When I think of
I always think of Freundshaft und Lebensfreude (friendship and enjoyment of life). I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Waldkauz play live in several different line-ups and every change felt like there were more friends added to the musical family, and their music always represented that positive feel. It does again on the new album Labyrinth. So what changed in the Waldkauz tribe? Let’s pick up the story with the release of Mythos. At that time bass player Andi Douwt was added to the live band, giving the live performances a lot more power and energy. After Gina Klause decided to step away from the spotlight two of the
girls, Fanny Herbst (Celtic harp, vocals) and Fabi Kirschke (Hurdy Gurdy, flutes, vocals) stepped in to help out, enriching the live show with their positive energy and musical talents. And Waldkauz kept inviting more and more friends to the family with Adriana Borger (Hurdy Gurdy) joining their live band as a stand-in for Fabi. All who were there will definitely remember the 2019
performances with both Fabi and Adriana on stage. The energy was radiating from the stage.
In the background, Nina, Niklas, Peter, and Andi (who by now had officially joined the band), were already jamming with the next potential members of the Waldkauz family and in December 2019 it was announced that Alana Bennett (Celtic harp, hurdy Gurdy, violin, vocals) and Diana Koper (vocals) would join the band. With that line-up the band returned to the studio in the summer of 2020 and together with
)- who also worked with
to name a few- they recorded Labyrinth. And it is that album that is lying in front of me right now.
Now with the new line-up, Waldkauz also changed their logo, from the more stylistic, fluid old one to a more dark, tribal logo. So I was kinda expecting a more tribal sound as well. Something in the direction of Brisinga maybe? Or even
Well, I can tell you the band tricked me. Big time actually. They were always one of the most melodic pagan folk bands out there, equalled only by Faun, and they went up a notch on Labyrinth. The main change is in the rhythm section. Where on Mythos Peter took care of the rhythm alone, using the typical tribal drum sound, leaning heavily on the deep tom sound almost all pagan folk bands share, the band now has more options with bass player Andi joining the rhythm section. It makes Peter switch to the more ‘standard way of drumming we know from regular pop bands, more focused on the snare drum, giving the band a much more pop-folk sound. A bit English, I would say. Is that a bad thing? Hell no. After my initial surprise, I’ve come to love the album. Especially those first 3 opening songs Walking The Labyrinth, Beltane, and Schwingen where you hear that new sound best. The band is on fire on those tracks. New additions Diana and Alana jump out straight away on Walking the Labyrinth. Alana has written an infectious earworm of a hurdy-gurdy hook if I ever heard one, the song is fast, full of energy and power, so MUCH power. I called it pop-folk a minute ago but is is actually way more energetic than that. You could almost call it pagan rock. But it’s not that either. Waldkauz’s sound on Labyrinth is powerful, danceable, but clean. It doesn’t have the distorted sound you would associate with a rock band. No, the band just wants your listening experience to turn into a party. A huge party I can tell you. I dare everybody to try and stay seated while listening to Labyrinth. No? Didn’t work? Told you so! I can’t name a band that comes close to Waldkauz’s sound at this point. The question: is do I need to? The answer is NO! Waldkauz sounds just like Waldkauz! And that should be enough. A grooving, moving pagan folk dance machine! I can NOT sit still listening to songs like Walking The Labyrinth, Beltane, Epane, Dance Macabre or Schwingen. Just listen to that cool
-like hurdy-gurdy hook (with an even cooler call-and-response section in there); the melodious bass lines Andi is throwing out; the groove he and Peter create together, the cool hooks and catchy solo’s and melodie lines Nina, Alana, Niklas, and yes even, Andi and Peter throw around as if it were the easiest thing in the world. The years of touring and performing made this band grow into a true festival headliner.
