The Castlefest Collective – Hope is the thing with feathers (2020)

If I have to pick one word to describe this album it would be grand. It is Grand in the number of artists involved, (42 artists representing more than 20 bands are involved in this record); it is a grand gift from those artists to Castlefest; and grand is the word I want to use to describe the sound of the eight songs on this album. Rich and grand!

Grand was also my surprise when I heard the album for the first time. For me Castlefest is synonymous with cheerful danceable balfolk tunes and upbeat, organic pagan folk. It is a 4-day dance party that starts at 11:00 in the morning with the first balfolk workshops, and ends deep at night with the not-so-silent-disco. A four-day summer celebration.
This album feels totally different. As I said, it is majestic, impressive, orchestral, and totally not what I was expecting. A clear case of preconception. Something I always try to avoid as a reviewer, but this time I found it almost impossible not to do.
Luckily, I soon realized Hope Is The Thing With Feathers wasn’t meant as a ‘the best of Castlefest’ CD. We already have those. It wasn’t meant as a replacement Castlefest party. No, it was born out of the need to do something; to give some hope in a time when everything seems pushed out of place; to share love in a time when compassion is best given by keeping your distance. It’s born from the urge to make sense of it all, in the only way artists can, by putting it to music. That is what The Castlefest Collective is, a supergroup of artists coming together in a time we seem to be forced apart. Expressing what they felt when it happened and as it happened, giving it to us as a gift of hope.
Sharing that message of hope starts straight away with the title track Hope Is The Thing With Feathers. That intro so small; so touching. As always Laurens Krah (Pyrolysis) manages to pull so much emotion out of his accordion. It sounds soft, sensitive, melancholic, and oh so touching. A sentiment easily fed by the vocals of Oliver Satyr and Adaya (Faun, Adaya). I’m taken right back to the days of Folk Noir. This is pagan singer/songwriter folk at its very, very best.
It is the piano of Alex Nicola that gives this delicate ballad some instant richness. A richness that is carried through into the second verse in the most beautiful of ways, adding sounds and accents as the song continues. A hurdy-Gurdy riff here, a mandolin accent there, and as a binding factor those oozing voices of Oliver and Adaya.
The best part is still to come, the build-up to the grand finale. First, the viola solo by Marijn Lammertink, (Scarred Grace, and yes the sister of…) which leads you into the recorder solo of Paya Lehane (PerKelt), followed by verse three, before the Castlefest choir joins in for the first time. This goes way beyond anything I ever heard in pagan folk. This is Castlefest meeting Night Of The Proms! A true pagan folk rhapsody! Stunning! My first goosebumps moment!

But it is not the only song on Hope Is The Thing With Feathers with a big, almost poplike sound. Dark Lullaby is an impressive shanty-like song, the starting melody written by Corné van Woerdekom (Finvarra, Scrum) and the lyrics written by the ‘new kid on the block of the pagan folk scene’ Quentin Maltrud (Le Garçon de l’Automne). This song will surely appeal to those who love the music of Plunder, Varend volk and Faun.
Solstice Prayer has Paya and Rick Lehane written all over it. A song that could easily have been on Paya’s 2018 solo CD Oppidamus. The beautiful doubled vocals of Paya and Sara (SeeD, Anúna, Systir), combined with the haunting voice and throat singing of Michael Zann (Nemuer) and the double hurdy-gurdy of Quentin and Yhandros Huergo (Cuélebre) make this into a truly magical song. Adiemus meets pagan folk.

I already mentioned new talent Quentin in the two previous songs, but there is another new talent (for me at least) that I want to introduce. Esme Knight shines in two songs. First, there is Fool Me, a pagan folk-rock song that reminds me a lot of the British band Texas, especially because of that typical slide guitar sound and Esme’s warm, ever so slight hoarse vocals. It is a cool grooving folk-rock song. (And whoever decided to hide Herr Mannelig in there had a stroke of genius. I get a huge smile on my face every time I hear it.)
The second song Esme features in, is one of my highlights on this CD: Now I Am The Sea. The first lines of the song are sung a capella and she nails it. Štěpán Honc (PerKelt), who produced and arranged this album, told me this is exactly how this song was born. Only a few instruments were added, most prominently a shamanistic drum, giving this song a real spiritual feel.

