Some albums deserve a special treatment. And Mythos, the second CD of the German band Waldkauz, is one of them. When it arrives, and believe me you’re missing out on a nice pagan folk album if you don’t get it, so when it arrives, do NOT put it in the CD player straight away! Trust me on this! Be patient, do your normal things, let the day pass, maybe look into the booklet a bit, (impressive sleeve art and booklet by the way) but leave the CD until the dark of the evening. Then, and only then, when the kids are in bed, the pets fed and the dishes done, light a candle. Only one. You want the flickering light to play with the shadows on the wall. Now turn on your best stereo system, go sit in the middle of the room for maximum stereo effect (or use headphones), crank up the volume and finally press play… Zwielicht, or ‘Twilight’ in English, is probably the best intro to a Pagan Folk album I have ever heard. It pulls you right into the world of the Fae, of witches and dwarfs or the dark ancient woods of the Balkan. It is a stunning beginning to a CD that has lots more to give.
Their second album Mythos already came out in April 2017, but now that Waldkauz will perform at Castlefest for the very first time, we at CeltCast thought it was about time to finally introduce the band and their music to you.
The story of this band begins in 2010, with Gina and Lennart Klause working out the first musical ideas for what would become Waldkauz. They were soon joined by Gina’s brother Peter on percussion. The band’s official starting point is in 2013 with their first public performance, making 2018 the year of their 5th anniversary. Something they are going to celebrate with a special performance in October.
After meeting Gina, Lennart and Peter at Castlefest(!) in 2014, Nina and Niklas (old friends themselves) joined the band. The following year saw the birth of their first album Komm mit. It earned them performances on the stages of MPS, das Mittelalterlich Phantasie Spectaculum (Medieval Fantasy Spectacle) that tours Germany every year.
When you start reading the booklet of Mythos, it soon becomes clear that it isn’t just a name. The CD really is a collection of myths and fairy-tales put to music. From the old king of the dwarfs to the witches of Eastern Europe and the old gods of ancient times, they all find their place in Waldkauz’ music. Most of the lyrics are by either Nina or Gina, with Niklas adding two texts as well. All the music is written and arranged by the whole band. Guest musicians on Mythos are Fieke van der Hurk ( Dearworld studio), on hammered dulcimer, Sophie Zaaijer (Cesair, Shireen, Sunfire) on cello, Jule Bauer (Triskilian) on nyckelharpa, Shawn Hellmann (Killkenny band) on acoustic guitar, Niel Mitra (Faun) doing a remix version of Waldlandreich, one of the bonus tracks on the album, and the public of Minden, Germany hand-clapping and in frenetic jubilation.
I already mentioned the stunning start of the CD with Zwielicht, taking you straight into a mystical world of myths and legends. It effortlessly flows into Mati Syra Zemlya, a song celebrating the Slavic ‘mother of the moist earth’, the oldest of the Slavic deities. The song itself is best described as Irfan meets Omnia‘s Steve Evans -van Harten. It shows the first of the pillars that make Waldkauz’ sound so special: Nina’s flute playing. She plays the recorder, tin whistle, low whistle and the seljefloyte or overtune flute, made famous in the Pagan Folk world by Omnia. One moment she sounds like Steve Sic, the next it reminds you of Faun, but she can just as easily sound like Perkelt‘s Paya Lehane. Just listen to her eerie elvish flute solo on Ringaloo Ya Merry-o, the instrumental Raigan Dannsa or the beautiful solo on Leshy, with Triskilian’s Jule Bauer joining her halfway through on nyckelharpa. I could name almost every song, the nice Perkelt style solo in Vom Wassermann for example, but I won’t. I’ll just mention one more: Baba Jaga. It starts with a wonderful flute solo which Nina picks up on again later in the song.
