Ritual Duir – The Path Of Druids (2019) review

This is going to be a review that is very, very dear my heart. It all started in 2018 when Rose Avalon – who had already left Cuélebre at that moment- and Belenosa Alba – a flutist and horn player Rose met the previous year- gave me, among others, a 3 track demo with the request to give some honest feedback. On that demo were three acoustic tribal pagan folk songs with some amazing vocals from Rose. So my feedback was short and sweet. ‘Rose, I love this!’
Over the next one and a half years, Rose and Belenosa kept sending me updates that kept whetting my appetite. At this year’s summer Castlefest I finally got the full demo version of The Path Of Druids. And although still not in it’s final mix, the music blew me away. ‘This can’t get any better.’ I thought. But listening to the finished album I realize how wrong I was. It CAN, and it DID! And the best thing about it? I can FINALLY break the silence!!! Everybody!! Rose Avalon has a new pagan folk CD out! It’s called The Path Of Druids!! And it sounds A-MA-ZING!!!!!
Of course we know Rose Avalon as the lady who replaced Marta Gálves as the lead singer of the Spanish pagan folk band Cuélebre. A band she joined because she wanted to express her love for folk music and her passion for nature. But Rose has been making music her whole life. At the age of 18, she recorded her first pop-rock demo under the name Equivocada Humanidas. She studied drama and acting and did some cinematic work in Barcelona, having one of the lead roles in the movie Pactar con el gato for instance. She even wrote a vampire novel called Nocturne Para Violín – Nocturne For Violin that is still easily available as eBook. In the last seven years, she has been making progressive folk metal with her band Rose Avalon, recording a first album called Northern Strengths that came out in 2014. During those metal years, her desire to make pagan folk became bigger and bigger, so a wish came true when she was allowed to join Cuélebre as their second lead singer.
Rose Avalon and Belenosa Alba, Ritual Duir In September 2017 Rose left Cuelebre again to focus on her own music as a singer and bagpipe player and formed Ritual Duir, together with somebody who crossed her roads, who had an equally big interest in Celtic music, had the same passion for nature and who became a dear friend: Belenosa Alba on backing vocals, flute and horns.
Belenosa also dedicated her whole life to music, she started playing music when she was 6. In a chat she told me: ‘Learning music is really expensive, but luckily I could join a music school founded by people who were willing to do that for free so that the kids could experience other skills than only sports or dance.’ It was a project that inspired her so much she now does the same thing herself, running a music school that teaches the kids for free.
In the end she was able to study classical flute at the Conservatory of Music of Barcelona. But she always had a love for Celtic music. When she and Rose finally met, everything changed. Ritual Duir was born.
The band’s line up was completed when drummer/ percussionist Jose Mouro and guitarist David R joined Ritual Duir prior to the release of Path Of The Druids. Rose explains on her webpage that Ritual Duir was created in honour of the trees, the forest, the fauna, and the ancient druidic wisdom. The band does that with a powerful mix of tribal pagan folk music and touches of Rose’s metal background. A mix that makes them unique in the pagan folk scene. A mix that makes The Path Of Druids, one of the best, most powerful pagan folk albums I have ever heard.

The musical magic starts right after the spoken intro, with a cool keyboard melody line that reminds me a lot of that used by bands of the new age/dance scene in the ’90’s like Sacred Spirit or Dance to Trance in their big hit American Natives. But Ritual Duir doesn’t put a big beat under it, nor do they flow into a mellow soundscape, no they use that same sound to create a dark mystique musical carpet, just as bands like Trobar de Morte do so well. Those Trobar the Morte like keyboard soundscapes run through every song on The Path Of Druids, giving the album an ancient, slightly dark feel.
This feel is even enhanced by the deep shamanic tribal drum that not only drives the first song –When The Human Arrives– on, but is found all over The Path Of Druids. Rose and Belenose managed to capture a strong ancient feel in really catchy songs that draw you in instantly. And then I didn’t even mention the biggest highlight of The Path Of Druids yet. The vocals! Rose Avalon is blessed with an amazingly versatile voice, powered by some huge lungs. She can do it all! powerful clean metal vocals, soft angry whispering, high classical soprano, soulful rock vocals, and jazzy singing lines, she throws it all in as if it is nothing.
It’s the combination of her strong vocal performance and the dark intense music that gives the lyrics of The Path Of Druids its power. And those lyrics are important. Rose, who wrote all the lyrics, has something to say. When The Human Arrives, for instance, is a clear statement about how she feels the human race is mistreating and polluting the earth.

The second song Samonios is dedicated to the Samhain ritual. In this song Ritual Duir takes us through the veil into the ancient world of the Celts, the age of Boudica, and again in a very powerful way. Ritual Duir doesn’t think in style boundaries. They give the music what it needs. We already met Rose’s powerful metal voice, and the band isn’t afraid to through in a strong electric guitar chord when the music needs it either. They play ever so cleverly with the contrast between clean acoustic guitar and recorder and the dramatic powerful sounds of the keyboards and rock guitar. It is if you are listening to a jam session between Cuélebre, Trobar de Morte and Wadruna who invited Josh Elliot of The Dolmen to add his guitar sound. Deep, dark and powerful! Just listen to that deep male choir under Rose her vocal solo escapade! So clever. So well arranged.