Now that I already dropped his name, this the moment I want to mention one of the artistic forces behind Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, Štěpán Honc. He was the man behind the mixing desk, building up song after song, making sure every artist had their place, their special spot in all the songs, without overcrowding them. Not an easy feat, especially not when so many people are involved. The title song, for example, contains the sound of twelve(!) instruments, two lead singers, four supporting vocalists, and a choir of fourteen (14!) voices. All recorded separately, all of it build together like a giant Tetris puzzle of music. An amazing achievement, especially considering this is only the second album Štěpán produced. I first assumed Fieke van der Hurk was the lady in charge, that is how good this CD sounds. I can’t think of a bigger compliment than that.

Štěpán also co-wrote the second song that gives me goosebumps: Where You’ve Never Been. Štěpán wrote the original guitar part, Taloch Jameson (The Dolmen) wrote the lyrics, and last but not least Marijn Lammertink added a full orchestra score and choir to it. The resulting song has the quality of The Moody Blues (Nights In White Satin) written all over it. The contrast between Taloch’s intense bluesy vocals and the grand orchestra and choir behind it is truly, truly stunning. Well done all involved!

Mr. Happy is a goosebump moment of a totally different kind. To hear Daphyd Sens (Thundercrow) and Joe Hennon (Shantalla, SeeD) team up once more just feels really special. Really special is also the way, in which Gwendolyn Snowdon’s voice (Finvarra, Gwendolyn Snowdon), seems to perfectly merge with the deep sound of the slidgeridoo in this cheerful Americana-meets-folk tune.
Here’s To You is another American style folk song, written by Maarten van Vliet (The Royal Spuds) ending this really special album.

As I said, this project was made possible because 42 artists came together on one album, all adding their talent to the music. If I added all of their names and contributions into this review it would become unreadable, so I opted not to. But every single person on this album played her or his part. Together they made something unique. A pop-folk pagan album that – at times – equals the heydays of ’60’s progressive rock. Think of bands like The Moody Blues, Wallace Collection (Daydream), or John Miles (Music). It is the beauty of pagan folk combined with the beauty of orchestral music, arranged in a true majestic style and served with a grand amount of Americana. Which brings us back to the very beginning of this review. This album can only be described with one word: Grand!

The famous last words go to Stepan this time. After reading the finished review he got back to me with these words: – “Thank you for the great work, But since this ain’t a normal CD, can I allow myself one request? Could you please highlight the work of Rob van Barschot on drums and Sjoerd van Ravenzwaaij (Harmony Glen) on banjo through the whole album? They both went the extra 100 miles to make this album sound like a “band” and especially having a world-class drummer on a project like this is literally priceless… They don’t show off to steal the attention but make everyone else sounding like rock stars.
And THAT is the true spirit behind this project. It is also the true spirit behind the whole Castlefest scene. It is a scene of love, of caring for each other, of giving instead of taking. I talked to both Rob and Stepan in preparation for this review, and they had many words of praise for ALL the people involved in this album, not only the artists but also the people involved with the nitty-gritty bureaucratic side. And they were BOTH trying to downsize the role they themselves played in it. Luckily I talked to them both so I know both played a big role in it all.

Giving and caring is a virtue that sometimes seems lost in our modern money-driven society. I am so grateful I am part of a scene where it is still the norm. So thank you Castlefest Collective for giving us this music, thank you Vana for giving us a home, but especially thank you Castlefest visitors for giving this message of love and care again and again to the world!
Every time I come to Castlefest I feel like coming home. And ALL OF YOU, who make up this beautiful scene are the reason I feel that way! All of you; the dancers; the larpers; the pyrates; the furry’s, the pagans; and the ‘normal’ dressers. ALL of you make this scene a wonderful thing, and I thank you ALL for it, from the bottom of my heart! Thank You! See you all Next year!!!!!!!

– Cliff

Pictures: Cliff de Booy
Editor: Anna

The Magic Door – The Magic Door (2018)

This month has been a month of stories, as The Magic Door is yet another album based around a myth. But this time it’s a story from a warmer region of Europe and much later in time than the old Scandinavian and Sami myths we heard till now. It takes place in Baroque Rome. According to legend, at the end of the 17th century, a pilgrim called ‘Stibeum’ was a guest at the villa of Marquis Maximiliano Palombara, a man who had developed a passion for alchemy since he visited the alchemical laboratory in the Riario Palace, (now known as Palazzo Corsini) in 1656.
The pilgrim (most likely an alchemist called Giuseppe Francesco Borr) disappeared forever after this visit, but he left a paper with seven symbols and epigraphs corresponding with the seven planets that were known to mankind in those days. Unable to decipher them himself the Marquis engraved these symbols and epigraphs in his door hoping that someday, someone would decode them. This door, now known as Porta Alchemica or Porta Magica, is the inspiration for this album.

