Mann, the third album of
came out and it has been spinning its rounds in my CD player ever since, slowly revealing its inner beauty to me.
Slowly because I have to admit, it took me a while before I finally understood this album. In pop music (and pagan folk is in essence a subgenre of pop music) we are used to albums containing 3 to 5 minute long songs that each tell a story. Sometimes these stories connect together as chapters in a concept. But we still listen to them as individual things. With their first album Alvenrad, Sowulo took a different route. Main composer Faber Horbach made a piece of art, a mix of classical – and Celtic/Nordic music that sounded like a classical folk suite, celebrating the beauty of nature and the neo-pagan festivals. On the second Sowulo album Sol, the music was approached more as individual songs, in the tradition of a pop format. Listening to Mann the first few times I thought the band kept that song-orientated approach. But there is more to Mann than that, wáy more.
Mann is another musical journey, just as Alvenrad was. But this time it is not a journey through the year, a journey through nature, no, it’s an inner journey. As Faber described in an
we had with him earlier this year, these songs represent his inner four seasons. The different sides of his personality, represented by the warrior, the lover, the magician, and the king. It is a musical expression of these personalities, their struggles, and their growth. But not in the style of a singer-songwriter. No, it goes so much deeper, it is way more primordial. Yes, the album consists of 12 songs, with clear beginning and end, but they are so interlocked that you can only fully understand Mann if you see it as one concept, as one piece of musical art. I think I would describe it best if I said that a ‘normal’ pagan folk album is a collection of poems, whereas Mann is a book, a piece of literature, with the songs being chapters of a bigger thing.
As a piece of art Mann is a strong, a very strong statement. It was born as the soundtrack to a possible movie about a Dutch Celtic tribe in the early Middle Ages. The film never materialized, so Faber decided to use the material he already had for a new Sowulo CD and it became his most personal album yet. The golden moment was when Faber found an Anglo-Saxon rune poem that fitted perfectly with one of the tracks. The concept of Mann was born.
Those of you who have already heard the single Brego in Brēoste will have noticed a big difference in Sowulo’s music. Where Sol and especially Alvenrad were instrumental albums, with the violin and flute weaving beautiful melodies together, representing the beauty of nature, Brego in Brēoste is very much more percussion and especially vocal orientated. It is an intense song, very intense actually.
In our interview, Faber told us he had written this song at a time when major things were changing in his life and the world he knew seemed to fall apart. Well, you can clearly hear that in this extremely powerful song. Some of you may know that Faber is also the vocalist of the Viking/folk metal band
a band that mixes melodic metal in the style of
together with screamed vocals and folk influences. It’s clear Faber weaved elements of that particular style into the writing of Brego in Brēoste. He combined the clean double vocals and power of a metal band like Heidevolk with the strong percussion of
and mixed it with the classical harp, nyckelharpa, string ensemble set-up of the Sol album.
The result is intense and pure. Just as
manages to capture melodic heavy metal in a classical orchestral setting, Faber managed to do the same with Nordic folk metal. The vocals, in particular, seem to come from deep within his inner soul. He pours them out in an epic, theatrical way. For those who like Viking metal, this album is a treat. To those that love the melodic gentle classic melodies of Alvenrad and Sol, I should give a heads up. Although still based on classical instruments like the violin, viola, harp, and nyckelharpa, Mann has a different, more dramatic feel to it. You can see Brego in Brēoste as a blueprint for the whole CD. So if your not sure about that song you might want to listen to Mann first before buying. On the other hand, if you love Brego in Brēoste (and I know many do) you’re in for a treat.
This is also the point where I would normally mention I miss a wee bit of variation, especially in the vocals. They are constantly in that same, double vocal, theatrical, slightly screamy style. The constant driving percussion will only enhance that. Some listeners will find this too intense after a while. (In all honesty, this happened to me too the first times I listened to Mann.) But, as I said earlier, this is not a collection of songs. This is an artist expressing himself through music. This is a composer showing his inner self to the world. And in that case, there is no right or wrong.
Having said that, it’s not that there aren’t beautiful songs on Mann. Especially in the second part of the album, there are plenty. Fægru Fara for instance. One of the lovesongs on Mann, although you have to expect a warrior style lovesong. Even in his lovesongs, Faber keeps using those double vocal power chords. It’s the string section -Sophie Zaaijer on violin, Klaartje van Zwoll on viola, Faber on nyckelharpa and Chloe Bakker (right) her harp melodies under it that make Fægru Fara a very nice love song.
There is also Dēoplīcu Ðearf a lovely song with strong vocals, tender moments, but also a lot of the beautiful orchestral parts we know from Sowulo’s previous albums Alvenrad and Sol. One of my favourite songs on Mann. And there are more.
Wulfwiga is another one of them. It starts intriguing with some wood percussion and chant-like singing. But it’s after the intro that the song reveals its true beauty. Strong, almost shamanic percussion, epic vocals and a catchy melody played by the string section, featuring the nyckelharpa. Epic stuff! This is a song you should play loud, just to feel its full impact. I can’t wait to hear this life over a full stage sound system. It’s gonna bee something, I’m sure of that.
My absolute favourite song is Slincan Snīcan. It combines everything that is good about Mann. It starts with a lovely atmospheric intro played by Faber on synthesizer and Chloe on harp. Like morning fog hovering over the music. Faber’s vocals work wonders here. I really like those Anglo-Saxon lyrics and never knew they were so closely related to modern Dutch. Then suddenly Faber opens up his full lung capacity for a vocal climax in the song, even enhanced by the powerful orchestral string section. This is Faber, the composer, at his very best, making full advantage of the talent of his fellow musicians, and the song is wonderfully mixed by
Fieke van den Hurk.
Really something special.
The last song I would like to pick up on is also the most ‘extreme’ one, Berabeorn. In this song Sowulo comes closest to an acoustic version of Myrkvar. This is pure acoustic Nordic folk metal and probably not everybody’s cup of tea. But honestly, I love it for its pure emotion. The start is especially raw, distorted and rather disturbing in a way. Yet it is beautiful, actually because of that. This is the point where music becomes art. It will not be for everybody, but that’s not the intention of this album anyway. Mann is not about recording 12 joyful folk tunes. This is about an artist expressing himself in the purest form.
As I said at the start, this review took me a while. I had to learn to love this album. At first, it was too much for me, too strong, too much raw emotion pouring out for me to handle in one go. It was one looong epic scream with heavy percussion under it. But listening to it again and again, Mann started to grow on me. Starting with the songs that are a bit ‘ lighter’, Wōhs Wildum, Slincan Snīcan, Dēoplīcu Ðearf, Hēahlufu and Wulfwiga. I started listening to what was behind those power vocals. I started recognising the individual songs and started hearing the beauty of the melodies under them. I also started reading the lyrics with the songs, and in that way deepened my understanding of the music Faber composed. In the end it all started to make sense to me.
Mann will always divide people. I’ve seen a lot of responses from people that love it for its power and its intensity, and I can fully understand that now. I can also understand that for some it’s too much. All I can say is give this album time, open yourself up for it and start discovering its beauty even if it is one song at a time.
I for one know that this album will keep me busy for quite a while to come. And I’m actually looking forward to that. Mann intrigues me, it grabs me way more than I thought it would the first time I listened to it. It has gotten deep under my skin. It provokes me every time I listen to it. Just as a good piece of art should do.
Editor: Diane Deroubiax
sleeve art: Jasper van Gheluwe & Samiye van Rossum
photography: Wolfgang Schmitt