In these odd times we are living in, it is good to know that some things just don’t change. The first spring sun still heralds the start of the year, the morning chorus of birds still greets us when we wake up, the evening fire still warms our bones and the sound of
Trobar de Morte
still soothes our souls, no matter if you put on their first record Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly or their latest one called The Book Of Shadows. It feels really reassuring to hear that typical Trobar de Morte sound ringing in my headphones. Those layered, slightly melancholic vocals of lady Morte, those calming, wall-to-wall ambient pagan folk melodies, those mythical lyrics filling the room with a peaceful ease that only this Spanish band has mastered. Once inspired by
Dead Can Dance,
Trobar de Morte are now a pagan folk phenomenon in their own right, with their very own unique sound and I love them for that. The intro Introilus Libris Tenebris, and songs like Mandragora Autumnalis, Melusine Cantus or Plenilunio are all a joy of recognition. Trobar de Morte have a new album out and after just a few notes I feel right at home. It seems nothing has changed at all, with an emphasis on seems!
But, as always, I’m getting way ahead of myself now. So let’s ‘open’ The Book of Shadows and dive into the unique world of Trobar de Morte once more.
the Intro, Introitus Libris Tenebris, is all you’ve come to expect from Trobar de Morte. Impressive ambient pagan folk soundscapes that could well work as a film score for any self-respecting epic fantasy movie. Be it Lord of the Rings, Elfquest, Journey to the Center of the Earth, or the Dark Crystal, they could all do with a touch of Trobar de Morte magic. Come to think of it, this intro indeed feels like you are gliding into something deep and mysterious. Into a portal deep down into the center of the earth. As if you walk down into a dark cave, torches casting long shadows over the crystal walls, the echoes of your footsteps ringing loudly through your ears, betraying every gentle step you take. The silence loud and eerie, the atmosphere tense as if you could cut it with a knife. At the end of it, a cave, beautiful, grand, torch-lit, with stalactites in all shapes and colours. The whole sight of it is breathtaking. Unearthly. Elflike. And in the middle of it, floating above an enchanted lake – its water reflecting the orange colour of the torches burning in all corners of this fast cavern- you’ll find the Book of Shadows hidden deep inside this secret entrance to Middle Earth. (This is what happens when your imagination meets Trobar’s music, it will drift off to wherever it wants to lead you and I happily will let it.)
The second song, Sacrifice, continues with this same enchanting feel. At the start of the song, the sound of water droplets seems to follow you closely as whispered voices lure you deeper into this mysterious world. The song itself seems to be Middle Eastern (Persian perhaps), and has a warm feel to it. The layered vocals, as always, are impressive. The music, as always, feels like a soothing blanket that you instantly want to snuggle in. The dramatic arrangements of the music, as always, seem to lure you away into those dark shadows of comfort only Lady Morte can provide. Yes, this is Trobar at is very, very best. A solid musical mix of
and Dead Can Dance, and I am preparing myself for a lovely journey into familiar musical grounds.
Well, the musical journey is indeed lovely, but not into those familiar grounds I was expecting. On the contrary! The next song, The Unquiet Grave sounds way more open, much more Celtic than I am used from Trobar de Morte. It is far more towards Cesair’s epic folk sound than the usual carpet-like Dead Can Dance style I am used to hearing from Lady Morte. Looking at the booklet, The Unquiet Grave is credited as a traditional English folk song and indeed it shares its DNA with another English classic: Over The Hills And Far Away. So definitely NOT what I was expecting! When Uri Bokskog throws in a lovely Celtic tin whistle solo, the sound seemingly flowing in from the distant fields of Ireland, my surprise is complete.
Anxiously I await the start of Mandragora Autumnalis: will it be a continuation of this ‘new’ Celtic sound? Yes, it is! A single harp melody follows you as you walk through a thick and ancient forest. There is the sound of birds, both ancient and exotic, eerie and muffled, dampened by the mist of the forest. It sets the mood perfectly for what is to come. As always Oscar David (Axstudio, responsible for the mix and mastering) and Lady Morte (co-producer) managed to put down an awesome, unique sound. The drums are dark and spiritual, drawing you deep into ancient woods. Woods that are created in your imagination, born out of the tantalizing music of Trobar de Morte It’s the green forests hidden deep within the pages of The Book of Shadows. Right there, between the dark shadows of the immaculate handwriting that covers the pages of this ancient book of wisdom. It is filled with the power of long-forgotten druids, their spells luring you in. This, dear friends, is powerful magic. The Mandragora is calling you in, deeper and deeper, do you dare and follow its call?
