Once more we get a chance to review an album before it’s released, and this time we have the honour of listening to Portal to Elfland, the first full length album of the Dutch Paganfolk band SeeD.
As a band they are deeply rooted in nature and myth, and this resonates through the entire album.
We have also asked Koen, the lead singer and flautist of the band, to give a little background information about each track.
Track 1: The Veil
CeltCast: The first song, ‘The Veil’, sets the atmosphere for a mystical journey, which is of course very appropriate for and album which is intended to form a Portal to Elfland. During this track there is some playing going on with the stereo image of the music, which definitely gives it a very mysterious feel.
Koen: An intro that I think speaks for itself and acts as an introduction to open the listener up to the concept of the Portal to Elfland.
Track 2: Portal to Elfland
CeltCast: The second track is also the title track for the album, ‘Portal to Elfland’. The first thing to notice in this song is the very heavy bass presence. The song continues to flow in this mystical atmosphere even through the chorus. There is a depth in this track that gives it an almost shamanistic feel. As a personal preference I would have liked to have heard some more high end in this song, but there’s no accounting for taste is there?
Koen: A song in which the listener experiences the journey of stepping through the portal. You can already hear the creatures that you can encounter, and through the sounds of a creaking ship and turning sails it creates the atmosphere of being on a journey and being carried on the currents through the portal. (Mental image: Think of the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean where the ship goes over the waterfall to Davy Jones’ Locker.)
Track 3: Twilight
CeltCast: Next up is the song ‘Twilight’. If I were to pick one word to describe it it would probably have to be ‘intriguing’. First there is the lightness of the flute, and then comes some deep percussive bass. This song slowly builds to completion from the start. Just over halfway in there is an energy boost that takes control of your body, almost forcing you to move.
Koen: We musically show the onset of the evening. The sky turning from blue to pink, to purple, to red. And the creatures that become active that time of day, along wit hall the mystique of the dark parts of the forest and the rest of the world.
Track 4: May’s Jig of Lunacy
CeltCast: And then comes ‘May’s Jig of Lunacy’. For a track with ‘jig’ in its name it starts of rather slow, but then comes the power! This is in my opinion the first track of the album that clearly shows a connection to the earlier work of Omnia. It’s very powerful, very musical. Heavy on the percussion, this is a very strong song!
Koen: A jig written for the creatures of the Fae world, that don’t like to play according to the rules as set by man. Something we often see in Balfolk dancing. It’s possible to dance a jig to it, but a true Balfolker, fixated on the rules of the dance, will go mad because the steps don’t fall the way he or she would want them to. Lunacy drives people crazy, think about witches that are strongest during a full moon and in the old days would have been labelled crazy and dangerous.
Track 5: Nymph Hunt
CeltCast: Whom among us doesn’t like the idea of a little ‘Nymph Hunt’? This fifth track of the album is also very reminiscent of early Omnia music. Closing your eyes, it’s easy to envision a hunt after beautiful Nymphs, that leads you across streams and through forests, with the Nymphs staying ahead of you, but only just…
Koen: An up-tempo song in which we act out the playfulness of being free in nature, especially the male and female aspects that are always teasing each other. You can see a mental image of a Nymph pretending that she doesn’t want to get caught by the horny Satyr that is chasing her.
Track 6: Torc
CeltCast: Track number six is called ‘Torc’. The intro of the song is very deep, almost as if it’s meant to bring you into a trance. Although the song does climb out if that depth the trance-like state continues. It feels as if this song, in particular the flute, is trying to tell a story. The transitions between energy levels within this song happen so naturally that you can hardly even notice your mood change. A very musical song.
Koen: A song in which we show our faith in totem animals. It starts with Omnia’s ‘Bran’ acting out a raven, but it quickly flows into the ‘Torc’ part that we wrote that symbolises the boar. I myself have already been on a journey with my totem animal the heron for years and the interconnection is becoming stronger every day.
Track 7: Aerie
CeltCast: Where ‘Torc’ starts off deep, the next track ‘Aerie’ starts off high, open, light. A feeling of magic and Fae, and a sense of urgency that this song contains an important story that needs to be told. Close your eyes and find out what that story is…
Koen: A musical representation of the story of Aerie, a character from the well know RPG game series Baldur’s Gate. A winged elf that is viciously robbed of her wings and now has to live among humans without the freedom she once knew and without ever seeing her kind in the high heavens again.
Track 8: Brave
CeltCast: The eighth song signals that we are already halfway through the album, unfortunately. The track isn’t only called ‘Brave’, it’s a song about being brave and finding your own way to change the world around you. This song has some very, very inspiring lyrics! A very powerful song, feeding the soul with feelings of strength and possibilities. I’m loving the positive vibe from this!
Koen: A song that speaks of the hard choice of staying true to ones self or to go with the flow with life and the people around you. The choice to conform yourself tot he more ‘normal’ people or to just be your happy self. In this song we encourage you to be brave, and despite the fact that it can be difficult at times, to stand strong and be yourself.
Track 9: Green Man
CeltCast: Next up is a track with a very familiar name, ‘Green Man’. An iconic figure in Celtic mythology, and very common in neo-pagan circles, the Green man has had many songs written about him, and this song is a worthy addition to that collection. The chants, with a very subtle harmony, create a very danceable ode to this figure of mythology.