Fast forward 350 years and we find ourselves in October 2016. The moment that Arthuan Rebis and Giada Colagrande started work on a musical project: making an album inspired by the Porta Alchemica. Arthuan Rebis we know of course as the composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Italian medieval group In Vino Veritas, and of his solo album La Primavera Del Piccolo Popolo, which we reviewed a few months ago. Giada Colagrande is an Italian film director, actress and singer. During the writing process, Vicenzo Zitello (an accomplished composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist in his own right) became part of the porject as a third bandmember. Last to join The Magic Door were special guests Glen Velez (percussion, frame drum) and Marco Cavanna (double bass). Together they recorded the album The Magic Door, which was released in November 2018.

Those of you who know Arthuan Rebis his solo album La Primavera Del Piccolo Popolo will know he has his own very unique style: warm and friendly, somewhere between ambient-, new age-, folk- and easy-listening pop music. Well, The Magic Door is just as unique. Which brings me to the impossible task of trying to describe The Magic Doors music. A problem I already had when I tried to describe Arthuan Rebis’ solo music. The honest answer. I struggled. How do you describe 5 centuries of music flowing together anyway? New age music; chamber pop; Baroc, ’50’s pop, a touch of Arabian influences, it is all there, blending together in a unique way, making the music feel refreshingly new and comfortingly old at the same time. Confused? well, join the club. My first two attempts to put this music into words became so complicated to read, that they looked like an alchemistic formula in their own right.
The basis of The Magic Door’s music is the feeling of warmth. An embrace put to music. Listen to the warm notes of the cello in Saturnine Night combined with Giada’s equally tender voice and you’ll melt away on the spot. When Arthuan then also adds his soothing voice to the music, it becomes a warm woolen blanket you can crawl into. A soft musical pillow of ease and relaxation.

The Refrain of Jupiter’s Dew is Just as Silky

The refrain of Jupiter’s Dew is just as silky. It is stunning how Arthuan’s and Giada’s voices blend together. Not only on this song but through the whole CD. Pure magic. Supported by a gentle drum rhythm, a groovy double bass, and pleasant acoustic guitar chords this whole album is a joy for the ear. Sudden surprises as the musical saw in Jupiter’s Dew and Mercury Unveiled add that special sort of mystique an alchemist inspired album should have.

But not every song is cozy and calm. Water of Mars has an enticing bass/cello line. Really catchy and slightly dark. As the song progresses it picks up speed and at the same time drags you back through the centuries into a dark Baroc sounding cello/nyckelharpa solo. Welcome mister Bach into the 21st century. A really clever use of ‘antique’ instruments in a modern arrangement. And that is the essence of the sound of The Magic Door.

Capturing The Essence of the Sound of The Magic Door

On one hand, you have the warmth of the wooden string instruments and the lovely voice of Giada that take you back to the sound of the ’50s. It was a time when you still had an orchestra or a string ensemble ready in the studio to record the music. Giada’s voice has that ‘old’ almost jazzy tone, reminiscent of singers like Marlene Dietrich, -dare I say it- Marilyn Monroe or, more recently, Mary Coughlan and Tanita Tikaram.
On the other hand, the music and arrangements sound modern and fresh. That is mainly due to the production, AND the modern, folky use of the percussion. It gives this CD its cheer, its vibrancy. It sounds folky, fun, and always upbeat. Glen Velez is a master on the frame drum and it is only fair that he has got his own solo spot on the album with the song Ancient Portal. The subtle, open sound of the guitar and harp is the thing that blends everything together. The song Vitriol is possibly the best example of this beautiful mix of old and new. It is also the folkiest song of them all.

The lyrics are just as intriguing as the music itself. The refrains of most of the songs are translations of the inscriptions left on the Porta Magica 340 years ago. On Water Of Mars, for instance, the epigraph says:
Who knows how to burn with water,
and how to wash with fire.
Can make heaven of earth
and a precious earth of heaven.

