It was a Sunday morning, the 7th of August 2016, about 10:00 in the morning. It was slightly drizzly and we – my girlfriend, the
crew, me, and a whole bunch of other Castlefest die-hards – were sitting on the hill overlooking the folk stage, listening to the gentle sounds of
The Moon and the Nightspirit,
while watching the Sunday crowd slowly filling up the grounds again. The perfect way to start a
Next up was a Spanish band that I, up to that point, didn’t know. But that was about to change! Fast! Within two songs that band had the whole crowd awake and dancing and me going for my camera.
(You can see one of the pictures I took then just below this paragraph)
That band was
and their show worked better for waking me up than a liter of strong espresso would ever do! Obviously I bought their CD Oinos straight after the show and it is still being played monthly in the De Booy household. Especially the song Fodder for the Raven I consider a firm pagan folk classic.
What makes Cuélebre and that first album Oinos, published in 2014, so unique is their
dark tribal sound; The deep roar of the didge combined with fast energetic drums, the dominant sound of bandleader Yhandros Huergo’s hurdy-gurdy combined with the haunting flute melodies flowing through the music like morning fog over the roughed scorched Spanish mountains. Oinos makes me think of the pictures I’ve seen of
the barren black peaks, the vultures circling the sky, a bobcat sliding through the undergrowth. Cuélebre makes the perfect soundtrack for that landscape: dark, tribal, and passionate. The whispered, half-sung, half-spoken vocals of Marta Gálves made it all complete, making Oinos a unique sound in the European pagan folk scene.
In August 2017 Cuélebre released their second album Anaman, with only bandleader Yhandros remaining from the line-up that recorded Oinos. It didn’t change Cuélebre’s sound too much though. The biggest change were the vocals, the then ‘new’ singer Rose Avalon
has a background in jazz and melodic metal. Her voice made Cuélebre’s music more dynamic, more powerful, but slightly less ‘haunted’. The whole album has a more positive feel over it, without losing that strong tribal connection to the old Iberian tribes and the roughed Spanish landscape.
Now, finally, the long-awaited third CD, Dijara arrived and it is a stunner! Like I mentioned before, there have been some line-up changes in the last couple of years, mainly in the vocal part, and again I was really interested in how it would affect Cuélebre ‘s sound.
Well, to answer that straight away: Dijara is the perfect mix of Oinos and Anaman, taking the best elements of both albums. What remained is the strong tribal feel, the fast deep drums, and the haunting shards of flute cutting, weaving its way through the deep didge sound and the everpresent hurdy-gurdy. The vocals on the other hand returned to the more chanting, shamanic style we know of Oinos, something I personally think suites Cuélebre’s music really well. I feel like Cuélebre’s sound is slightly ‘mean’ again, that rough edge is back in the sound. And I personally love it.
Leiko Kei Tratt, Derwa, and Karuo are such strong vibrant dancing tunes, they are bursting with power and energy. Deva and Tanit, on the other hand, are slightly slower songs with that familiar haunting tribal sound, reminiscent of Fodder for the Raven, my favourite song of Cuélebre’s first record.
So is Dijara an Oinos part two? No, not at all. Cuélebre took some huge steps forward since then. First off there are those vocals. They are mostly recorded double and although Judith doesn’t use the exuberant vocal capacity of Rose Avalon, she does put in a lot more melody than Marta did. Not that one is better than the other, they just use different styles and I happen to like them all. A lot of the time Judith’s vocals remind me of
especially on songs like Keinoman, Deva, and Leiko Kei Tratt. And I have to say, it fits the music of Cuélebre perfectly.
Another thing that progressed a lot is the overall sound of the album. While staying true to the original feel of Cuélebre, Yhandros put a lot of effort into the end mix, making the album sound way richer, more dynamic, and far more powerful then Oinos or even Anaman. The best example is the song Macha, starting out as a mid-tempo song reminiscent of Fodder for the Raven, it quickly builds up to a full-on energetic dance tune, with the same powerful build up as
Cesair’sCanzo. No mean feat.