Wild Balance is a cheerful upbeat song. This is Rose is at her best as a singer. Her voice is so expressive, she uses her acting background so well. She can sound cheerful and loving -as she does here- angry and vicious, deeply sad -as she does astonishingly well in the song Tears For Ynys Mön– or seriously threatening. That alone makes this record so appealing to me. But it is not only that. It is also the wonderfully written and well-arranged songs on The Path Of Druids. Every song is a delight for the ears. a rock opera in itself. That is what this album actually is. A pagan-folk rock opera. In Wild Balance Rose’s loving friendly voice, together with the upbeat tribal drums; Belenosa’s recorder melody; the acoustic guitar and Rose’s bagpipe, invite us all to connect with mother nature in the ancient Celtic way. Again that Josh Elliot electric guitar riff at the end of the song gives the music an extra layer. A deeper dimension. And I’m loving it.

Not all songs are about nature, To Come Back Home addresses three strong topics at one go: The stupidity and destructiveness of war; female independence, and the hurt of someone who loses a loved one. Rose throws out some impressive ‘panting’ vocals as Eivør does in the song Trøllabundin. Again the message is packed in that stunning mix of pure pagan folk and female-fronted metal power. Electric rock guitar, recorder, bagpipe, keyboards, they all add up to create a really strong sound that it is truly mesmerizing me.

Now I could really go on and on about The Path of Druids, taking every single song and going into every detail of why I love it, but that would take away all the fun of discovering this wonderful album yourself. So I won’t mention the bagpipe on Your Memories Will Rest In The Trees that make it seem like Corvus Corvax just joined this pagan folk extravaganza. I won’t tell, how Rose’s acting skills really shine on Tears Of Ynys Mön. How she acts out the grief of a whole Celtic tribe whose lands have been burned to the ground by an enemy. Nor will I mention the lovely, almost theatrical ballad Stars, or the fun energetic folk party that is called The Magic Feast Of Lugnasad. But I do want to compliment producer Marcel Graell at the Nowhere studio in Barcelona who gave The Path Of Druids such an amazing sound. he managed to capture every note, every detail in the music, amplifying that beautiful contrast between acoustic and electronic instruments and making the most of the talents of all members of Ritual Duir.

The Path Of Druids is one of the best pagan folk albums I have heard to date, better yet, I personally think it is one of the best albums to grace my CD player ever. The last time I was so taken by a record was the first time I heard Dies, Nox Et Omnia, Cesair’s debut masterpiece. And that is where I want to place The Path Of Druids too. Although I have to add a small side note to that. The power of The Path Of Druids comes from the deep tribal drums, the clever layers of low synthesizer chords contrasting with the clear acoustic melodies and the low electric guitar chords amplifying the powerful vocals. Most of the time I’ve listened to this album through my headphones and then you become part of the music, You hear it, you feel it, it incases you. Listen to this album on a sound system that lacks that bass sound, well, you’ll probably be wondering why I am so enthusiastic about The Path Of Druids. This record is just like the music of Heilung. You need a full-body experience to really make it work. Play this album as the band had in mind while making it, and you will find that is is a true tribal pagan folk masterpiece! A must-have for all who love the dark pagan folk of Cuélebre, the epic folk of Cesair and the powerful sound of symphonic metal legends as Ayreon or Leave’s eyes.
To answer Rose and Belenosa’s question when they send me the album: ‘Do I like it? Yes, I LOVE it!!!!!”

– Cliff

Editor: Sara Weeda
pictures: Ritual Duir

Ye Banished Privateers – First Night Back In Port (2017)