Really poetic, but I do understand why Marquis Massimiliano was never able to decipher it.
Another mysteriously beautiful one is the epigraph in Saturnine Night:
When in your house black crows give birth to white doves, then will you be called wise‘.
Pure poetry.
The most cryptic of them all goes like this:
As Latona is whitened by Azoth and lightning,
Diana comes undressed.

[Mercury Unveiled]
It inspired the band itself to equally wondrous astrological poetry of their own:
Blessed by the serpent scepter of Hermes,
the lover ascends the draft
to join his female half.
The chemical wedding starts.
The moon marries the sun,
Venus marries Mars.

[Venus the Bride]

This album is as mysterious as it is beautiful. A true tribute to Guiseppe Francesco Borri, to Maquis Massimiliano Palombara, and to all the alchemists of 16th century Rome in general. I’ll probably never unveil all the mysteries hidden in the music and the lyrics of this CD, but trust me, I will enjoy every single note of it as I keep trying.


Editor: Anna
Picture of the Porta Alchemica: Made by Sailko. The original picture can be found here on wikipedia.

Introducing the music of Brother Sea

The band Runrig had Donnie Munro, The Housemartins had Paul Heaton, Big Country had Stuart Adamson, and Brother Sea have Kris Lannen! What a voice! Irish stand-up comedian Aisling Bea once joked that all Irish people are born with a built-in tear in their voice, that they can instantly switch on when they start singing. Well, Kris must have some Irish genes in him then, because he has that same ability. Just listen to the opening lines of Triskele and you can’t help but be swept away by his beautiful, round, rich voice. As if he has the eternal emptiness of the sea embedded in his vocal cords. Amazing! But Brother Sea are more than that, much more. So it is high time to introduce the music of this stunning Celtic-folk band to you.
Brother Sea is a Cornish band, combining the talents of the folk duo Harbottle & Jonas (well known for their beautiful singer/songwriter folk, reminiscent of the German folk band Cara, with harmonies that go all the way back to the traditions of Crosby, Stills, & Nash); violinist/vocalist Richard Trethewey ( Didjan, The Rowan Tree ); the up and coming talent of violinist/vocalist and viola player Annie Baylis ( Winter Mountain, Harbottle & Jonas); and of course the aforementioned Kris Lannen.
Together they started writing music inspired by the vastness of nature, life in the Cornish countryside, and the eternal beauty of the seas that surround Cornwall on almost all sides (Kris Lannen is a keen surfer as well as a talented musician). Still working on their first full-length album the band started uploading their songs on Bandcamp, the first being the self-titled EP Brother Sea in July 2019.

I already mentioned the 4th song from that EP, Triskele, with its stunning vocal intro, the harmonies being a true balsam for your ears. Brother Sea opens the EP in the same stunning way, with just Kris’ voice singing the first lines before the band joins in to play All As One in the most lovely of ways. Everything just fits perfectly: the gentle guitar chords, the beautiful violin melodies weaving in and out, the harmonies, Freya Jonas adding her voice to the rich vocals of Kris. It all results in a truly beautiful, musical treat. Everything is in perfect balance. All parts of the music are there to serve the song, to serve the lyrics. Less is more sometimes, and in this case, less is way more!

The song Triskele performed in a home session by Brother Sea

That very high standard is kept up throughout EVERY song Bother Sea has released so far. The band introduced their first mini-album with these words: ‘A self-titled EP and introduction to the ocean drenched Celtic-folk sounds of Brother Sea.‘ Well, the second song Curious Shore has that description written all over it. This is the emptiness of the shore caught in music, the vastness of the beautiful ocean captured in words, the dance of the seagulls written in notes, and I’m loving it. The band themselves on this song: ‘A song written about wild swimming. It was inspired by a group of young mums called the Salty Sisters from Porthleven who swim together every morning.’ And that is the true magic of Brother Sea: the combination of beautiful music with the power of poetic lyrics.

Songs like the beautiful earworm Triskele from the first mini-album, or the singles Circadian (released in April 2020) and September (released in October of 2020) – they are all singer/songwriting gems. Thoughts and observations molded into poetic impressions of everyday life and deep love, crusted by the salt of the Cornish coasts. This is folk music lifted to theater standards. This is folk I want to inhale, sitting in a velvet theater seat, drowning in the beauty of it all.
There are two artists that keep popping up while listening to Brother Sea: Runrig and Milow. Brother Sea’s songs sit just at the crossroads of those two artists. Melodious gentle ballads with a delicious folk sauce poured all over it, arranged and produced in such a lovely way. Listen to that cool ‘ Bob GeldofThis Is The World Calling‘ choir suddenly piping up on Circadian, or the jig suddenly popping up halfway through the song. This is like candy for the ears.