Going into the fifth song, Fuga Maleficis, I’m starting to understand what is so different about Trobar’s sound on this album. The music is still layered, it is still created by stacking melody upon melody, but where on previous albums the layers were mostly glued together with keyboard carpets and voice effects, in this case, the layers are filled in with the instruments themselves, which gives the overall sound more space to breathe. It gives the individual instruments more
room to fill, making you hear much more of the nuances played by the musicians than you normally would. Even on Fuga Maleficis, – which is a typical grand Trobar de Morte song with all those multi-layered choir vocals and magnificent orchestral arrangements of strings, percussion, and folk instruments- you can hear ALL the subtle details as well. You can easily hear the cheerful tin whistle solo playing around the Celtic choir for instance. Or the viola sound quickly ‘rushing’ away into the shadow of the woods, as it finds itself captured in a musical break, just seconds before the enchanting power of lady Morte’s vocals is unleashed again. It are two small details hidden within an impressive orchestra of sound, but it are those details take make this CD extra special.
The same goes for the vocals. On this album Oscar and Lady Morte managed to make it sound like a true, full-on, mighty impressive choir. What a sound. What a stunning song this is. Possibly my favourite one on this album. This more open natural sound also makes The Book of Shadows sound rather cheerful and positive despite its dark title. It is almost in contrast with its title actually. Melusine Cantus is another good example of this. Yes, it is solemn in style, the Latin texts even enhance the spiritual feel of the song, but the open, ‘natural’ sound of the song gives it a pleasant feel. We celebrate the power of the Book of Shadows on this album, we do not fear it. We hear the music through the ears of the Druids and Wiccans of this world, past and present. Those who are one with nature, not in fear of them as some people would be.
Pleninulio sounds like a reprise of Sister Of The Night (found on the 2018 album Witchcraft) and is another one of my highlights on this great album. I loved the song in its original form, dark and daunting. I also love it in this more open, instrumental, Persian reprise. Hearing all those details in the music is a treat. The percussion (well done throughout the whole CD); the grand string arrangements; the subtle organ-like keyboard support; the beautiful cello/ viola solo starting around 50 seconds, answered by the whole string section; the enchanting vocal solo of lady Morte; the hurdy-gurdy seemingly calling from the edge of the woods; and the Spanish sounding guitar solo taking you to a musical version of Alhambra, holding its own against a virtual castle wall of orchestral sound. This is one of the best songs Trobar de Morte ever recorded. But not the only wonderful song on The Book of Shadows. Just listen to Land of Sorcery, how positive that feels, what an enchanting mix between Celtic folk and spiritual pagan folk it is. Listen to Luna Cornula and the dark male vocals of Uri catching me off guard yet again. Darn, this is all SOOO good!!!
My conclusion can be short and sweet. I love the pagan folk/Dead Can Dance sound Trobar de Morte have created over the years. I would not have minded another album in that style, not at all. But I ADORE this version of their music, this open orchestral version of lady Morte’s unique style. Trobar de Morte have recorded another musical masterpiece. One that will spread joy and positivity as much as it will spread awe amongst their fans, including myself. A positivity that is much needed in these odd times, and I thank Trobar de Morte for that, with all my heart!
cover art:artdrómeda photography
Pictures: Cliff de Booy
The Carrots – Driftwood (2020)
Cliff de Booy
From the first seconds of The Flood you can hear the two trump cards of
the vocals of the sisters Susanne and Hanna van Gemeren. Rarely have I heard two voices blend together so beautifully, so harmonious. They are truly breathtaking together. Combine that with Wouter Raidt’s gentle touch on the acoustic guitar and you are onto a winner. Singer-songwriter folk with a touch of Americana and a real angelic feel that you just have to buy!!!
Good! With this conclusion, this review is sorted! On to the next one! Maybe, but it would be unfair to this lovely young trio to stop here. (And to myself as well, ’cause as long as I write on I can keep listening to this delightful EP. And honestly, I will take on any excuse to do so.)