It is June the 30th, in the year of our Lord 1717. Under the black shroud of a storm-swept night, a dark ship creeps into an unknown harbor of a forgotten town, somewhere deeply hidden on a jagged coast. Her dark, battered sails are flapping in the stormy winds. Her black flags all down, mourning the loss of all those who were left behind; in the treacherous waves of Cape Horn; the deep seas of the Pacific and the distant shores of far-away Georgia.
As the ship, loaded with the bounty it seized in the last two years of her travels, finally moors for a well-deserved rest, her crew, pockets filled to the brim with gold and pearls, sneak off the gangboard into the dark alleys surrounding the old wharfs of this godforsaken place.
Silently we follow suit. Making sure we hide in the shadows of the old houses in this dark side of town. Nothing moves in the relentless rain. All sounds are muffled in the gusts of wind that shriek through the broken windows of abandoned buildings. A big rat slips into a gutter as we see the crew disappear in a black alley.
We wait until the gusts of rain die down for a brief moment. From the alley comes the soft sound of laughter and music. At the end of it, a bright light pours under an old crooked, wooden door. A black cat, jumping into the window opposite of it, pushes open some filthy rags that once were curtains. For a brief second, it reveals a huge figure, using a huge knife to tickle a poor sailor’s neck.
As we near the door, it suddenly cracks open, as the poor sailor is thrown into the cold night, his head is soon to follow, rolling down the alley till it stops in front of our feet.
Through the – now open – door we can see a busty lady singing on top of a dirty bar, holding a big bottle of rum. Around her are the locals, their mugs raised as they roar along with her song. Amongst them are the crew. Their eyes already red from the smoke of pipes, the many pints of beer and the sight of the ladies sitting there on their laps. The ladies’ eyes are firmly fixed on the filled purses of the men, whose cheeks they are now kissing.
As one of the sailors joins in with the song, the busty lady nonchalantly crashes the bottle on his bold head, sending him swirling for the floor. With a loud roar, the men grab him, head and feet. Within seconds he’s flying out the window, scaring the living daylights out of the black cat that is grooming herself just at that moment. The men return to their drinks, one or two of them counting the gold they suddenly have in their hands.
Welcome in the Schwarzer Kater. The only place Ye Banished Privateers can call home. As they celebrate their first night in port.

Ye Banished Privateers are a Swedish pirate crew that sails the concert halls and festivals with their catchy pirate folk music. The origins of the band go back to 2008 when Peter Mollwing (last picture below) and Björn Malmros (left) started asking other musicians to join their pirate folk idea. The idea clearly caught on because 23 (!) different musicians are listed as band members in the credits of First Night Back In Port, which is their 3rd CD. At a concert you can easily expect 12 to 15 band members to be there at any given time, putting up a show that is as much a visual spectacle as it is a concert. If they are in the neighborhood, this is a band of pirates you don’t want to miss.

The basis for Ye Banished Privateers’ pirate folk sound is a mix between shanty songs and traditional folk with an occasional gypsy flavor to top it all of. Ye Banished Privateers’ main weapons of choice are a fiddle, flute, accordion, and banjo, giving the music a real positive, feel-good vibe. All poured into some grand, musical like arrangements, bound to get a big smile on your face. But the strongest point of Y.B.P are the vocals. At least 5 crew members share the lead vocals, male and female, covering the whole range of 17th/18th-century sailor and buccaneer life. Quite often, the whole crew is enlisted to do the backing vocals. The big sound of this choir and the 23 piece band is what gives Y.B.P’s pirate folk its unique folk/musical feel.

As I said, lyrically Y.B.P tells the tale of the early 18th century sailors. It all starts with the story of poor Annabel buried in Georgia, a really strong ballad impressively sung by Magda Anderson. We hear stories of sailors making deals with the devil. Tales are told of sailors press-ganged in service. There is a homage to rum -not just any old rum, no Cooper’s rum!- and there is the sad love song of a man trying to keep his lady (!) onshore, all of them sung with the same power and authenticity.
And that is the real magic of Ye Banished Privateers. Their music doesn’t feel like a gimmick. You believe them. They ARE the crew of a ragged ship. The scum of the seven seas. The whole CD pours out sailor’s folk. If it’s ballads like Annabel, Skippy Aye Yo or A Mermaid’s Kiss, mid-tempo sing-alongs like Cooper’s Rum, All The Way To Galway, I Dream of You and A Night In The Schwarzer Kater, or up-tempo dance songs like First Night At Port, they are all well-composed , instant sing-a-long, feel-good songs. So get out your sailor’s hat, your eye patch and your bottle of rum. And welcome to the world of Ye Banished Privateers!


-Editor: Diane Deroubaix
-Pictures: Cliff de Booy

Hans Elzinga – Introspective (2019) Review

It’s always an exciting moment when a new CD arrives at CeltCast HQ and it goes into the CD player. What can we expect? is it good? Do we like it? Which songs can we play? All questions that are spinning through our minds as the first seconds of a new CD tick away. In the case of Hans Elzinga these questions were quickly answered. Yes, we did like it and soon enough the music team started sending each other messages, telling us about how much we liked this beautiful, calming CD.
But this album also posed a problem: Although it was recorded by a member of the Dutch folk band Parsley; although it was acoustic guitar music; although it was recorded by the amazing ‘sound witch’ (Hans’ words, not mine) Fieke van den Hurk at her Dearworld studio, one thing it wasn’t: folk music. A slight problem if your station’s format is based on acoustic ‘folk’ music. So we had a quick virtual team meeting and decided to bend the rules as far as we possibly could because this album deserves all the attention we can give it.
So here we go, we give you Introspective, an instrumental album by Dutch acoustic guitar – and flute player Hans Elzinga. We have already established that Introspective isn’t a folk album as such, so what is it then? Well, I would call it one of the best contemporary instrumental guitar and flute albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Hans is a D.I.Y artist and a very, very talented one for that matter. He composed all the songs, played all the guitar most of the flute and whistle. He often – during live performances at least – uses a loop pedal so he can accompany himself on rhythm guitar while he plays the guitar- or flute solos. He also made his own nylon string flamenco guitar, and he deliberately uses heavier strings for the 1st and 6th position on his steel-string guitar, so he can get the lower, more rich sound he is looking for. Combine a musician like this – somebody clearly seeking his own way in music- with Fieke van den Hurk and something really special starts to happen. As we all know Fieke will also go the extra- sometimes unconventional- mile to find that specific sound an instrument, a song or even a single note needs, so combine those two together and you get a silver disc filled with magic.
If you also add Rob Musters on soprano sax, Davide Lionette on percussion, Stan Stolk -former Flairck– on double bass ánd Parsley colleague Maaike van der Waal on Irish flute, then heaven opens for the true music lover.

