland where Swedish is the main language Trollkvinnan is a Swedish song, based around the sound of violin and nyckelharpa, this in contrast to the other songs on Heartstrings. This reminds me more of Kaunan ‘s music or that of the Swiss duo Knep on Bestioles. A CD I reviewed a few months ago.

The last song on Heartstrings is a traditional that goes by the name, Once I Had A Sweetheart. Hanna starts this song with a lovely nyckelharpa solo. And Meidi once again pours out her melancholic heart on the low tones of her bass viol. She sometimes affectionately calls her bass viol ‘my muse’. This Viola da gamba -the Dutch name for it- was specially made for Meidi’s mother many years ago. -Meidi herself even drew the design of the head- and her mother asked Meidi:’You will play her after I’m gone won’t you? And needless to say Meidi did just that to this very day.
This is a mini CD that will appeal to open minded classical people as much as it will people that enjoy the lovely folk ballads of bands like AmmA, Anuna, and Rosemary & Garlic or the more traditional songs from Loreena McKennitt, Altan and the German band Cara, (whose new live CD I’ll be reviewing later this year) . Don’t expect fast dancing songs on Heartstrings, they are all slow to mid tempo ballads. But there are some nice balfolk dances on it. Trollkvinnan can be used for a Swedish halling, Waltz For The Little Mermaid off course is a waltz, My Love Came To Dublin is a muzarka and the most complicated one is Foxskin, this song combines a scottish with a waltz.

Meidi, together with all the talented friends that she invited to help her, has made a wonderful CD, that she can be really proud of. I have only one complaint with it. For such beautiful music, it ends way too soon. So here’s hoping that the next album will come soon, and that it will be a full length one. ‘Till then Heartstrings shall make many a turn more in my CD player.



Cliff

Editor: Diane

Picture credit:
– CD sleeve picture by Alexander Holwerda
– CD artwork by Meidi Goh
– studio photo by Meidi Goh
– live pictures by Cliff de Booy


Brisinga – Vísa Nornir (2017)



-”We musically fell in love.” That’s the heart warming way Brisinga‘s Fabi described meeting Fanny for the first time. It is also the best way to describe what happened to me while reviewing Brisinga’s debut CD Vísa Nornir. I musically fell in love with these talented ladies.
Brisinga bring together the best in pagan- , Nordic- and dream folk, and blend it into beautiful songs. They call it psychedelic folk. I think minimal Nordic folk is a better description, but either way Vísa Nornir is a lovely CD that I gladly recommend! But before I get into the music let ‘s give Fabi some time to introduce Brisinga a bit more.


“At this point in time Brisinga is a duo. Myself on hurdy-gurdy, recorders, flutes and vocals and Fanny, who also sings and plays the harp. Brisinga started out as a fire and music show founded by Fanny and Johanna. Because of the fire element they chose a name coming from the Edda. It means something like fire, flame or light. Maybe you know that Freya had an amber necklace called Brísingamen, which she got from four dwarvs. How she got it is a intresting story in itself. Anyway the name Brisinga is based on that.
In the end the fire thing didn’t work out so Johanna, -who played Bodhrán and percussion and sang backing vocals,- and Fanny decided to only focus on playing music. In the meantime I met Fanny in another project and we musically fell in love. We tried building a repertoire with folk covers, but we wrote so much music together that after a short while we left the covers behind us and focussed on our own songs instead.

We first visited the Dearworld studio in December 2015 to record an EP. But we got so inspired recording the EP that we wrote even more songs so we could make a whole CD. In winter 2016 we returned to the Dearworld studio once more and Vísa Nornir came out on April 11th 2017. In the summer of last year Johanna chose another path and now it’s only Fanny and me. Although sometimes we perform with a guest cello player, which complements our music really nicely we think.
Fanny and me both studied music at the same university in Germany, a fun fact is that Fanny studied in the Netherlands before that. Why did we choose folk music? Well we listened to very different music before it all began, but we both were fascinated by the sound of folk instruments. We wanted to play folk in a kind of minimalistic way as you can hear on the CD. Our newer songs are a bit more complex and have a different intention.”
Fabi ends her introduction of Brisinga with a YouTube link you find below in which the Brisingirls introduce themselves even more.



