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 Cesair 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! – Cliff editor: Sara cover art: artdrómeda photography Pictures: Cliff de Booy
‘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.) Those were the first words I heard about Sangre de Muerdago. These words came from Dani Iturriaga, singer and multi-instrumentalist of Vael, but also the founder of Hierbo Loba, a site in Spanish informing the public about folk music, just as we do with CeltCast. Dani is just as much a music fan as he is a musician and that becomes clear when you visit his website. It also became clear when we were talking about Sangre de Muerdago. It turned out Dani has been a fan of this Galician band for quite some time. This is what he had to say about Sangre de Muerdago: -‘I have to admit that it makes me a bit dizzy that you mention Vael so much as a reference in the Xuntas review, because I don’t think we deserve it. For us, Sangre de Muerdago is one of our main references, and we have only just started. The truth is that if there is a group that I would like to be like, it would be them. You know, all bands start out playing covers of their favorite artists. We started by covering Faun and Sangre de Muerdago.’ I can’t think of a better way to introduce Sangre de Muerdago to you all. Xuntas, and all the other (split) albums Sangre made over the years can be found on Bandcamp. So I hope this review will make you discover a wonderful new band, or that it will reacquaint you with an old friend. – Cliff -picture by Josanne van der Heijden PS. Don’t forget, next week it is the first Friday of the month again, the day that Bandcamp waves away their share of the revenue to support the musicians in these odd Corona times.
From the first seconds of The Flood you can hear the two trump cards of The Carrots, 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 Rachel Croft, The Civil Wars, and Indigo Girls. 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, Evanescence’s 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 Gwendolyn Snowdon’s version of Little Duke Arthur’s Nurse, Meidi Goh’s Foxskin, or AmmA’s Matty 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!!! – Cliff 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 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 Hierba Loba of Vael‘s 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 Arthuan Rebis‘ 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 meets Vael. 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-gurdy The 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 Árstíðir 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 Datura, Meidi Goh, SeeD 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 (ZiRP) 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! – Cliff editor: Iris Cover art:Kaska Niemiro band pictures: Josanne van der Heijden Music box picture: Sangre de Muerdago