With me talking so much about compositions and acoustic guitars it’s easy to think Introspective consists of classical guitar recitals. When you look at the song titles, De Klank Van Wierook, Sterrenlicht, Dryadendans, you are just as likely to think Introspective is a new age music album. Neither are true. All songs are true and proper pop songs, with a clear start and finish and a down to earth feel to it. A soulful feel as well. Sometimes the songs are clean ballads, sometimes bluesy grooves, sometimes jazzy improvisations and sometimes even acoustic prog-pop soundscapes. (I didn’t even know those existed, but Hans plays them.) He himself refers to 80’s acts like Genesis or Pat Metheny as possible references. With his slightly bluesy, soulful, clean way of playing, I would like to add the acoustic segments played by Mark Knopfler in his 80’s Dire Straits days and the solo work of Tommy Bolin: one of the former solo guitarists of Deep Purple that sadly passed away way too soon. (Just give Gypsy Soul a listen and you’ll know what I mean)

Many of Hans’ songs remind me of the acoustic guitar sections that were so common in the music of ’70s and ’80s- just think of Pink Floyd’s intro of Wish You Were Here, Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road or Once Upon A Time In The West, But where bands of those days then went into the rock part, or the voices came in, Hans keeps it acoustic, the voices replaced by either his lead guitar melody or the flute/whistle tunes he plays. And I’m loving every note of it.
Now I won’t go into every song individually, that would be silly – for one how many times can you say this is beautiful acoustic guitar music before it gets boring to read- So I’ll just pick out my favorites as I listen and comment on those.

My first favorite is opening song De Klank Van Wierook – the sound of essence- Just as essence this song fills your whole room with gentle, beautiful (first time) guitar chords but, as I said before, in a pleasant ‘grounded’ way. It’s a song, not a floating spacy soundscape. I love how this song just seems to slow down time and make you feel all relax in your mind. The soothing low whistle part just adds to that feel perfectly. The best cure against stress I used in a loooong time.

Lu Core Meu is partly inspired by a painting from Johfra called “Het vertrek van de tempelschatten, and partly by a south Italian folk song: Lu Rusciu Te Le Mare. The beginning of the song has this slight Mediterranean, slightly Spanish feel to it. That feel ends when Hans starts looping the second guitar theme he plays and starts playing bamboo flute over it. The loop has a hypnotizing effect, used just as effectively as a certain Mike Oldfield did many decades ago in songs like Incantations part 2. The mesmerizing bamboo flute gives this song a lovely pagan folk feel.

If I wasn’t calm by now, the sound of waves, used as an intro for the song Golven -waves- will do the trick quite nicely. But not only the sound effect does. Hans’ beautiful (second time) guitar melody again has that calming tranquil effect. Listening to Golven I also find it unbelievable how much ‘sound’ Fieke manages to pull out of a single guitar. It is as if every string has its own little microphone. Astonishing work.

The title song Introspective, as almost all the songs on this album, starts with a ‘simple’ but beautifully (third time) calming guitar melody. In all his compositions Hans takes his time to develop these melodies further and further, and Introspective with its length of 9:12 minutes is no exception. And the best bit: every note is there for a reason, it has a place and a meaning. therefore the music flows through your mind as a total bliss of calm notes. Then, in this song Introspective, the pace picks up, the energy level rises and percussionist Davide Lionetti joins in while Hans’ whistle playing turns this calm peaceful bit of guitar music into a weird acid jazz acoustic rock thing. It is as if I’m back to the days when I heard my first Flairck album. Peter Weekers, then Flute player of this groundbreaking Dutch formation, could literally talk with his flute, something I also know from Acid jazz rockers Sweet Smoke; SeeD‘s lovely flute player Koen van Egmond and, now also from Hans Elzinga. Easily one of my favourite bits on this impressive album.