Vísa Nornir opens with Einsemd (solitude) And that’s exactly how it sounds. Fabi’s beautiful voice ringing out into the air as she is standing on a Nordic fjord. It can be seen as an intro, calming, preparing your mind for the music yet to come. The next song Cernunnos picks up as it was still part of Einsemd. It’s a dance based on a dream according to the booklet. And it starts with a lovely gentle harp piece, reminiscent of Omnia‘s The Naked Harp CD. Now with Brisinga making nature influenced pagan folk, using harp, hurdy-gurdy, bodhrán and overtone flutes, it’s really easy to make the Omnia connection and there are moments when they use the same musical techniques Stenny also use to create a mood. But there is a big difference in sound. The difference between day and… ….evening. Summer and Autumn. Where Omnia and other Dutch pagan bands enrich the music, add details in it to make it as cheerful and bright as a summer’s day, Brisinga tone the music down. Less is more. Just as the setting sun turns the sky into an orange flame and all things are turned down to their essential forms. Silhouettes against the warm orange sky. If you think of Dutch/German pagan bands like Omnia and Waldkauz as storytellers, then Brisinga’s music is poetry. It’s autumn, it’s red. Yellow. Tactile and Brown. Warm yet gentle. Calming yet strong. It’s beautiful.

I have to say here that Brisinga found the perfect person,in Fieke van den Hurk, to record Vísa Nornir in the way they envisioned it. After the lovely gentle harp intro in Cernunnos, Fanny raises the speed into almost an Irish jig. The bodhrán joins in but in a very subtle way. It’s played ever so gently. The last to join in is Fabi. And the song becomes a beautiful duet between harp and hurdy-gurdy. Fabi plays her hurdy gurdy so gently, it sounds more like a cello than the normal loud almost’shouting’, medieval market instrument I’m used to hear.
Listen to Cernunnos with headphones and you can clearly hear every key being touched. I never thought I would say it but those ‘clicks’ sound beautiful. It becomes a bit of extra percussion in the music. So cleverly recorded by Fieke. Well done!

Vapaa Ja Villi is a Finnish song. The lyrics, as in most of the songs, are written by Fabi, and it is a duet of voices this time. Fanny and Fabi have beautiful voices that blend so well together. Vapaa Ja Villi is themed as a dance song again; three witches dancing in a forest. And those voices really dance. They dance around each other, high and low, up and down the Nordic night, around the treetops and into your ears.

The Ones That Look Up To The Oaktrees is a medley of songs with an Irish feel. The first part Copper And Ocean features Fanny on harp and vocals. She has this deep warm, a bit hoarse voice that everybody would wish to have next to their bed to sing them to sleep. This first part reminds me of Sinead O’Connor‘s Last Day Of Our Acquaintance, especially with Fanny’s voice. Definitely a favourite part of Vísa Nornir for me.

Which takes me straight to the most beautiful song on Vísa Nornir, Sinä Ja Minä. It’s a tribal song in the good tradition of Kati Ran‘s Suurin or Eivor‘s Trollabundin, and a stunning one.
According to the booklet it’s a hunting song inspired by Finnish mythology and it does have this hunting, daunting feel over it. Again the basis is really simple. Two voices in harmony together and a single drum. Beauty doesn’t need more. It’s the harp and the overtone flute that then take you deep into the Nordic night. Running with the wolves as the northern light expand into their full grandeur over the dark sky. Really, a stunner of a song!

Sol øg Rog brings you right down again. So small, so tender. If you want to understand what Brisinga ment when they said they want to bring a minimalistic feel to their folk music, this is it. This is Nordic pagan folk meets dreamfolk. This is what makes Brisinga stand out from the other pagan folk bands. It’s their signature upon the genre,
The following song Samhain starts equally beautifully. It’s a word I use a lot in this review, beautiful, but it’s the only way I can describe Brisinga’s music. It’s beautiful how the song doesn’t really start, no the harp just appears out of the silence.

Módir Min is an Icelandic ghost story about abandoned children in the freezing cold, dedicated to Brisinga’s beloved mothers. With the piano-like harp and angelic voice of Fabi it reminds me a lot of Martine Kraft‘s Sølje intro. And, here comes that word again, it’s just beautiful.
As Fanny’s harp gently leads me into the very last song, I realise I don’t want to talk about the music anymore.
I just want to listen to it.
Feel it.
Absorb it.

The sentences stop,
they become words,
single words,

voices,
harmonic,
soothing.

As they whisper,
softly,
calm,
is my mind



Cliff

Editor: Diane
picture credits:
Brisinga promo picture by Brisinga,
Fanny live picture by Kees Stravers,
Fabi live picture by Ralph de Gaël.