The Carrots are a trio from Zwolle, the Netherlands. The three of them already earned their stripes in the Dutch scene with the band
Half a Mile,
a band that was together for almost 10 years and had their farewell performance on April the 25th, 2019. Susanne, Hanna and Wouter decided to carry on making music together as a trio and Driftwood is their first official sign of life. What a sign of life it is. I will be highly surprised if this EP won’t open doors for them as soon as the festival season will start again.
As I said in the intro, the opening song The Flood starts really strong. It is a bitter chocolate, singer-songwriter treat wrapped in a delicious pop sound, with a tasty coating of salty Americana caramel to finish it all off. This is candy to the ears of those who share my love for
The Civil Wars,
The two sisters draw you into the Carrot’s music from the very first note they sing. It is a ‘simple’ hum they sing, but the two ladies are able to put so much power and energy in that humble ‘hmmmmm’ sound, I find it astonishing. It is strong, feminine and slightly melancholic but most of all really powerful. Still, within that feminine strength, their voices also have a fragile touch which makes me think of the Dutch dream folk band
Rosemary & Garlic.
But there is more to this ballad than a single hum. A melancholic acoustic guitar riff leads you in heartbroken but beautifully poetic lyrics. When (a minute into the song) Susanne and Hanna’s voices start weaving and circling around each other, the colour of it all reminds me of another strong feminine but emotive vocalist,
Amy Lee. Mind you I’m just comparing the colour of the voices with each other. In no way am I implying that The Carrots make gothic folk-rock!
Having said that…, they do know how to rock though! Listen to Everything Flows, the second track on Driftwood, and the three of them will prove it straight away. Especially the middle part truly kicks ass! The bouzouki ‘riffs’ after the harmonies at 2:40 will get everybody onto their feet. Especially, when played live. And then I’m almost forgetting the whole build-up to that point. It starts from the second verse. The music breaks down into a single bouzouki chord, with some percussion accents, highlighting those beautiful harmonies of the van Gemeren sisters. It all gets stronger and stronger until the whole song erupts in an acoustic, western folk-rock extravaganza. The Carrots surely have a potential hit on their hands with this song.
It is not the only hit on Driftwood though. The power ballad Train Of Thoughts also has hit potential written all over it. Not that it is a commercial song, no, it is just ear-catching beautiful. Again a melody that instantly digs itself into your brain. The guitar chords, the bass line, those voices, they all blend so perfectly well together. Train of Thoughts clearly shows the difference between a designed hit and one that came naturally. This one keeps getting better every time I hear it. And we are not done yet. Hit number three comes straight after Train of Thoughts.
It is called Note To Little Me and it is a true ballad. I love the lyrics of this song. Pure singer-songwriter poetry. I also love the voice of Susanne, she genuinely sounds like Rachel Croft’s sister in this song, instantly making her one of my favourite female vocalists in the folk world.
I find every single bit of this song amazing, but mostly the simplicity of it. 80% of it is just a voice and a guitar. And trust me, it needs nothing more. The result is…, GOOSEBUMPS! Note to Little Me is easily my personal favourite on an album that has the bar raised terribly high.
Closing song Clockwork comes closest to pure old school European folk as we know it. It has that almost medieval storytelling quality that makes me immediately think of classics like
version of Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse,
Meidi Goh’sFoxskin, or
AmmA’sMatty Groves. With Susanne and Hanna on vocals I am mostly drawn to Amma as a comparison actually, and that ain’t a bad thing. But enough about the vocal awesomeness that is displayed all over this EP. At this point, I want to put the spotlight on Wouter Raidt’s guitar playing. He silently shines throughout the whole EP with his warm, thoughtful style of playing. He is the perfect accompanist for the ladies, taking his place in the background, making them sound awesome, as a true musical gentleman would. But he is well capable to spice up the music when needed. That frisky guitar riff under the verse in this song for instance. I just love hearing him walk all over his frets, giving the song an unexpected cheerfulness. When the moment is right, he has the technique to throw down a lovely guitar solo as well. In this case, the guitarsolo has a distinctive Spanish feel to it. Giving Clockwork (and the whole EP) another interesting musical twist.