Talking about Flairck, one of the many former Flairck members Stan Stolk plays double bass on Sterrenlicht – starlight- he is, after Percussionist Davide Lionetti, the second guest musician to appear on Introspective, in this song together with Rob Musters on soprano sax.
Sterrenlicht was written while Hans was playing on the Taribush Kuna festival in the art installation of Bart Ensing and Lidwina Charpentier. A fairylike experience he says, never to forget.
So you might think this could finally turn new age-ish. Not Hans, we go jazz, easy jazz, think Gare Du Nord without the beats. Lovely calming again, but always grounded, it always serves the song. This is the music you want to hear in a small amphitheatre. With some easy lights and everybody sinking in real comfy in a huge pile of pillows instead of hard theatre chairs. (That would be a magical experience, a concert played by Hans like that.)

Drempel – threshold- has a soulful acoustic Mark Knopfler feel to it and would also fit perfectly in that pillow themed concert. The seventh song, Dryadendans – dryads dance-, is another song that has all the ingredients for a pagan folk- or new age song in its title and in the explanation about its origin in the booklet. But again no. The song flows from a typical Hans Elzinga solo acoustic guitar opening into lovely acoustic prog-pop, then into some prog rock meets Dire Straits as Hans brings that low 6th string into full use. I didn’t know acoustic prog rock existed, but Hans is playing it right here, right now. What a lovely section around that 4-minute mark.
And things are about to get even better. (better if you have the same taste for music as I have that is.) Hans brings in Stan Stolk and Rob Musters one more time for another song based upon a Johfra painting: Middernachtmystie -Midnight Mystery-. This song has Flairck written al over it. Strong guitar chords, a lovely free jazz improvisation part by saxophonist Rob, Hans his intriguing style of talking whistle cutting through the music. This is really the highlight of the CD for me, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was done in one recording session, it sure feels like it. It has this feel of musicians starting a song, flowing with it, not knowing when it will end, not caring about that anyway and a sound genius capturing it all. To be a fly on the wall at that moment. I really wish I was.
Just as Flairck does, Hans brings down the intensity of the song halfway through again for a lovely bit of calming flute and beautiful (fifth time, is it getting boring already?) Spanish style guitar. But not for long. Rob’s Soprano sax starts ripping that calm moment to pieces again, quick to be followed by Hans’ spoken whistle improvisations. In one word, A-MA-ZING.

Well, that -only point out a few of my favorite bits- idea turned out nicely. NOT! With the ninth song Onder De Oude Eik – under the old oak tree- we are at the end of Introspective and I mentioned them all! It says a lot about this album actually. Introspective is a highlight that lasts 54:09 minutes. Timeless acoustic guitar music at its very very best.

Video Café Acoustique shared with kind permission of Omroep Heemskerk.

– Cliff

Editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Nienke Cleveringa

Imbue – Ut Solis Radium (2019) review

According to their website, we can find Imbue’s music somewhere on the edge of the old medieval times and the new Renaissance period. I can add they also stand somewhere between the Classical world and modern balfolk. In 2017 Imbue released their debut album In Quatuor Tempora, a collection of 12 [quote Imbue]: ‘old and nigh forgotten (folk)songs’, and now, September 2019, their new album Ut Solis Radium was released in the place where it all began. the Gasthuiskapel -guesthouse chapel- in Zaltbommel, the exact spot In Quator Tempora was recorded.
Luckily nothing changed in the Imbue world. The new album is again a beautiful collection of medieval and renaissance pieces, skillfully recorded by these 5 talented musicians.
Let’s introduce all the Imbue members to you. First off is Robin Lammertink on lead vocals. She is a classically trained mezzo-soprano who is not only interested in polyphony -singing with multiple people who each have their own independent melody, something she herself explains more about at the end of this review– but also in history, especially the history of Tudor England (1485 – 1603). During her current studies at the Conservatorium of Utrecht, she started composing and arranging herself, a skill she gladly uses in the music of Imbue.

Robin shares her love for old English times and creating music with Meidi Goh, who has a specific love for the music of Elizabethan England. The period in the Tudor times when Elisabeth 1st ruled (1558 – 1603) and Englands most famous son, Shakespeare, lived. Meidi is not classicly trained as such. She got a deep love the Viola da Gamba -the bass viol- and Renaissance music through her mother, who played in a recorder quartet. She started taking lessons with a Baroque violinist and then turned towards the tenor viol and singing. Her love for folk started when she joined the Dutch band AmmA, and she loved the freedom it gave her to improvise and create her own music, a freedom that accumulated in her first solo CD Heartstrings that came out earlier this year.

Remy Schreuder (picture left) is the third vocalist of the band and he is also a virtuoso on recorder and cornett – an early wind instrument. popular in Renaissance and Baroque times. Remy is classicly trained from a young age, and – just as Robin and Meidi- stepped away from the sheet music at a certain point to enroll in a musical training course, which taught him to play different styles of contemporary music: pop, jazz, blues, and even metal. It also taught him the skills of solo improvisation. At the moment he’s studying at the Historical Performance Department of the Conservatorium Utrech, all skills he puts to good use in Imbue.

Laurens Kah is Imbue’s Irish bouzouki player. He has had classical piano lessons from an early age and then took a detour through heavy metal. But the love for, as he describes it, “peaceful piano music”, which he kept through that time, brought him to folk music, where he now not only shares the stage with Imbue, but also with the folk band Pyrolysis as an accordionist.