The SIDH – Another Way To Fly (2018)



Every now and again Alex and Arjan, the founding fathers of CeltCast, like to throw a curveball at me. But when Alex pushed the Sidh‘s Another Way To Fly CD in my hands, saying he would love me to write a review on it, I felt seriously out of my comfort zone. Not that I suspected the music to be bad, 5000 plus people going nuts while watching the Sidh turn Castlefest into one big dance party can’t be wrong. No, it’s more that I’m a hardrock/metalhead at heart and when I was young, you either where ‘metal’ or ‘gabber’. The two didn’t mix that well. Only occasionally did I pick up on some dance acts, the latest ones being The KLF, Daft Punk, Dance 2 Trance and Faithless, all ’90’s Eurodance/trance acts. You can safely say the whole electronic dance scene passed by, without me paying attention to it. To get a dubstep album pushed into my hands, even if it has folk elements in it,…well…Let’s say I needed some convincing.
And boy did the Sidh convince me, did they ever!
But first I had to figure out what that was, dubstep??? So I spent a nice couple of hours on Wikipedia and YouTube doing research.
Dubstep started in London’s underground dance scene around 1998. UK Garage deejays started mixing their dance music with reggae style rhythms and percussion. First it was dub remixes that went on B-sides of singles, (versions of the songs without the vocals.), later it became a style of its own. The early UK style dubstep was relatively slow and really reggae like in feel. Just as in reggae the bass lines and percussion rhythms were inregular and broken, with the emphasis on the uneven beats, especially the third, although you almost won’t hear that on Another Way To Fly. What you will hear, is another feature of early dubstep, a real low, pumping sub-bass sound, or as a early flyer once said: ‘A bass sound to make your chest cavity shudder.’
In 2005 dubstep was getting mainstream, being picked up by two BBC DJ’s. Around that time some dubstep producers started to work less with sub-bass and more with mid-range sounds. One of them, Rusko, was influenced by Swedish and Finnish producers who had a dance style with simple synthesizer leads and basslines with funk, r&b or soul rhythms, a sound that has become known as Skweeee (yep, really, no kidding.)
American producers picked up on this new style of dubstep and added robotic vocal effects and metal-like riffs, producing a way more aggressive sort of dubstep, normally called brostep. Skrillex is one of the best known producers of this style of dance music. Listening to the music on Another Way To Fly I would say it is mostly influenced by this later UK and American style.

Getting back to the Sidh, they are an Italian band, with an interesting line up for a dance act. It starts with Federico Melato. As it is to be expected he plays the synthesizer, but also piano and percussion. Michael Subet plays the bass, also not that weird in a dance act. But then we have Salvatore Pagliaro on guitar and Iain Marr on whistles, bagpipes (?!) and guitar. That is what makes the Sidh stand out. They are as much a live band as they are a dance-act, and you can hear that in their music.
In 2012 their first CD Follow The Flow came out. A nice album where the Sidh first introduced their own unique style of dance music. You can hear the band experiment with the energetic Irish folk music on one side, and the English style dubstep beats on the other. Despite the electronics used, it has an open, in parts acoustic-, sometimes even a rock feel. It’s as if Soar patrol‘s guitarist Steve Legget and piper Chick Allen stepped in the studio with Harmony Glen‘s flutist/piper Gilian Hettinga and they would have Rusko as a producer.
The second album Nitro came out in 2014. On this album the Sidh managed to further blend the two different styles together, leaving us with eight upbeat folk/dance songs and one lovely instrumental ballad called Believe. (you have to look up that song, it is beautiful) Compared to Another Way To Fly, Nitro still sounds really open, Mostly because Iain uses the flute as his main solo instrument, just occasionally the bagpipe comes out.

Now there is the third CD, Another Way To Fly. And where Nitro sounded happy this CD really kicks you in the butt. The folk influences are just as Irish and cheerful as on previous albums, but the dubstep beats pack a real punch this time, taking the best of the heavy American brostep style and the old skool UK sub-bass beats.
Those beats are immediately apparent in the opening song Shake That Bagpipe. It starts with a pumping baseline, followed by Iain’s whistle kicking off the first Irish tune. After that the Sidh throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, flute, bagpipe, breaks, slow dubstep sections, cool percussion, fast pumping basslines, catchy hooks, and all that in just 3:48 minutes. This is a wake-up call, as strong as two litres of Italian expresso. No way you are gonna sit still on this song!

Now that we are awake The Silk Road ‘eases’ us into the album. It starts in a way that is reminiscent of the Sidh’s first CD. A calm intro with acoustic guitar and a friendly flute tune, the bassline doesn’t ‘kick in’ this time but blends in and the string section helps to make this a mellow midtempo song, getting you in the flow of the album after the mindboggling start of it. It is, aside from the beats, a really lovely Irish tune. The Sidh carefully build layer upon layer to tell a musical story, proving that electronic dance music isn’t always a bunch of beats thrown together, but can be beautiful and touching as well. It’s also one of the few songs that are only leaning on the flute. The Sidh have discovered the raw power of the bagpipe and are using it to its full potential on Another Way To Fly. It’s the leading melodic instrument in almost all of the 14 songs.