I started this review by saying the Carrots have two trump cards. That is actually not true. They have three. Wouter is just as important to their sound as the ladies are. They all blend beautifully together, enhancing each other’s talents, which makes them the perfect trio. Can’t wait to see them perform live! I just know we will be in for a treat. Until that moment, we just have to make do with Driftwood. Not a bad replacement though. Not at all!!!
ps. The Carrots recorded a quarantine video, a cover of the song Kingdom Come, originally recorded by the Civil Wars. A lovely version paying true homage to the equally beautiful original. It is way too good not to post here, although it isn’t featured on the EP. Maybe on a future one?? editor: Anna
CD Artwork: Susanne van Gemeren
Picture: Tanja van Dijk
Sangre de Muerdago – Xuntas (2020)
Cliff de Booy
‘Sangre de Muerdago stands on the wild side, on top of the cliffs, at the depths of the woods…., Galician Folk songs to heal and roam, to dance and love.’ These are the opening lines of their bio on Bandcamp, and I could not have said it better myself. I first heard of this Galician band (situated in Germany) through the site
singer and multi-instrumentalist Dani Iturriaga who has been a fan of the band for years. He introduced the previous
Sangre de Muerdago
album Noite with the following words: ‘Comprado en uno de los conciertos más mágicos a los que he asistido.‘ (Bought at one of the most magical concerts I have ever attended.) That was enough for us to look up this lovely band and we were not disappointed. Noite is a lovely album that we already play in our stream and we were anxiously awaiting the follow-up album Xuntas.
In November of last year Pablo “Pabs” C. Ursusson (classical guitar, hurdy-gurdy, music box, steel-string guitar, bells, lead vocals), Erik “Erich” Heimansberg (flute, pandero de Peñaparda, bass clarinet, vocals), Hanna Werth (viola, vocals), Georg “Xurxo” Börner (nyckelharpa, vocals) and Asia Kindred Moore (Celtic harp) released Xuntas and it has been patiently turning its rounds in my CD player ever since.
Before I start the actual review there is one more person I should mention here. A person whose name you will always find in the band’s artwork, and also in interviews with the band. A person who, when I asked Pablo if he could give me the lineup of the band, was credited to deliver ‘Melodies from the Otherworld’. This person is Jorge Olson de Abreu. Pablo explains: ‘Jorge died after we recorded the demo, before the first album was recorded, but for me, he has always remained part of the band. Even though he has been gone 12 years now, I still consider him an active part of Sangre de Muerdago if that makes any sense.’
It makes perfect sense to me, so with this being the first Sangre de Muerdgo review I do, it feels fitting to dedicate this review to a man that will [quote]: Always give inspiration from the otherworld. (Noite). Your legacy still lives on Jorge. Xuntas
Trust me, if you acquire Xuntas you will be in for a treat, starting from the very, VERY first note you will hear. You almost expect a Spanish song to start with classical guitar and Sangre de Muerdago kindly fulfills that expectation, soon followed by the melancholic sound of a nyckelharpa and one single voice. But what a voice! Pablo has a voice so tender, soothing, pure, and delicate at the same time that I’m captivated from the first note he sings. A lovely flute solo is the icing on the cake. Sangre de Muerdago’s music is the beautiful sum of three simple ingredients: a lovely combination of singer-songwriting, a delicate sauce of European folk, and a slight seasoning of classical chamber music. This is fine dining put to music. The first song Cadeliña is a perfect example of it. If you love this song, you will love the whole album. And what do you drink with an exquisite meal? Wine, of course! Wine; rich, velvety red, but still smooth to the touch. The second (title) track Xuntas oozes that out from all sides. It is true European folk with rich harmonies, strong classical influences, and an exquisite touch of
magic to finish it off. Truly stunning.
The title track Xuntas, featuring guest vocalist Steve von Till (Neurosis).
Sangre de Muerdago master instrumental songs just as well. They have a lovely open sound to their music which is like a gentle breeze on a spring day. All the instruments the band play have this calming, this soothing quality. Acoustic guitar, Celtic harp, nyckelharpa, viola, bass clarinet, even the hurdy-gurdy (!), are all recorded perfectly clean, all are played light as a feather, full of emotion, full of love. Is there a thing called instrumental singer-songwriter music? If you listen to Unha Das Peores Cousas Que Escoitéi no 2019 Foi “Pedir perdón é un acto de debilidade” (what’s in a name?), the answer is yes. Every word is said without speaking. Every syllable is captured in notes. I should compliment the sound engineer Tobias Häussler too here. This is recorded so beautifully; so full, so rich. You can hear every note played; the attack of the nyckelharpa (I always love hearing these rhythmical clicks as the notes are played); the natural richness of the guitar and harp; and then there is the impressive orchestration, the grand build-up of melodies at the end.