Koen: A song in which we honour the Green Man. A leafy face in many shapes and sizes that symbolises the primordial power of nature and the changes that that power can affect.
Track 10: Lady of Laughter
CeltCast: ‘Lady of Laughter’ is, as the title suggests, a very cheerful song. Slightly more up-tempo than some other songs on this album it conjures up images of faeries in the forests and fields, laughing and dancing, lighting up their surroundings with mischief and happiness.
Koen: A female fae that Koen encountered, and with the inspiration that she gave him we wrote this song. In it a message to respect Nature and the Fae, because they can be unrelenting in their retribution.
Track 11: Land of Melancholy
CeltCast: Quite the opposite, the next song ‘Land of Melancholy’ is slower and more down to earth, though one shouldn’t be fooled by the title, the song certainly isn’t depressing in nature. It actually becomes rather powerful further on in the track. The song ends with quite the surprise on the lyrics. I did not expect that.
Koen: A fairytale written by Koen about two lovers who accidentally stumble into the Land of Melancholy and there fall under a spell of the rulers lament, because she has lost her lover. As long as they are enchanted they will dance on the fields of melancholy and will never return to what they left behind in the lands of man. Again a testament tot he unrelenting nature of the Fae.
Track 12: Gathering Mushrooms
CeltCast: Starting with some really nice percussion and the clear and crisp voice of Sara ‘Gathering Mushrooms’ is something different. The song has a familiar feel, even though I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint it. The combination of the strong and somewhat heavy percussion and the high and happy sounds of the vocals and flute make for a very interesting and entertaining song!
Koen: A traditional, arranged by Michael Philip McGlynn, known from Anuna. This song is about a bo that sees a beautiful young woman bent over to gather mushrooms early in the morning. He is very taken by her and this ends up in a very intimate loving ritual. (They both ‘sat down’ together, oh)
Track 13: Merry Making
CeltCast: ‘Merry Making’ starts with a similar bass sound to the percussion as ‘Gathering Mushrooms’, but the song picks up almost from the start with very enchanting flute play. Throughout the song there are several changes in rhythm that make this track very fun to listen to. A very merry track, leaving you wanting to join in the making…
Koen: A song written to capture the atmosphere of a flaming campfire, the bottles of mead and the nice music and people at a festival. Somewhere near the end a 7/8′ part, to show that sometimes alcohol can have a different, less happy effect. And also just because it can be nice to write some challenges into more straight folk music to keep the musicians in the crowd entertained.
Track 14: CPPS
CeltCast: The energy in ‘Crazy Pagan Party Song’ reminds me of the happy summer festival feeling of Virelai. Fast rhythms, fast melody, I’m definitely going to want to see this song played on a festival main-stage somewhere, with a few thousand people dancing in circles in front of it! It will wear the dancers out but will give a festival an amazing power-boost!
Koen: Well, this accurately represents the atmosphere of our rehearsals…
I usually choose one track from the album as a favourite, to give some indication, some context, as to how I listen to the album and what I’m looking for. For this album I would definitely have to go with ‘Twilight’. The variations in the song, the different levels, they all make the song very interesting and certainly entertaining!
One thing definitely worth pointing out is the artwork. The band logo, the antlers, the tree bark, everything on the cover comes together in a way that just calling it “artwork” isn’t enough. I would actually call it Art, with intentional capitalization! I do hope they will sell posters of this, because I really want my very own Portal to Elfland at home!
Something that is also very noteworthy about this album is the way in which it was recorded. As opposed to the regular way of going into a studio and recording each instrument separately SeeD had taken a very different approach. Their “studios” were the forest and in some cases a church, and they recorded the track in more of a “live” style, playing together as if they were on stage and in that way capturing the shared vibe on the album.
Overall this album is very interesting in several ways. First simply because of the music. It is music written and played out of a passion, and that is something that you can really hear in every track. The second reason that this album is interesting is because it show a lot of promise. Is it an immaculate album? No, I can’t say perfection has been accomplished. The recording and mixing of the album are good, yet not at par with the major studios in the world. I also believe that Koen’s singing will become more confident, when in time, through practice and experience, it will have improved. But you know what? Even though there are other minor things that I could point at, overall I really love the album! I think it is a gem, a must-have in the Dutch Paganfolk scene, and I am a very happy man for having a copy of it! I can’t wait to see their performance at Castlefest and I am very curious as to what the future has in store for SeeD!
Koen van Egmond: Burke whistles in F & D, Susato double whistle in C, Sallow flute in D, Xaphoon, Tombak, Offerdalspipa
Lars van Egmond: Backing vocals, guitar and percussion (davul, didge, darbuka and jaw harp)
Sara Weeda: Ashbury Irish bouzouki (open D tuning) called ‘Bronagh’, Brendan White double skin Irish bodhrán called ‘Donar’, Cort Earth acoustic 12-string steel guitar called ‘Ysis’.
Robin Dekker: Dual Cajon, Deer hide, rune infused Shaman drum, Lars’s Davul, Egg shaker, Pigma Micron Fineliners