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
Trobar de Morte – Witchcraft (2018) review
Cliff de Booy
I grew up in the 1980s and New Wave bands/synth-pop bands like
Frankie Goes To Hollywood,
Talk Talk and
had a huge influence on my musical taste. Just as the more guitar orientated post-punk bands. Think of
– we will get back to them in a later review –
the Talking Heads or my all-time favourite band
the Sisters of Mercy.
I loved the dark, yet romantic music, the danceable almost trance-like beats and the often sharp synthesizer melodies and guitar riffs of that era.
The New Wave scene was a very open-minded scene in a way. Ok, the dress code was black on black with some black to add to that, but musically it was quite diverse. It could be the electronic synthesizer sound of
or the dark rock-orientated sound of the Sisters of Mercy.
Soon certain bands started experimenting with non-traditional song structures, included non-pop instruments like violin, trumpet or cello and started a style we now know as post-rock or avant-garde. One of the first bands to do so were Talk Talk. Their 1988 jazzy/avant-garde album Spirit Of Eden still holds pride of place in my record collection. Another band to do so were
Dead Can Dance.
This Australian duo started weaving European, medieval and orchestral influences into their music, giving them a unique avant-garde, ambient sound. So what is the point behind this musical trip down memory lane? Well, I wasn’t the only one that loved the music of this era. A certain young lady from España did just that, especially the music of the last band I mentioned, Dead Can Dance.
This young lady we now know as Lady Morte, and in 1999 she started making music herself. But I shouldn’t tell this part of the story, she should do it herself.
-‘ I was born in Barcelona in the autumn of 1980. Since I was a child my passions have always been arts and music and specifically singing.
During the 90s I was a lover of
medieval-, Celtic-, folk- and ethnic music. I passionately listened to bands like Dead Can Dance,
and many more. In 1999 I decided to start work on a musical project which I called Trobar de Morte. It was a solo project where I played the keyboards accompanying my voice for some time. I played at other bands from Barcelona (
Dark & Beauty
) for a few years, but in 2003 I decided to create my own live band and thus I searched for bandmates for Trobar de Morte.’
The first album she recorded with
Trobar de Morte
was the mini-CD Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly (2003).
A mini-album filled with lovely orchestral pagan folk music. You can see Nocturnal Dance of The Dragonfly as a true blueprint for Trobar de Morte’s sound. Slow, orchestral melodies, with an emphasis on violins, keyboards, and guitar, with Lady Morte’s beautiful classically trained vocals over it. Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly is a beautiful cross between Dead Can Dance and
On Fairydust (2004) – Trobar de Morte’s first full-length album – the first influences of Corvus Corax crept in. That typical sound of pagan folk percussion and those strong medieval instruments that Corvus Corax are known for. It all blended perfectly with the ambient sound from Nocturnal Dance Of The Dragonfly. The song Los Duendes Del Reloj is a beautiful example of that early Trobar de Morte sound. Listening to it now after so many years proves the band stayed very true to their original sound, as you will find out when you listen to the newest Trobar de Morte release 20 Years of Music and Sorcery (2020). Another stunning song of those early days is Ailein Duinn – found on Fairydust – an a capella piece sung by Lady Morte, showcasing her amazing voice.
Fast forward 19 years, we are now in 2018 and Trobar de Morte have just released their 9th record Witchcraft. (Not counting the Ancient Tales demo Lady Morte recorded in 1999), and as I said, it is amazing how little has changed over those years. All the elements that make the music of Trobar de Morte so beautiful are still there. The impressive orchestral ambient sound, the layered choral vocals of Lady Morte, the fairytale feel to it all. Right from the first notes of the intro La Era de las Brujas, you’ll hear that it still is a powerful mix between Dead Can Dance and Adiemus with lovely splashes of
and medieval darkness thrown in there for good measure.
Don’t get me wrong it is not like the band stood still all those years. With the second track, Zuggaramurdi, you can clearly hear how the band’s sound evolved. It’s the logical difference between a young group at the beginning of their career and an experienced band. The difference between a lovely fairytale as you read it when you are around 14/15 and a deep dark fantasy world you dive into when you’re older. The music became deeper, the arrangements more imposing, but the songs still maintained that true pagan magic it had in those early days. Only stronger, waaaay stronger, just listen to those bagpipes cutting through the song as if they were knives cutting through dark smoke. It gives me goosebumps all over every time I hear it.
Rondalla, the third song on Witchcraft, is another good example. It’s a strong dark song, based on excerpts from ancient spells and magic books. Trobar de Morte put that in a powerful dark pagan folk meets Dead Can Dance song. I just love those strong layered Latin vocals, the broad orchestral arrangements and that strong beat under it. The tubular bells ringing right at the beginning of the song already give me shivers shooting from top to bottom over my spine. The wall of organ, percussion, and vocals then finish the job, I’m lost in my own ancient medieval fantasy world. Easily one of the best songs on Witchcraft.
The power of Trobar de Morte is that they can take that huge orchestral avant-garde style and make it sound natural and small. The song The Black Forest is a good example of that quality. Yes, there are those layered vocals, but the song is carried by a nice bouzouki riff, a lovely violin melody and some cool tribal percussion under it. The bridge in the middle of the song, for example is just pure acoustic pagan folk. It is THAT which makes Trobar’s music so strong: the clever contrast between all the broad electronic sounds and the natural feel of the acoustic instruments. It is THAT which makes the Witchcraft album such a strong, almost religious, pagan folk experience. Not to mention the lovely solos you hear from both the violin and the flute in The Black Forest. In the end Trobar de Morte is a band playing real music.
There is no song in which you hear that more clearly than in Sister Of The Night. It is a song that Dead Can Dance would be proud to have recorded on one of their own records. That lovely contrast between the acoustic guitar intro, giving it a lovely Spanish touch, and the dark, medieval pagan folk feel with its whispered vocals. A stunning song which, because of its natural feel, captures me even more than the music of the Australian band that inspired Lady Morte all those years ago.
Lady Morte and Daimoniel know how to write a good song. All of them creep easily into your ears, and one of the catchiest ones would be Mater Luna, with stunning vocals by Lady Morte. It starts as a lovely
ballad, with a touching guitar intro and violin melody over it. The low whistle solo is a treat, but the
best part is the
like bassline and violin part that lead us into a cool witch pop final to this song.
Ritual is one of the last songs I want to mention. It just feels religious, the whole arrangement of the song. The dark feel of it all, the orchestral carpet of keyboard and violin. The deep, deep percussion, slow but seemingly unstoppable, not to mention those haunting horn-like sounds at the start. An intense pagan folk cross of avant-garde and ancient traditional music. I know I mention Dead Can Dance a lot in this review, but somehow the theme of witchcraft brought out an album that is the closest to the Australian duo’s strong orchestral sound. And if it’s as extremely beautiful as Trobar de Morte do it on Wichcraft I am not complaining.
I could still mention The Circle, with its clear Arabian influences, reminiscent of
The Moon And The Night Spirit’s
sound, or The Wind, another lovely orchestral ballad with another beautiful low whistle solo, but, or Stramonium,….. But no! This is not an album I should split up into thirteen little segments. This is a wonderful record that you should listen to as one piece. If your heart opens up to slow, balladesque, dark, pagan folk music, with a lot of ritual feel to it, this is an album for you. Fans of Trobar de Morte’s music and fans of the bands I mentioned in the review will most likely have added Witchcraft to their collection months ago. Will you?
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve art:Victoria Francés
Picture:Cliff de Booy