The latest single September

Oll’ Vel Onen and Trodhydhyek are the songs All As One and Circadian but then sang in Kernewek, the Celtic language of Cornwall. The last song you’ll find on Bandcamp is Brother Sea’s latest single September and well, what can I say? Only that I hope a full-length album is going to come out really soon. For me, Brother Sea is one of the best bands I have heard this year. I truly hope this band will follow the path of success already walked by Amy Macdonald and Rachel Croft as their music deserves to be heard by a broad audience, starting with us, lucky listeners here at CeltCast. Hop over to the band’s Bandcamp page and dwell with me on the waves of this melancholic ocean-bound Celtic-folk band. And to those of you who are planning to go to Keltfest 2021, Brother Sea has been confirmed as one of the bands playing there, so you’re gonna be in for a treat! Guess where you will find me?!


Editor: Iris
Picture: Brother Sea

Sowulo – Grima (2020) review

Once there was, and once there wasn’t.
One thing comes to pass, and the other doesn’t.
Two families fought before men walk the earth.
Out the peace they then wrath, followed unlively birth.
After many moons bloodshed, spears set aside.
In a great hall, they met to turn the red tide.
A cauldron was set in the midst of the thing. The anguish went out and the spittle went in.
From saliva of all, the wisest became, destined to fall and Kvasir his name….

With these words Grima, Sowulo’s new album, starts. A rather unconventional way for a Nordic folk band, but Sowulo was never meant to be a conventional band in the first place. Starting out as a musical project founded by Faber Hornbach to celebrate the pagan holidays, it developed into a musical journey deep into our pagan heritage. (Which for me as a dutch person mean the times of the Batavi and the Frisians, part of the west- and North Germanic tribes that inhabited western and northern Europe around the Roman times). And we are doing it through Faber’s eyes, traveling with him to the days of the Northern Germanic tribes. The times were stories were told of the worlds flanking Yggdrasil. Storys of the plights of the gods and their interactions with dwarves, giants, elves, and all the other mythical creatures living in the nine worlds

Just a year ago Faber surprised us with Mann, a personal Nordic folk album, really powerful and tribal, in which he searched for his inner warrior, lover, king and musician, in a way discovering his own person and his place in the ever-turning circle of life. Mann ended up being a very intense and beautiful pagan folk album, sung in Anglo-Saxon. An album that took me a while to fully understand, but I now count as one of the better Nordic folk albums in my collection.
Fast forward a cycle of the sun and we have a new Sowulo album. Part of it already came out as a digital album on Bandcamp, and again it was a huge surprise as it consists of stories, not songs! And not just any old stories. No, Faber and storyteller Niek van Eck traveled back in time to the days of Asgard, when Odin ruled the nine worlds, and Ragnarok was just a small ripple in the future to come. Stories that ended up being written down in the Edda, the basis for all our knowledge of the Nordic myths and legends. Three of those stories made it onto Grima. Three stories based around the main theme of faith and destiny. Especially the futile struggle to escape your own destiny, be you a giant, man or god.
Triumph Over Tears, the third story for example, tells about the faith of Baldr, the son of Odin and his wife Frigg. It starts with the discovery of the Gods that Baldr was destined to die, and in their futile attempt to stop this from happening, they actually became responsible for his death! A death that otherwise may not even have happened.

Spātle Ǣghwās, the first single inspired by Grima is based on the ‘Saliva of all’ storytel-track

Gungnirs Gap, the fourth story on Grima, is even clearer in its message. It tells of Odin who discovers that the Norns, the ones weaving and breaking the threads of life, manage to laugh at faith while doing so, totally bewildering Odin, who in the end discovers that even for him, the mightiest god there is, trying to avoid faith is futile.
The opening track Saliva Of All and Beguiled By Blood Brew together form the longest story on Grima. It tells about the faith of Kvasir. The wisest of all, whose fate was to be killed by greed, and whose blood was turned into the mead of poetry, the mead that even to this day gives us the beauty of poetry, music, and stories.