The Magic Door
And then you get those subtle notes at the very, very end! Yes, this song has everything an impressive instrumental music piece needs.
The song with arguably the longest songtitle ever: ‘Unha Das Peores Cousas Que Escoitéi no 2019 Foi “Pedir perdón é un acto de debilidade’, featuring Germán Díaz on hurdy-gurdyThe magic continues
I mentioned Arthuan Rebis and his project The Magic Door before and in Canción de Berce I am reminded of him again. I find him in that clever use of the viola and harp, combined with this slightly melancholy music Sangre de Muerdago plays, in a style I just cannot define and don’t want to define, actually. I just want to listen to it and float away into my own little dream world. A world where spring mornings last forever. A world where Arthuan Rebis and
are happily sharing the stage on a Castlefest Sunday morning. I can easily see myself sitting on the hill opposite the old Folk Stage at Castlefest, soaking this all in. My eyes closed, loving every moment of it, knowing a whole crowd is doing the very same thing. And they would, I’m sure of that. Sangre de Muerdago’s music has a timeless quality to it, a melancholic beauty that instantly sweeps you away.
On Lonxanía a lot of medieval influences flow into Sangre de Muerdago’s music. Let’s say we have
and Árstíðir together on stage now. Pablo also shows a different aspect of his voice in this song, much stronger, but still perfectly in tune and full of emotion. The singer-songwriter is gone now and the medieval bard appears. (Iris, the lovely editor of this review even got some Russian vibes from the vocals.) It makes Lonxanía a lovely contemporary take on medieval music.
María Soliña is a small song, a moment in time captured on tape. An honest celebration of life caught in a whistle. Nature’s beauty put in a few guitar notes. This proves once again that singer-songwriter music doesn’t need words. Not in this case. Not if you are Sangre de Muerdago.
Coma Un Bico reminds me a lot of Vael again, just as rich and beautiful, but without the Oriental influences that are so distinctive of Vael’s music. And I truly adore the music box/finger-picked violin ending of this song. It is as if Sangre de Muerdago brought that music box to life in the studio. And maybe they did, who knows!
A lovely live version of Coma Un Bico
I could go on and on about this album. And listening to the powerful, captivating chamber music melody that is Foliada de Tenorio, I really have to restrain myself not to. But I know I’m only going to repeat myself. There just are no highlights on Xuntas, the album itself is the highlight! Eleven beautiful songs long. European folk meets classical chamber music. Medieval music meets contemporary folk. Even pagan folk
meets medieval folk. Just listen to Heavy Mental and you’ll know exactly what I mean. What a treat this is. From the very first guitar stroke till the very last music box notes, this is a stunning album. Truly! I cannot think of any reason NOT to acquire it!
Cover art:Kaska Niemiro
band pictures: Josanne van der Heijden
Music box picture: Sangre de Muerdago
The Moon and the Nightspirit – Aether (2020) Review
Cliff de Booy
For almost two decades, Ágnes Tóth and Mihály Szabó, also known as
The Moon and the Nightspirit
have been blessing us with their unique blend of world music and medieval soundscapes. Music both timeless and ancient; sounds both dreamy and spooky; melodies both tender and dark; vocals both soothing and eerie; that is the musical world The Moon and the Nightspirit has created. A world that can be found in the twilight zone of Eastern European folk. Six albums long The Moon and the Nightspirit have enchanted us with their unique, acoustic take on pagan folk music, and I have loved every single record.
In the summer of this year, the duo released their seventh album Aether, and during the release, Ágnes and Mihály already told the world this album would be different. ‘It was time for us to re-adjust our approach. You could call the new album Aether a milestone in the history of the band, with a surprising stylistic recalibration during songwriting – for whereas so far, singer Ágnes’ voice has been front and center, the new songs now perfectly balance the female and male sides of the Moon and the Nightspirits musical entity.’