Tim Elfring Imbue’s last band member we also know from Pyrolysis: He is of course percussionist and vocalist Tim Elfring. Tim is not classically trained, but equally talented and in his own right is just as important for Imbue’s sound as the other bandmembers. Medieval music sounds totally different from modern music, so Tim helps arrange the old sheet music into a more modern form. How he does that Robin explains herself at the end of this review.
From the introduction of the different band members, it’s already clear what you can expect from Imbue. Ut Solis Radium is filled with 12 beautiful medieval/Renaissance pieces with a good splash of balfolk to cheer it all up. And, I can already reveal, these songs are like honey to your ears.

It starts with the very first notes of Worldes Bliss, two beautiful female voices that instantly grab you. Did I say two female? I make that mistake e-v-e-r-y time I hear the beginning of this 12th century a capella English song. Because it is actually Robin and Remy singing here, so a female and male voice, but Remy has such an amazing range. He easily matches Robin’s voice, not only in height but also in the purity of tone and beauty. Really amazing. I think the official term for it is a countertenor. I know the unofficial term for it is a jawdropping “AMAZING!” To make things even more impressive in Hanacpachap Cussicuinin – a 17th century Peruvian hymn in Quechua – Remy takes on the bass ánd tenor voice. A simply insane range. But let’s not forget the third beautiful voice that Imbue has, Meidi Goh, also joins in. The first two songs are all about Imbue’s voices. A simple drum, flute, viola da gamba accompanies them, all done in such a controlled delicate way, yet with feeling and intent. When so much musical talent comes together in this way the result is just stunning. A compliment to Thomas Cochrane recording and mixing) and Ferry Verhoeve (mastering) from the Dutch E-sound studio, who together managed to capture every single note, but also every single moment of controlled silence perfectly.

O Madame is a lovely cheerful 16th century song with Remy playing lovely ‘ornaments to the main melody’ on the recorder (a quote from a conversation I had with Robin Lammertink about the new CD that describes Remy’s style of playing perfectly and she added that it is sort of his specialty). With the next song, J’ai Vu Le Loup, we have another French song, a classic among medieval and folk bands. Always fun to hear and Imbue’s version is no exception.
For now, I’ll keep focussing on the cheerful songs, Bobbing Joe is another one that puts a huge smile on my face, its a traditional song with words put to it by Meidi Goh who also took the lead on it, together with the fourth beautiful voice Imbue can put forward, that of Tim Elfring. This is also the main difference between the first album In Quator Tempora and this one, Imbue makes more use of all their vocal talents, making the album more varied.
I have to say I love the cheerful, dancing feel of Bobbing Joe. It is so Meidi Goh. You can hear her sparkling joyful energy in every note she, Tim, Laurens and Remy play. I loved it on her solo album Heartstrings and I love it here too. It also is the strength of Imbue. That match of classical talent and folk talent together, giving them a unique sound within both the folk- and the classical world

On Stella Splendens Robin shines. How she has grown as a singer since In quatuor Tempora. Mind you what she did on the first album was already impressive, but a couple of years of conservatorium brought out the best of her obvious vocal talent. It’s on moments like this I am grateful my mom used to play classical music a lot so that I learned to appreciate this side of the musical spectrum too. I would have missed so much beautiful music if she hadn’t. Imbue’s wonderful interpretation of this 14th century Latin song would be one.

Hemels Dauwe is a fun song, again different (compliments on the varied song choice Imbue) and in Dutch. It comes from Het Antwerps liedboek (The Antwerp songbook) and has balfolk written all over it. Can medieval music be cool? Well, the answer comes with the stunning last song om Ut Solis Radium. A resounding yes!! As I listen to the beautiful high notes that Robin is hitting in Mirie It Is While Summer Ilast, I can only come to one conclusion. Imbue’s music isn’t building a bridge between two worlds, no it is bringing four worlds together, that of medieval music, the Renaissance, classical chamber music and balfolk. And in a fresh contemporary way at that.
A must-have for all who love historical classical balfolk music.

– Cliff

editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Robin Lammertink, Meidi Goh
photo’s: Cliff de Booy

PS: As promised Robin Lammertink took some time to explain a bit about the different ways of singing harmonies.
Robin (middle): ‘The most common vocal style is the monody. This is a solistic vocal melody accompanied by an instrument who plays chords. When you sing with more people you could all sing the same melody; which would be singing in unison. But you could also sing in vocal harmony, which is when all the voices sing in the same rhythm, but different notes from the chord. Or, when every voice has an independent melody, ingeniously intertwining to become one composition, we speak of polyphony.
A good example of singing in vocal harmony is ‘O Madame’ was the second vocals of Meidi are simultaneous with the lead vocals, but on a different pitch, creating a harmony. A polyphonic example from our album is ‘Bobbing Joe’, where Tim’s melody has a different rhythm from Meidi’s melody; he sings long notes, while Meidi sings shorter notes. Btw it’s not only polyphonic, but it’s also polytextual; singing two different texts at the same time. This was actually quite common in the Middle Ages. Speaking of which; ‘A Round of three Country Dances in One’ (which did not end up on our album, but is on our Youtube) is polyphony ánd polytextuality at it’s best! 😉

