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
Nemuer – Urðarbrunnr (2019) review
Cliff de Booy
March 11th, 2017. On the stage of the Gothic & Fantasy Fair in Rijswijk -now known as the
we find a duo from the Czech Republic. Their name?
Their music? Atmospheric dark pagan folk. During the concert, Michael Zann and Katarína Pomorská intrigued me with their slow, mystical, slightly eerie folk sound. Especially Michael’s acoustic guitar playing and the voice of Katarina impressed me enough for me to buy their second CD Labyrinth Of Druids, an album I would describe as a long dreamy atmospheric yet eerie pagan folk soundtrack. Very intriguing, with its mix of delicate acoustic guitar, female vocals, and carpets of slow symphonic keyboards underneath. This CD would work perfectly as a score for any slightly darker fantasy movie.
Fast forward two years and I found myself in 2019. After publishing the review for
latest album, Mann, I got an email from Michael asking if I would be willing to review their latest record, Urðarbrunnr. Remembering how intriguing I found Labyrinth of Druids I didn’t hesitate to say yes. And Urðarbrunnr didn’t disappoint. The band still makes slow, atmospheric, dark, pagan folk that really captivates the listener, in its own unique way.
As I said, Nemuer was formed in 2014 when multi-instrumentalist/ singer Michael Zann and collegae multi-instrumentalist/singer Katarína Pomorská started putting a captivating mix of dark fantasy, eerie dreams, and mystical atmosphere to music.
From the beginning they have aimed to bring ancient myths and stories back to life, using authentic dead languages and ancient instruments to do so.
Their first album Irenthot’s Dream (2014) was set in the ancient Mayan Empire. Their second album Labyrinth Of Druids (2015) is described by Nemuer themselves as a Lovecraftian music album.
In 2018 they released their third album Gardens Of Babylon during a concert together with the kindred spirits of
The Moon And The Nightspirit.
As the title suggests, Gardens Of Babylon is set in the ancient city of Babylon and talks about the heaviness and beauty of death. The album itself sounds a lot more open and ‘positive’ than the theme suggests. The focus is less on the symphonic keyboard carpet giving Labyrinth Of Druids its special soundscape feel, but more organic, more acoustic. It is actually the folkiest album Nemuer has made to date. And there is indeed a similarity to the music of The Moon And The Nightspirit that fans of that group may find interesting.
And now there is Urðarbrunnr. The band -In 2019 Nemuer grew to a full band with Alex Pantea on Duval and vocals and Martin Kopl doing the programming and live samples- takes us to another period in ancient history with this album. An entirely different part of the ancient world altogether, I may add. Readers interested in Nordic mythology will recognize the album title as the well of Urd, the well as described in the famous Edda, to be found beneath the world tree Yggdrasil. And indeed, true to form, all the lyrics are composed of extracts of the Edda, the old Norse sagas. I just have to mention track titles like: Ymir’s Death; The Binding Of Fenrir; Yggdrasil trembles and Thor’s Final Battle, and the true fans of Nordic folk and folklore will know enough.
The first track, Ymir’s Death straight away sets the tone for what you can expect from Urðarbrunnr. Deep low keyboard samples setting a grim atmosphere and the acoustic sound of the bass tagelharpa- an ancient Nordic lyre type instrument- giving it an authentic touch. You could call it a mix between the atmospheric semi-acoustic sound of
Trobar de Morte
and the slightly sharp, grim, big sound of the early 80’s gothic rock bands. Especially Michael’s style of whispered throat singing that Michale uses throughout the whole record takes me way back to
the Fields Of The Nephilim.
An underestimated Gothic rock band from that 80’s period that I just love, but way, way slower. Bands like
The Sisters of Mercy,
and Fields of the Nephilim used to have a quite danceable, relatively fast beat under it. But Nemuer plays their music much slower. Their drumbeat is more similar to that of Trobar de Morte or even
Compared to the previous Nemuer albums I find Urðarbrunnr darker, less open in production. Quite fitting for the Nordic themes Michael “whispers’ about. Also, the female vocals from Katarína seem almost non-existant on Urðarbrunnr. Again a choice that I well understand considering the current theme of the songs
The second song Snýsk Jörmungandr is again a very good example of Nemuer’s present sound. The drums are slow and deep. With the repeated bass tagelharpa, the female vocals – yes here Katariína makes a vocal appearance- weaving in and out, Micheal’s combined slightly distorted deep throat singing combined with whispered Nordic vocals, and the carpet of keyboards under it the song becomes almost trance-like. But not boring. Just at the right moments a whispered voice, a sudden female vocal or even a tempo change comes in to keep the song interesting, intriguing, 07:34 minutes long.
Not all tracks are that long, but Nemuer do take their time building up a song, as you might expect from a dark, atmospheric, gothic, pagan folk band.
Hel is one of those shorter yet equally powerful songs. A single shaman drum being hit, each new hit several seconds after the other, eerie whispered vocals drawing you in, a single horn-like sample, some keyboards setting the tone. It is all the song needs. Listening to Hel I suddenly realized how well the music fits with the painting on the CD cover. Grey, grim, but not utterly black. Just many shades of beautiful grey (Pun not intended).
The Binding Of Fenrir is another one of those beautiful repetitive grey songs. Again that slow, deep shaman drum sound captivates me. The start I find almost minimalistic by nature, and slowly, ever so slowly building up to an epic track with strong choir-like vocals, an electric guitar, picking up the melody in such a way, that for a moment I’m sure that I’m listening to the violin on a track from Turn Loose The Swan, that legendary album of
My Dying Bride.
But not long. The horn section coming in takes me right back to Nemuer’s own specific style. Michael’s throat singing vocals are the finishing touch on this wonderful epic, dark song.
I’m quite aware that Urðarbrunnr will not be everybody’s cup of tea. But I personally love songs like: Odin’s Quest For Wisdom; Heimdallr Blows Gjallarhorn; The Allfather Dies -with a nice bit of overtone singing from Michael- or Thor’s Final Battle. They all are beautifully dark, slowly-played, gothic songs, drawing me deep into the Nordic mythology. Michael and Nemuer play very cleverly with the contrast between the mystical electronic samples and the clarity of the acoustic instruments and the sudden shifts in tempo like on Odin’s quest For Wisdom -I love the tribal ending of that song – regularly add interest, preventing the music to become boring. And there are more of those clever arrangements to be found on Urðarbrunnr. In songs like the -almost- cheerful Freyr’s Lovesickness, or my favourite song Yggdrasil trembles, with that lovely low tagalharpa sound that makes me think Faber Horbach (Sowulo) joined in.
If you like your clothing dark, and if you share my love for:Nordic folk; atmospheric folk bands like Trobar de Morte; slow, almost doomy songs that keep drawing you in a trancelike state; and gothic acoustic rock, then check this Czech band out. Nemuer made a very strong -and within the limitations of the genre- even varied album. For the true connoisseur of dark music.
-Editor: Sara Weeda.
cover art: Kuba Vaniš
-Cliff de booy,