Baba Jaga also features another quality of the Waldkauz sound, the percussion. It is strong, fast and keeps driving the songs on. I cannot sit still when I listen to Peter playing the combination of drums and djembe. Not only in this song, his percussion skills in Mati Syra Zemlya, Am Wegesrand, Ringaloo Ya Merry-o, Mond Und Sonne and the mighty drum-rolls on Raigan Dannsa, even the ‘basic’ rhythm of Dimna Juda, all stand out because they are fast, varied and rhythmical. And it’s not only on drums. Xylophone, glockenspiel, finger cymbals, he throws everything but the kitchen sink at it, even an anvil!
The third pillar of the Waldkauz sound are their vocals. The band is blessed with three strong vocalists, Nina, Gina and Niklas, and they are equally good. Separate or in harmony, their voices just work beautifully. Just listen to their voices blend in Dimna Juda, Ringaloo Ya Merry-o or Father Of Stone, a more orchestral choral song where Niklas takes the lead. Leshy with some cool spoken word sections reminding me of the late Robert Miles‘ Dreamworld album. Mond Und Sonne has some quality polyphonic singing, even ending in a cool canon. But the best song on the CD has to be Waldlandreich. Beautifully sung, both by Nina solo and the three of them together. I also have to mention those spoken word sections again. In this case in the dark Cuélebre style. Such a beautiful song. With the flute solo, the build-up from fragile ballad to a powerful Pagan Folk song, even with distorted bouzouki riffs in the end almost giving it a Folk Metal feel, my personal favourite.
By now it must be clear what the fourth pillar under the Waldkauz sound is, its variation. Waldkauz’ sound is found somewhere in the middle of Faun, Emian and Irfan, with touches of Omnia and a bit of Cuélebre to add flavour. As said earlier Mati Syra Zemlya is Irfan meets Omnia. A bit in the style of Dil gaya. Am Wegesrand is more Omnia’s Prayer CD meets Faun’s newer work. A catchy up-tempo Pagan Folk song with real hit-potential. Ringaloo Ya Merry-O cheerful, almost commercial start takes us to the British Folk scene but soon mixes into a darker sound, fitting with the text itself. Father of stone then goes much darker, Wagnerian. It is almost a traditional Metal ballad turned acoustic. It has this strong powerful arrangement, the choral low singing of Niklas and the ladies, I could easily see Epica or Therion use this on one of their albums.
Mythos keeps giving like that. Waldkauz have the ability to give every song that special flavour, that special sauce it needs. A staccato guitar in Leshy to make it darker. A ‘displeased’ banjo to create a Ennio Morricone kind of feel for Hinter Der Brombeerhecke. Distorted instruments or a brass section to put in little accents in the music? Waldkauz will do it. That’s the real power of Mythos. The songs are all catchy ear-worms with the right arrangements to get the best out of those songs. With the percussion and vocals as the real strong points. At first you have the impression the album is just filled with danceable cheerful songs. There is nothing bad about that, but when you start to listen more closely you hear this dark undertone hidden in the lyrics and the music. Just as there always is a dark note in the myths and fairy tales that Mythos is inspired by.
Reading back I notice that I didn’t mention Niklas and Gina that much. As if they are not that important in the overall Waldkauz sound, which of course isn’t true. Quite often they take the supporting role, an underestimated part, but oh-so important. The flute solo starting Mati Syra Zemlya for example, wouldn’t really work without Niklas and Gina supporting it.
Not to worry, Gina and Niklas get plenty of room to shine too. Just listen to the beautiful intro Niklas plays on Waldlandreich or the duet between Gina’s Celtic harp and Nina’s recorder starting Am Wegesrand. The song Ringaloo Ya Merry-O is of course built around a cool harp riff from Gina and last but not least, Woods Of Ukraine, the intro song to Baba Jaga is a beautiful duet between Niklas on bouzouki and Gina on Celtic harp.
All in all I am left with just one conclusion: Mythos is a really nice album. Well worth having for everyone who loves quality Pagan Folk music.
-pictures by Marielle Groot Obbink