Another interesting thing about medieval music is that before the 13th century the barline was not invented yet. Meaning there was no ‘pulse’ the way we feel the beat in modern music. Nowadays most music is divided in a 4/4 measure, with four beats in one bar, or a 3/4 measure with 3 beats in one bar. The ‘one’ is usually more accentuated (or ‘heavy’). This is a feeling we as modern music consumers all recognize. The ‘one’ is also very important for dancers.
Before this division in equal chunks of 4 or 3, there would just be a musical sentence with a random amount of beats, simply following the text. So this is where Tim comes in. He is there to find the “one’ in those sentences and create a suggestion of logic. Like for example in Stella Splendens. The first and the fifth bar of the couplet have 5 beats, while the rest have the ‘normal’ 4 beats. This feels strange to our modern ears, so it’s is Tim’s job to camouflage it gently without losing the old charm.

Emian – Egeria (2019) review

cover Egeria

It’s Monday morning, October, 08:17 in the morning. Outside it is cold, dark and pouring with rain. Literally pouring! I find myself on the train, on my way to work, with a newspaper that tells me a cold front will pass over Holland and it will bring lots of rain during the whole day. Well, looking out of the window I can confirm that. Walking out of the station it gets even worse. Every single bucket of water that every single god of the pagan pantheon could find is thrown down right here, right now. So without any hesitation, I walk past my trusty bike and step right into the city bus, out of that waterfall of rain into the warmth of the bus cabin. As I get comfortable on the bus seat I put the Emian’s new album in my Discman. And their music takes me deep into the magic of the Arabian desert. I can feel the hot wind rub my face as the sand dunes open up in my imagination. The contrast could not be bigger with the world outside my window. So I crawl even deeper into the corner of my seat and drift away in the warmth of Emian’s ever-expanding musical world.
group picture Emian From the first album, Aquaterra up to, their third album Egeria, Emian has been on quite an interesting musical journey. You only have to look at the list of instruments they play on every CD to see it. On Aquaterra it is the ‘common’ Celtic folk instruments; Irish harp, fiddle, flutes, tin whistle, Irish bouzouki, and acoustic bass. On the Mediterranean pagan folk album Khymeia the band added castanets, hurdy-gurdy, and Persian santur. On Egeria we suddenly see a whole range of ‘exotic’ instruments. Medieval bagpipe, bombarda, a Greek Aulos, the ciaramella, a marranzano, the Tibetan horn, an Indian harmonium, the Algerian mondol and a bandola, all new instruments to the Emain sound.
You can also see this journey back in the booklet as Anna Cefalo told me. In many ancient cultures the dragonfly, depicted on the sleeve art, stands for rebirth and transition. for Emian the dragonfly represents the transformation the band made from its birth to where the band is now. To my question, if the album title is also connected to that idea of transition Anna answered yes. Egeria is not only an ancient nymph, a Camena of the Roman pantheon, she was also an ancient traveler and as such her name is a worthy title for this CD. On this album the band decided to travel back to their cultural roots, all the way back to Roman times, the Etruscans and even the Middle East.

It’s only while listening to the new cd’s of Emian and Vael, and talking to Anna Cefalo about it, that I realized that there is more to pagan folk than the Celtic and Nordic folk that I started to associate the genre with through Omnia, SeeD, and LEAF. Looking at the roots of the Mediterranean bands there is ancient Greece, the Romans or Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Spanish Celtic tribes, the ancient cultures in the middle east, even the Egyptians are all part of the roots of Mediterranean people nowadays. Just as much as the Celtic and Viking culture is part of our western European pagan legacy.
So on Egeria, Emian explores their own pagan folk roots and with it new musical possibilities and you can clearly hear it on the new album. Where, on Khymeia, the focus was still on the open sound of the harp, bouzouki, and fiddle -with the hurdy-gurdy mixed more in the background- on Egeria the focus shifted towards the reed instruments, the medieval bagpipe, and the hurdy-gurdy. Another thing that changed is the production. Khymeia had a very rich sound, The music had many layers woven into it. Egeria is soberer, more focused on the melody and the lyrics. You could say Khymeia was a pop-folk album where Egeria has more of a singer-songwriter feel to it.