And with that new approach, Ágnes and Mihály wrote a musical masterpiece as far as I am concerned. There is so much to tell about Aether that I’m afraid I might turn this review into a novel.
The title song Aether still sounds like The Moon and the Nightspirit as we know it from their previous records. The lovely soundscape to start it off; the subtle guitar notes; the rich and ancient sound of the dulcimer; the typical vocals of Ágnes (combining the innocence of a child with the ancient wisdom of a forest elf in her voice), the haunted violin chords, it is all so typical, all so beautiful, all so unmistakably The Moon and the Nightspirit. Within minutes I’m drawn into the song, drawn into the CD actually. The captivating power of The Moon and the Nightspirits’music is all because of the writing skills of Ágnes and Mihály, the ingenious way these talented musicians build-up their songs. It is never rushed, never forced. It feels like the music is growing organically; like it is born from within itself, these notes were always there in the mists of time, waiting to be found by those who dared to listen; and now it is found. Now it is recorded, and all I want to do is close my eyes, listen, feel, absorb it all and let go, let myself get swept away by it all. Gliding in the essence of Aether. This is just the first song and I already know this is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year!
It is on the second song Kaputlan Kapukon Át, that we hear The Moon and the Nightspirits’ male side for the first time. And well, I LOVE it. Truly love it. Ágnes and Mihály have added an electronic feel to their music that is very similar to the sound
Placing the music of The Moon and the Nightspirit slap-bang in the middle of three of my all-time favourite bands: Shireen, The Moon and the Nightspirit themselves, and the gothic/dream-pop duo
It is all so beautiful I find it hard to describe. Where do I start? It is that power of the low keyboard sound – sounding like an electrified version of a mouth harp/slidgeridoo combination – driving and driving the song; it’s those fragile, eerie vocals of Ágnes, tender, breakable and oooooh so enticing; it is the flow of the music, coming and going, like waves of gothic power building up and crashing into the acoustic medieval coral-like intermezzos in between. For those who love gothic medieval rock, this is a masterpiece. A true masterpiece. The only downside is that the song slowly fades out waaaay before I want it to end. Even tho it clocks in at 6:37 it feels like an instant. This is a song I want to last forever and ever, even longer if in any way possible.
Luckily it is not the end of the album….Nooo we still have 5 more gems to come. Égi Messzeségek is next. Again there is that electric drone, that sampled mouth harp drawing me deep, deep into the mystical world of The Moon and the Nightspirit. Take the sound of Shireen; the sound of
Dead Can Dance
the feel of the Cranes dark masterpieces Adoration or Thursday of their debut album Wings of Joy; add Faber Horbach’s
spoken scream vocals on Mann; add a Sophie ‘Shireen’ Zaaijer-like violin solo and you have the new sound of The Moon and the Nightspirit on Égi Messzeségek. Now honestly, what is not to love about that?
Do I need to go on? Do I need to mention A Szárny; the pure gothic rock drum sound in it; the layer upon layer of dark musical silk making this music so strong, sooo powerful, sooooo beautiful. The clever thing is that: with every next song on Aether, the band adds a new element to it. You are guided into their new sound. Guided from the old feminine, medieval folk music of earlier records into these new masculine soundscapes. Clever; so clever.
Logos starts gently again; reminiscent of
Ancient Shadows album. It gives us a moment to breathe after the intense journey we just had. It is also proof that The Moon and The Nightspirit didn’t lose their soft side. No, they just added to it. Boy did they add to it! Don’t sit and wonder too long cause A Mindenség Hívása is coming, and the drum fills are ready to grab you, take you down in a bliss of musical adoration again.
My conclusion can be short but sweet. This is the best album I heard in 2020. And yes I am biased, as I have been a fan of gothic music ever since its origins at the end of the ’70s. Hearing Aether for the first time truly had the same effect on me as hearing
the Sisters of Mercy
for the very first time. Or a musically better comparison
Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Two bands I adore. Just as their music 40 odd years ago, Aether just blew me away from the very first note! The cool thing is The Moon and the Nightspirit added their own uniqueness to the gothic style. Yes, it has this dark power of the early goth bands, but just as Shireen, they added sooo many more layers to it. This music oozes richness, it oozes velvety dark chocolate out of every note played; velvety-dark and bittersweet; beautifully soft; intensely strong. Aether opens the door to the dark elf lands existing in the twilight of our imagination. This is NOT a normal album; produced, composed, written, and arranged, no no no no! This is a living, breathing musical entity, lying dormant in the Aether of time, sleeping amongst the night spirits, waiting to finally appear…. and I truly, truly love it!