Another example is Derwa, a strong pagan folk song, acoustic, but with a drum/didge rhythm that would work perfectly as the basis of a ’90’s Eurodance song. Really? Yes really! And the best thing about it? It works! Victor has a didge style, quite similar to that of
which works perfectly in such a ‘modern’ interpretation of a tribal pagan folk beat.
Another example of the strong mixing skills on Dijara is the ‘choir’, kicking in halfway through Leiko Kei Tratt, making this vibrant tribal dance tune sound even more impressive. because of that I consider Leiko Kei Tratt, together with Derwa, one of the strongest tracks on this impressive CD.
Adding everything up I can conclude that Dijara is Cuélebre’s strongest album ’til now. Strong, powerful dynamic, and tribal. If I am looking for comparisons, then the sound of Cuélebre nowadays makes me sometimes think of Omnia, especially their famous rhythm section: Daphyd Sens and Rob van Barschot. Sometimes small segments of the music remind of
(just listen to the flute solo leading us into Karuo for instance), in the first songs especially the vocals lead me towards the older material of Faun, and even
impressive vocalists pop up one time as a reference (Listen to the spoken vocals on Macha, they are just as strong as Brisinga’s vocals on Sinä Ja Minä), but these are all references. Add everything up and the sound is 100% recognizably Cuélebre. With Dijara the Spanish band settles themselves firmly at the top of the pagan folk scene. Congratulations Cuélebre, you did all did a hell of a job on this one!
-editor: Sara Weeda
1 Cliff de Booy taken at Castlefest 2016
2,3 courtesy of Cuélebre
New, Moonlight and mead, the pagan folk podcast
Cliff de Booy
You can say one thing about these weird Corona days, it seems to bring the best of out of the creativity within the pagan folk community. Just days after Castlefest lockdown tv, just two weeks after the huge Ye Banished Privateers album release show we find another cool initiative: The Moonlight and Mead pagan folk podcast.
Set up by Niklas Agalstra of Waldkauz and Koen van Egmond of SeeD its a podcast to celebrate the pagan folk community.
-‘Me and Koen started a podcast about pagan folk together and are planning to release the first episode tonight.” Niklas told CeltCast. “it’s gonna be a weekly thing. We will be talking about music, festivals, being musicians and all that good stuff. The pagan folk scene is a truly good place with great people! That’s why I wanted to start the podcast, to celebrate it!”
Koen says similar words on his page:
-‘Staying inside a lot has sprouted a lot of cool initiatives, webcam videos, online collaborations, new projects. Niklas Agalstra and I are hoping to add that with a weekly returning podcast about all things Pagan Folk! Our first episode has just gone live on Spotify. It’s an intro to give you an idea of what to expect of the coming episodes!
We hope you will enjoy it as much as we enjoy making it. If you have any cool input for upcoming episodes. We’d love to hear from you. We hope we can build a great, loving and musical community with all of you!’
We, the CeltCast team, wish Niklas and Koen all the success in the world with this podcast, and we hope it will carry on, long after these weird Corona lockdown days.
You can find the Mead & Moonlight page here, and the podcast itself on Spotify here.
Sowulo releases a new album GRIMA
Cliff de Booy
Last Monday Sowulo announced that their new album GRIMA will be released coming friday, the 3th of april.
according to Faber: “In the last past months I worked on the upcoming Sowulo album.
Again I did my best to do something unexpected. I teamed up with Tumulus to create something truly unique.
The upcoming GRIMA album contains an immersive combination of Storytelling and Atmospheric music.
Tumulus aka Niek van Eck did what he does best: storytelling like a mad skald-wizard, and I had to honour to add some cinematic tune to it.
We recorded GRIMA from a place of deep presence, rooted in ancient stories of wisdom.’ The artwork, Faber told us: ‘Consists of drawings by Niek van Eck edited by Jasper van Gheluwe.
Friday the 3th of April, American time, GRIMA will be digitally released on all the major platforms and smaller platforms, including Spotify and Sowulo’s Bandcamp pagehere, where we can all listen the album for the first time.
Expect stories of Nordic saga told by Tumulus with compositions by Faber Horbachs hand under it. Indeed something truly unique.
The physical album release will take a bit longer. But just might be worth the wait. Of course will keep you informed on that.
picture by: Rebeca Franco Valle
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
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,