It is clear that Niek van Eck (left), our narrator in this world of ancient sagas did indeed ask Odin for a drop of inspiration, as did Faber because Grima is as impressive an album as Mann is in its own unique way. From the first sentences of Saliva Of All, it is clear that Niek is a gifted story teller. He has a pleasant, deep, strong voice that fits these old Nordic stories perfectly. All told in English, his stories manage to captivate me time and time again. Even now, after listening to them for a fifth time, writing this review. He knows perfectly well when to slow the pace of his story, or when to speed it up to keep you captivated, and also when to change his tone of voice to emphasize a certain phrase or sentence.

Faber in his own right complements Niek very well. He took the stories and composed music under it, creating a perfect soundtrack to support every story Niek is telling. The best compliment I can give Faber is that the music never takes the foreground. While listening you tend to forget about it although you know it is there. The drums; the nyckelharpa; the strokes of the jouhikko; the gentle touch of the lyre; and the mythical sounds of the synth play some lovely repetitive themes that fit the stories very well. They lay a beautiful carpet on which Nieks words find a perfect resting place, changing rhythm and tune to emphasize every new chapter Niek is starting in his stories, but they never take over.
Only at the end of the last story, at the end of Gungnirs gap, Faber finally lets the music flow freely and lets the instruments tell their own story of fate, destiny and human nature. A perfect ending to a lovely storytelling album.
Now Grima, in the form it was released on April 2020, would never have made it to the CeltCast review pages, as we are an acoustic music station. But luckily on the digipack, there are two bonus tracks, and they deserve just as much attention as the four beautiful stories I told you of above.

With Spātle Ǣghwās and Fæcele, Faber took the musical themes he used in the stories and transformed them into two lovely songs, sung in old Anglo-Saxon. That might sound a bit odd for a nordic folk album at first, an old English language? Not if you know the history of it. Anglo-Saxon was the language spoken by the Germanic tribes living in the north of Germany all the way up to the top of Denmark. It was those tribes who, together with the Frisians, from 375 AD onwards made the jump to east England after the Romans left there, driving the original Celtic inhabitants of England outwards to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where Gaelic still lives today. So it is actually a north Germanic language

The first thing you notice when listening to Spātle Ǣghwās is the truly stunning voice of Emilie Lorentzen, best known as the backing vocalist of Euzen and Heilung. She lifts the already very powerful, atmospheric folk of Sowulo into new heights, her voice effortlessly shifting from angelic hights to intensely piercing, she puts the crown on this historic folk ballad, inspired by the story of the birth of Kvasir.
Fæcele is a faster song that’s perfectly in line with the music we heard on Mann. It shares the strong male vocals, the nyckelharpa, and drums from Mann, but adds a certain feminine touch to it, especially through the classical influences and atmospheric vocals halfway in the song.
While the music under the four stories is played by Faber alone, on Spātle Ǣghwās and Fæcele he is joined again by his fellow bandmate and Celtic harp player Chloe Bakker. Furthermore, we hear Rikke Linsen (Pyrolysis) on Violin and Heleen de Jonge on Cello.
Faber has written yet another chapter in the story of Sowulo, a story that is as exciting as it is unexpected. I can’t wait for what the next page of their story will bring, I guess I will just have to wait till the wheel of life turns once more. But until then I will keep enjoying the ancient myths of the north, and the ancient sounds of the Northern hemisphere, clearly touched by the meade of poetry, the blood of Kvasir himself.


(For those who can’t get enough of the old Nordic saga, here is one more, recorded in 2016, just before Sol was released. In this case the narator is Eugene, and it is told in Dutch, but with English subtitles.
Enjoy! )


Editor: Sara
Cover art:Tim Elfring
Cliff de Booy (1)
Rebeca Franko Valle (2)
Samantha Evans (3 and Grima video covers)

Credits Ginnungagap Story video:
Video production by Jasper van Gheluwe | Deer and Wolf Productions
Soundtrack by Faber Horbach | Auroch Audio Productions

Gói – Vainolaanen (2019) & Saivo (2020)