Cover art: Ágnes Tóth
pictures: Spiegelwelten photography
Priscilla Hernandez – The Underliving (2011) review
Cliff de Booy
I usually don’t start a review talking about the artwork of it, but in the case of
second album, The Underliving it is the only obvious thing to do. The fantasy folk scene is known for the beautiful artwork with one being even more stunning than the other. You probably remember the beautiful booklet that covers Mythos, the second
album, or the equally impressive booklet accompanying Eden, that famous concept album
released in 2011, The double-sided picture book illustrating the Riven double CD by
is another example, not to mention the illustrated fairy tale that was added to
Pagan Folk Lore DVD. Well, I can tell you that the casing that Priscilla Hernandez designed for her The Underliving album can hold its own with all the aforementioned books.
Not only is it 3 centimetrers longer than a normal CD casing, it also filled with lovely fantasy drawings in Priscilla’s own slightly eerie, slightly gothic, slightly fairy tale style. Blended between them are photographs edited and coloured in the same blue-greyish hue as the drawings that fit the theme of The Underliving so well.
Priscilla Hernandez is not only a composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer AND poet, she is also an illustrator and writer. On her
she tells us that even before she started making music at a young age, she was already making drawings to illustrate her own stories.
One of those stories is an unpublished graphic comic called
Yidneth started as a horror/fantasy novel that Priscilla then illustrated to turn into a comic.
– “It consists of a 74 coloured page gothic-fantasy comic graphic novel I scripted when a child and that took shape as a graphic novel done through the ’80s until ’90s.’ Priscilla tells us on her webpage. On the fact that it was never published she says the following:
– “Yidneth is my trademark and the name of my company and record label but also name that I invented for my personal project, and not my artistic name (though after using it so long it’s almost like my alter-ego). When I was younger I was more focused in my works as an illustrator and then somehow music got more successful and carried away some of my projects that remained then on hold.”
Parts of that artwork did make it into her CD booklets though, and also songs like Ancient Shadows or Lament, found on Priscilla’s first album Ancient Shadows – the Ghost and the Fairy, are directly inspired by pages of that unpublished Yidneth story.
The Underliving is one of the worlds Priscilla created in her novel. To quote her again: -‘The Underliving is a world of reveries in the mist, lost veiled memories concealed in an alluring grey and white realm….
…Dormant in the corner of your eyes, always there but hidden from your sight, The underliving creatures sway over the living without our awareness. They observe us. They play with us. They inspire us…. … The album portrays the story of a chosen child that can perceive this “Otherworld” and longs to be part of it.’
So that’s the story behind The Underliving and that’s also the reason why I hope modern song downloads and Spotify will never fully replace a CD. Especially in our scene the music (almost) always has a story, a reason why it is made. And the artwork made for those albums reflects that. They are not random pictures, but an intricate part of the whole theme a musician wants to express. With us buying complete albums we keep that alive. And by diving into the artwork we also come so much closer to the essence of the music we are hearing. We understand more why it is created, what it means to the one creating it, what the artist wanted to say to us. In my eyes, The Underliving‘s artwork conclusively proves that point.
OK, it’s time to climb off my soapbox and finally get that CD in my Discman. From the first notes of In The Mist you notice the beautiful cello melody played by
Biel Fiol and
Both part of Priscilla’s band at the time,
(rightside photo) giving the ambient/new age music a more earthy feel than I knew from Ancient Shadows. More classical. The beat under it is also different, less triphop, more pagan folk. As this delicate new age ballad develops into a full song it’s an orchestra I hear, not a keyboard generated sound. That may be the biggest difference between Ancient Shadows and The Underliving. Where on Ancient Shadows Priscilla ‘only’played piano and keyboards, on The Underliving she also plays harp, mountain-, baritone-, and hammered dulcimer, psaltery, Koshi chimes, kantele, jouhikko, double ocarina, glass harp, singing bowls, flute, Irish tin- and low whistle, bansuri, and chalumeau. It’s mesmerizing only reading the list. It makes the music much richer, much fuller, quite different from the keyboard sound of Ancient Shadows.