The best example of that ‘new’ sound is the fifth song on Egeria, La Casa Dell’Orco. It’s only the bouzouki, harp, and flute that start this beautiful song. The single sound of Martino’s drum then leads us into this ballad about the shepherd Silpa, that manages to slay a giant orc, but loses the one closest to his heart nevertheless. Anna Cefalo really shines in this song. With every verse, her voice gets more intense. You can really feel the hurt and sadness coming through with every note she sings, the medieval bagpipe and bombarda solo at the end only helps to tell this tragic story based on a legend from the area of Irpinia in the Italian Alps. (for those interested, Anna kindly translated the text into English, you can find the translation at the bottom of this review.) La Casa Dell’Orco is easily my most favorite song on Egeria. And although at certain moments I do miss the rich sound of Khymeia, the singer-songwriter approach brings out a new side to Emian that is equally nice, because La Casa Dell’ Orco isn’t the only lovely song on this album, Anna, as always, shines on more songs.

There is the lovely folk-pop ballad Rasabella, a traditional song from Calabria. The mouth harp intro puts an instant smile on my face, and then Anna’s soothing voice just lets me drift into this beautiful song, Emian at their very best.
Fronni D’Allia is the first surprise on Egeria. The intro makes me think of Valravn Or Lys, the last record of Kati Ran. It is as if Christopher Juul was asked to do the mix on this song. I like it, the eerie, slightly shaded tone of this work song from Basilicata works wonders with Anna’s crystal clear, soothing voice.

Group picture Emian Spirit Trail is another surprise. This song honoring the native American tribes, as depicted by Martino D’amico in the booklet -although it is honoring every free-spirited person out there if you read the lyrics well- is also written and sung by Martino. And I hope it won’t be the last time he does so. His voice is just as open, friendly and pleasant to listen to as Anna’s. The song itself is again singer-songwriter folk material. A guitar and a voice, that’s all Emian needs to tell this story. Yes, they do work towards a grand climax but in the end, the essence of spirit trail is found in the magic between those two ‘humble’ instruments, voice and bouzouki.

As always Emian also recorded some instrumental songs that are well worth mentioning. The first one is Ay Yildiz that flows into Le Navi Di Istanbul. And as to be expected from the titles it has this lovely middle-eastern feel to it that actually blends in really well with Emian’s ‘normal’ Mediterranean pagan folk style. In a way, Ay Yildiz starts just as Spirit Trail, small, with just two instruments. In this case its the harp and a Middle Eastern string instrument that I don’t even dare to guess at what it might be. It’s not important anyway. What is important is the beauty of the theme they play together. How the variations on that theme build and build to make a lovely dance song. (Anna did tell me what the mystery instrument is after she read the review. It’s a Turkish oud and it is played by guest musician Peppe Frana)

Another lovely instrumental dance medley is Evoe Evoe that gracefully flows over in Vesuvius. Again the melody starts small, this time it builds up faster, growing into a song that easily could have been on Khymeia too. Again Emian at their best. in Evoe Evoe / Vesuvius they are mixing delicate sections with lovely dance tunes, upbeat vocals with delicate solo harp moments, and the new middle eastern influences with the ‘old’ Mediterranean folk style we found on Khymeia; the best of both worlds. Fans of Faun, Waldkauz and of course Emian themselves, will fully enjoy this new album of theirs.

– Cliff

– editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
– sleeve art: Martino D’Amico
– photography in studio (1) Ciro Pizzo
– photography on location (2,3,4) Giulian Pisapia

The translation of the lyrics of La Casa Dell’Orco by Anna Cefalo

Shepherd Silpa walks among the mountains
the beasts (sheeps) follow the master safely.
Winter is near, a shelter is worthwhile
that takes away the bitter cold.

He plays to his flute sweet music,
tenacious it creeps among noble oaks,
with Matulpa his bride going down to the valley
and the dogs watching his back.

But a distant song reaches the procession,
a lugubrious chorus carried by the wind.
Curious Silpa, trembling Matulpa
– Stop your step, wayfarer! – They entered the orc’s house:
Cronopa the giant before his altar,
in his hand an ax ready to vibrate
on a man his mortal blow …

Fee Fi Fo Fum … Fee Fi Fo Fum …
Escape Silpa, don’t turn away go away!
Escape Silpa, you know the way!
Fee fi fo fum … Blood your wine will be!
Fee fi fo fum … Meat its bread will be!

On the edge of the ditch, Silpa shows itself,
the song stops, the giant turns.
The victim flees and Silpa runs fast
the hand to his bow leads.

The arrow shot at the heart strikes,
Furious Cronopa staggers and roars.
The mountains tremble, a chilling scream,
two steps and the giant perishes.

The saved men are on him,
armed with stones they die to death the monster,
then they moved towards shepherd Silpa
proclaiming him liberator.

But in the heart of Silpa there is no victory,
Matulpa has disappeared, this is not the glory!
He throws himself to look for her, but finally he finds
his beloved eaten by wolves…

Silpa sat on the stone, leaving his head on his chest.
A great silence grew around him…
The last corpse remains of Matulpa were buried and night fell.
Silpa lay down on the ground, closed his eyes and let himself die.

Sleep Silpa, go to her again.
Sleep Silpa, still playing for her.
Fee fi fo fum… This is the grave for me …
Fee fi fo fum… I still play for you …


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