Gói is a young and very promising dark historical folk project that Ilona discovered on Bandcamp. The and started out as a trio, consisting of Rauni Hautamäki (composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocals), Samuli Ylinen (sound engineer) and Iida Mäkelä (composer, talharpa, mouth harp, percussion, vocals), the latter recently leaving the band as a full bandmember, but still involved with bits of Gói’s music as a (to quote Rauni): ‘Dear devil behind our back‘.
Musically the band can be put under the ever-growing Nordic historialc folk umbrella. The band themselves on the subject: ‘- We create music with an ancient touch. We aim to enliven the image of Western Finnish history by telling stories and using the South Ostrobothnian dialect of our home region. Our music aims to create authentic and intensive soundscapes.
Well, every word of that is true, and they do it in a truly captivating way. Time to discover the beautiful musical world of Gói and I can assure you, it contains a couple of surprises.
The first surprise is the theme. You would expect Scandinavian historical folk bands to be influenced only by Nordic mythology. Stories of Asgard, Odin, Loki, Yggdrasil. This is not the case for Gói.
The musicians originate from South Ostrobothnia – a region in the southwest of Finland- where between 400 and 800 AD a prosperous centre of Sami and Finnish tribes could be found. Although overshadowed by our modern-day interest in the Viking culture, it was a really important trading centre even before the Viking times, placed right between the old Scandinavian tribes, living in modern Norway and Sweden on one side and the Russian mainland on the other. It is that combined Sami and old Scandinavian background that is really important in the music of Gói. Their name itself, for example, comes from Gói Thorrisdotter, the daughter of Thorr, King of Götaland, Finland, and Kvenland who can be found in some old Scandinavian saga.
The themes in their music pick up elements of both Sami- and Scandinavian mythology. I’ll pick up on the second single Saivo-released in April 2020- first, because it is a perfect example of this mix. It starts out as I expect it to from a Nordic folk band: dark, tribal, and ancient. A deep drum, hushed breathing, and an eerie, low sound lead you through the sound effects of someone or something walking in the deep snow leading into a watery cave? Intriguing, to say the least. In an interview our Cato did with Gói’s main composer and vocalist Rauni Hautamäki she explains how she creates these wonderful soundscapes and songs:

Reading the elaborate liner notes on Bandcamp, I learn the song tells the story of a Noaidi, a Sami shaman, traveling in the form of a blindworm to Saivo, one of the Sami worlds of the dead. Among the Finnish Sami tribes, it was believed Saivo could be found under special double-bottomed lakes. On the surface it would be a calm pool of water, but under its surface existed another realm, upside down, where all manners of deities and spirits of the dead resided, and the way to reach it was through a small hole as Rauni explains in the next soundclip.

As I already said the history of their homeland, South Ostrobothnia plays a big part in Gói’s music, making it a true historical folk band. A second thing that you will notice straight away are the impressive soundscapes the band creates, which equal those of Wadruna, Heilung, and Sowulo. If you consider the extremely limited budget the band had to work with, the sound on both Saivo and Vainolaanen is even more impressive. Huge credit to the young sound engineer Samuli Ylinen. Based on these two songs I predict he has a bright future ahead of him in music. But not only him, because as Rauni explains a LOT of thought goes into creating those soundscapes.

Well, listen to Saivo and you will hear all of it. After the eerie intro, I expected the drums, the music, to carry on at a slow, tribal and mystical pace, as is quite common in the dark folk genre, but not Gói. The beat is relatively fast, heavy, and quite danceable, almost trance/ambient like. Although all the typical dark folk elements are there: deer bone percussion; mouth harp; dark, low soundscapes; whispered vocals; and intense misty breaks in the music, it is that dance rhythm that makes this a really original, catchy track. Well worth checking out.

The 2019 single Vainolaanen is even better, even more intense. Deep male vocals, strong drums, and whispered female vocals instantly fill your ears, dragging you deep into the cold, immense Finnish forests. The ancient music echoes between the shadows of the old pine trees, the spirits of the night hidden in the white blur of a freezing snowstorm. Somewhere a tribe gathers around their shaman, commencing an ancient ritual. Deep, dark, and immensely impressive: that is how Gói sound on Vainolaanen. Is it a hunting song, or a warrior one? I can’t tell, but I can tell you it’s intense – very intense! Just put on your headphones, listen and you will feel the pace of the hunt creep into every inch of your body. Again the rhythm is slightly faster and more danceable than I normally expect, bringing the music close to Kati Rán’s song Suurin, from her epic Lys album.
The music of Gói has that same breathtaking quality: it is intense, the compositions are good, the vocals at times stunning, and the lyrics drenched with ancient Nordic mythology. Both singles Saivo and Vainolaanen make a really promising debut, one that makes me crave more, much more. Will there be?


Interview: Cato Verhoeven
Editor: Iris
– Valtteri Mäkelä (1,2,3,5)
– Rauni Hautamäki (4)


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