Schwingen is a second song with that strong folk-rock/dance feel. A power balled that I just adore. Strong, STRONG drum/bass guitar sound, (thank you, Alex Schulz, for capturing that jawdropping rhythm section) powerful vocals, I love the break, I love the drive in this song, I love the acoustic bouzouki start, and then that alto recorder weaving it’s magic all through the song. WOW! By far my personal favourite on Labyrinth. And then I haven’t even mentioned Beltane yet. Why? Well besides an awesome sound Waldkauz also gained two tremendous voices with Alana and Diana. And Beltane is the best song to focus on that. It starts with Nina and Diana harmonizing together, often accompanied by Alana on backing vocals, and they just rock it. Those voices fit sooo well together. Diana has a beautiful clear and warm alto, and Nina’s voice, as we know, circles around the same region. Together they sound awesome. You can hear it on Beltane, on Schwingen and on many more songs…So much so that they even recorded an a-capella poem with the last song Des Dichters Segen. Well, I call it a blessing for my ears
After this furious start, I needed a moment to catch my breath and the band gives me that with the ballad He Missed The Stars, featuring the lovely warm vocals of Niklas. This song soon flows into a beautiful duet between Niklas and Nina, accompanied by Alana on Celtic harp. I’m already looking forward to hearing this live on stage. All the songs actually. They all already sound great on CD, but I think this album will rock even more in a live setting. I can’t wait.
Reading the lyrics and liner notes, I feel there are two main themes flowing through Labyrinth that really belong together: A longing for freedom, especially freedom of the mind, and the search for personal growth. The Labyrinth in a way is a symbol of life, for all the twists and tails you’ll find on your path while you travel the road of life. It also represents Waldkauz’s positive view of it. It tells us that no matter what happens there is a way, and quite often freedom of mind is reached when you take the longer, harder road. I love the way the songs are chosen to represent that road. From the start of your travels in Walking The Labyrinth to finding your place in Home.
Much thought went into that. Much thought also went into where to put which style of pagan folk on the album. Musically the CD is just as much a journey as are the themes and lyrics of the various songs.
As I said: adding the new band members gave the band more options. After the
-like ballad He Missed The Stars we get Bayushki Bayu which with its medieval-sounding, waltz-like theme kinda reminds me of
. even though it is is an adaptation of a Russian lullaby. Epane is a lovely dance song that would have the masses going again at any concert. Rastaban meets Zirp, that might be the best description. Kein Rechter Weg is the darkest song on Labyrinth. As Niklas explained to us:’Kein Rechter Weg is explicitly an anti-fascist song against the use of ‘Norse’ culture by right wing groups and neo-nazis.’ A message I fully support. It is also the most tribal song on this album. After the ‘dark’ and strong message of Kein Rechter Weg, things lighten up again with Dance Macabre. Did I just say lighten up? While it is the song of death? Yes, for me the message is clear again. Since we all are gonna die anyway, why not make a party out of it. And a party this song is. A full-on pagan folk party!! That is the cool thing about this album. Waldkauz has kept all the cool elements that made them such an awesome band, to begin with. The strong harmonies, the feel-good vibes, their melodic qualities, their musicality, and their pagan message! They just added the energy of good pop-rock to the mix, and I for one love that they did that. Yes, it took me a moment to adjust. It was not what I expected, but it gives their third album a freshness that is infectious. So well done for growing, for daring to walk the labyrinth. It gave us a stunning album and a great new sound. The Waldkauz sound!
And with that, to my own surprise, I suddenly find myself at the end of the review. I’ll leave it to you dear reader to discover gems like Far Vel (Waldkauz meets Brisinga meets Nordic folk, with a guest appearance of Faber Horbach of
), or the lovely a-capella sung poem Des Dichters Segen featuring all four voices of Waldkauz blending beautifully together. But there is still one song I want to mention and it is called Home. It is a lovely, mostly instrumental, power ballad, slightly jazzy, as if
Dan Ar Braz
in the Waldkauz studio, and last but not least it features
This allows me a little sidenote. In 2019 Andi released a solo album called Elegy. It contains really laid-back, improvised bass guitar soundscapes with a slight easy listening jazzy feel to them. It’s an album that my girlfriend and I love, but it is also too far off from the acoustic folk genre to be eligible for a CeltCast review. I am so happy that Waldkauz allowed Andi to do a bit of that style of bass playing on Home. It means I can finally mention his solo work here. If you like his improvisation in Home than go check out
too. And so we end where I started. Waldkauz’s music stands for two words: Lebensfreude, and Freundschaft. That is what makes this band so very special. That, and heaps, HEAPS of talent!
cover illustration: Joan Llopis Doménech
Album Design:Benjamin Urban (HYGIN GRAPHIX)
Picture: Samantha Evans: Balm and Bitterness