The rich earthy sound continues with the cello in the title song The Underliving. Strong strokes straight away pull you into the song and Priscilla’s opening vocals captivate you even more. With the power of the cello, I have to think of an ambient version of
straight away, but Priscilla has her own style of singing, dreamy, warm and soothing, but also sharp and eerie when needed.
When I hear the electric guitar creeping in towards the end, I’m even more convinced Priscilla is the ambient/new age sister of Amy Lee, or of a young
Sharon den Adel
or should I say all three are the adopted daughters of that most famous fantasy pop singer of all:
It’s all concealed in the mists of time I guess.
Talking of Kate: Feel the Thrill is the first song with the ambient pop feel that I know from Ancient Shadows. Where the previous song The Underliving is more a classical, acoustic version of a gothic rock song, Feel The Thrill takes me back to
Frozen. The keyboard sound underneath it takes me even further back, all the way to the ’80s and the synthpop sound of bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. It’s also a really catchy song, and could have been an instant hit if it had been picked up by radio stations.
It sounds like a mellow, ambient version of
music actually. The same goes for Through The Long way. If you’re into ambient fantasy music, this album is definitely for you. Good beat, beautiful orchestral arrangements, a catchy melody, and Priscilla’s beautiful vocals, you don’t need much more than this.
The cool thing with Priscilla’s music is that she doesn’t believe in the boundaries of a style. She just wants to make beautiful dreamscape type music and will add whatever instrument or influence needed, as is clear from the list of instruments featured on this album. So at one moment, I hear a tune or a cello reminding me of
the next moment I’m thinking
Dark Crystal, the original movie soundtrack
and seconds after that I’m rushing to get
Bare EP out. For me that is the power of Priscilla’s music, it is pure and genuine, and as you probably have gathered by now, I find it extremely beautiful.
The dreamy, slightly eerie In My Mind’s Eye, the spooky piano ballad Off The Lane, the Native American/Cesair-like pagan folk song Northern Lights, the piano/string ballad Morning light or the stunning ballad At the Dream’s Door, the experimental pop-art of The Aftermath, they are all equally beautiful.
My personal, favourite part of the cd is not one song, but the sequence of The Wind Song and Ode To The silence following each other. Both strong pop-art songs they are just arranged masterfully together, combining the best bits of Jyoti Verhoeff, or an acoustic Within Temptation together.
Somehow I constantly come up with these gothic rock/female-fronted metal comparisons although I actually don’t want to. I know it would mislead you, reader, into thinking this is a rock CD, but it most definitely is not! Although it also isn’t a sugar-coated new age/ambient/fairy record. It just happens that Priscilla’s singing style, in its lyrics and the wat she performs them, how she plays with the melody lines, reminds me of singers like Amy Lee. A thing Priscilla herself also mentioned in a note she wrote to me while we were discussing the details around these reviews. Priscilla has her own unique style. Something that hovers somewhere between new age music, ambient dance, pagan folk, and gothic fantasy.
Something else also becomes very clear as you wander deeper into the music and artwork of The Underliving, this is a really, really personal CD.
Yidneth may not be Priscilla’s alter Ego, but it surely is an integrated part of her being. Yidneth is Priscilla’s gateway into the dream world she herself has created. It is also the gateway she needed to get to terms with her childhood’s sleep paralysis and nightmare experiences. It’s those lyrics that keep pushing me towards those gothic references. They are not sweet and sugarcoated, they are deep, fairytale-like but with those dark shadows that make movies like Underworld and The Dark Crystal so beautiful. It’s also the lyrics that make the music of bands like Evanescence, Within Temptation or Leave’s Eyes so powerful. Priscilla’s music lives there, right on the edge of acoustic gothic music and ambient dance. Unique and beautiful.
I’ve talked long enough, put this record in your CD player, put on your headphones and close your eyes. Start dreaming. See that small child waiting in the shadows? Don’t be afraid. Grab her hand and let her lead you into the beautiful world of The Underliving. The world of Yidneth.
Editor: Sara Weeda
Sleeve art: Priscilla Hernandez/Yidneth
Art & Photo’s: Priscilla Hernandez/Yidneth