The third song, Khan, picks up on The Silk Road‘s theme with Marcin Ruminski doing some impressive, Mongolian style throat singing. Marcin is the founder, vocalist and whistler of the Polish folk band Shannon. Again it’s a catchy tune telling a story, the sound of the melody reminding me of an old Italian space synth band I used to like called Koto. It is a nice upbeat song, although I have to say, after the really strong intro with the big drums and the throat singing, I was hoping for a wee bit more adventurous middle section with more of a Mongolian feel and instruments. Now the Sidh drop back to ‘just’ bagpipe and flute. Why not go all the way? It would make the album more varied and therefore even stronger.

By the time we get to the fourth song Alba, it’s clear what the recipe for a good the Sidh composition is. It starts with nice catchy intro, mostly with flute, then the beats kick in. The intro becomes the hook where the song is built around. One or two breaks are build in to open up the music and make the beats sound stronger. And under it all there is always that powerful combination of sub low bass and bagpipe. It may sound a bit dull written out like this, but not to worry, the Sidh do this so well. The power of this this recipe is in the quality of the melodies used. They are well composed, full-on Irish folk tunes. Iain is a gifted flute and bagpipe player and he is fast, seriously fast. Quite often he equals Perkelt‘s Paya Lehane in speed. Impressive stuff. Where the American brostep style focusses on aggression, the Sidh bring something new to it, positive vibes. You hear the heritage of the old Italo-disco sound in there, and the folk tunes are the perfect way to carry that through.
Alba is a good example of how cool a dancetrack can be, played the Sidh way, a mellow upbeat Italo-disco/trance melody on flute or synth, with the low bassline and bagpipe under it to give it some oomph. One of my favourite songs on the album.

And so we come to my favourite song on Another Way To Fly. The best song of the Sidh in general I think. One of my favourite songs of the last few months actually, IRIDIUM!
It starts with an impressive synthesizer organ creating a wall of chords. When, in the second bar, the bagpipe and bass join in, this wall of chords just blow you away. The song is built around a cool bagpipe hook, catchy as anything. I just love that hook and, oh joy (!), they keep repeating it! again and again! it’s just magic! When the electric guitar kicks in, shooting off fast metal riffs I’m already gone..No stopping me getting to that dancefloor. What a song. Haven’t heard such a strong dancefloor filler since the KLF’s Last Train To Trancentral. Love it!



After this wall of sound we get our first breather. I Can’t Let Go is a ballad sung by the second guest musician Tim Chaisson. He is a Canadian folk/pop singer songwriter. I Can’t Let Go shows the sensitive side of The Sidh. Two suggestions came up while listening to this song. First I would have loved the song to be a bit longer. It stops rather unexpectedly and abrupt. Secondly, after the adrelin rush caused by Iridium, I personally would have loved to dance a bit more, before having this breather. Around song nine I would say. But i’m nitpicking now, I Can’t Let Go is a lovely song with a quality singer, no question about it.

The pace is picked up again with Sileadh and Vault. More cool bagpipe folk hooks with upbeat flute solo’s cutting through the wall of sound. The feel of folk- and trance chords cheering you up, as the dubstep bass makes sure you don’t stop dancing for a second.
I have to say, I love this album. I really do. My only wish for the next album is that the band go a bit bolder with the production. With a sound as orchestral as Another Way To Fly, I would have loved to have had more surprises in the production to keep me on my toes. The ultra heavy metal-guitar-with-low-bass-break in Vault for instance. How cool would it have been if those riffs had been shooting in my ears from left to right . I think I would have gone mental if they had done that. Don’t get me wrong. It is a heavy song as it is and on a brilliant album but treats like that would have been the icing on the cake.

Well there is nothing more to say really, besides that the Scottish piper and folk composer Ross Ainslie joins the Sidh on Heroes and that Goldie’s Goldie seems to be a homage the flute builder Colin Goldie. He makes the flutes Iain Marr plays on and is featured on this song.
Another Way To Fly is the Sidh’s strongest album till now in my opinion. The band has found the perfect blend between all the different influences, making it their own in a style I would call Sidh-step! If you are just as much at home on the dancefloor, as you are on the Castlefest fields, then this is the CD for you. The ‘Sidhstep’ dance they play will get you going time and time again. If big beats are not your thing, you might want to check their first album Follow The Flow. It’s a ‘lighter’ dance album. More flute, more folk orientated with less of the heavy powerbeats. More the old skool dubstep and therefore easier to listen to.
And what about me, the old metalhead? Well I’m converted. I’m so glad Alex put this CD in my hands and pushed me out of my comfort zone. The Sidh definitely got me hooked on the dubstep sound. Thanks guys for opening up another musical world to me.



Cliff

editor:
Diane

photo Credits:
Photographer Ruben Meuwese.
First picture taken at Keltfest 2018, other pictures taken at Castlefest 2018.
All pictures posted with kind permission of Vana Events.






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