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Death in Rome – Barbie Girl / Pump Up The Jam.

September 1, 2015
  • Label: HauRuck! SPQR.
  • Year: 2015.
  • Style: Neofolk.
  • Format: 7″.

Of course with such a generic name as DEATH IN ROME, this can’t be taken serious, and it shouldn’t. Songs from this anonymous project started to appear on YouTube some months ago and they were all covers of catchy pop songs in neofolk shrouds. Apparently, people found this funny or something, as views and likes shot through the roof! Personally I can’t see what’s so funny about something that tries so desperately to be funny and while I was curious for a short while about who’s behind this project, that’s as far as my interest in DEATH IN ROME went. I never found out though, and it doesn’t matter.
As I said, the main emphasis here is comedy. It’s so wild and crazy, hehe, it makes people laugh because these songs truly are the opposite of what neofolk is; super serious stuff. But I don’t agree, I don’t think it’s particularly funny at all and the neofolk genre is already larded with comedy stuff that doesn’t even know it’s hilarious.
For instance, SPREU & WEIZEN. That’s schadenfreude de luxe. A project that takes all the cliches and bakes a super odd cake of them and markets is as “militant christian music” – that’s funny. And the fact that they suck all the way to heaven makes it more hilarious. That’s my kind of neofolk humor. To cover AQUA’s classic “Barbie Girl” is just…  Meh.
What’s more is that many of my friends keep saying that DEATH IN ROME is actually quite good, despite playing silly songs. But the production is so mediocre and dull and it’s nothing about this that makes me interested.


Rougge – Monochrome.

August 27, 2015
  • Label: Volvox Music.
  • Year: 2015.
  • Style: Sombre neoclassical.
  • Format: CD / Digital.

Listening to this album is nostalgic for me, eventhough it’s the first time I hear it. Back when I started The Shadows Commence, ROUGGE was one of the frist artists I got in contact with and one of the first ones to send me a promo for review. And now, as I am slowly returning from a 4 year break in updating the site, it correlate so well with the second release from this Paris based indie neoclassicalist.
I remember being pretty much in awe over the fact that ROUGGE sang to his piano compositions without using words. At least not words from any language anyone understand beside ROUGGE himself probably. It’s not quite chants or any kind of glossolalia, it actually sounds like a proper language, that isn’t a proper language. I might have been so confused by this back then, I almost forgot to pay attention to the music, the structures, the compositions. Shortly after reviewing his debut, I kind of forgot about it. It’s not that I didn’t like it; I certainly did, but at that time, I was just so washed over with lots and lots of music to listen to, I quickly forgot about things I heard the day before. So now, upon reviewing “Monochrome”, I did give it several proper listenings in different settings, and I have gazed over the odd way of expressing the vocals.
The first track is just a short intro. A door that opens, squeaks and closes. The rest of the tracks are all called “Fragment” with a number after, like they were ripped from a bigger context. It feel mysterious. I like it. Actually, a lot around ROUGGE is still a mystery. I still don’t know who he is, what he’s trying to say, what his influences are, what he wishes to accomplish. He is just a friendly person in a chat conversation and a demon composer that seems to haunt me whenever I feel like I’m on top of a creative period in my life.
I really enjoy listening to this. Too bad, I can’t say much about it that I already didn’t say in the review of the first album. Many years have passed between the releases and of course ROUGGE is an overall better musician this time around. All the songs sound super complete and professional, and while still limited to just piano and vocals (well… with one exception) they can get really intense as they push themselves into your hears. I do sense that this album has a darker vibe which I of course like. Especially the second track (the first one after the door intro) shakes you like trembling thunder already in the first notes. But then, out of nowhere, comes a rather sweet and cute melody and it doesn’t feel that dark anymore.
Vocally, it’s good. It’s interesting, it’s good. Can’t say much more. I still think it sounds a bit like Thom Yorke wailing along.
The last track is marked as a bonus track and supposedly separated with 2 minutes of silence on the CD edition. ROUGGE stated to me that while his work usually is a quest for minimalism, this here sets him out to try some new things. While still having emphasis on piano and vocals, it introduces a string section and also some percussion. It sounds really good like the rest of the songs and I wouldn’t prefer any of the styles for a future release, just keep doing what feels right for you and you will have my support!

I think this album might be easy to miss out on. The debut wasn’t very widely distributed and this seems, now just weeks away from the proper release, to follow that pattern. I do however recommend you to track it up, for some good and original minimalistic neoclassical tunes that’s sung without words.


I Like Trains – The Shallows.

August 17, 2015
  • Label: I Like Records (ILR).
  • Year: 2012.
  • Style: Post-Rock / Post-Punk / Experimental Pop.
  • Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital.

I LIKE TRAINS, or iLiKETRAiNS, is a Leeds based band that’s been with us since 2006 which also marked the year of their debut release. I remember thinking of them as a goth influenced post-rock band and I have to say I still agree with my opinion back then even though I did hear something totally unique and unclassable take a more prominent form for each release. In 2012, after a couple of albums and several shorter releases, “The Shallows” came which somehow defines this odd atmosphere that’s been sneaking up through the years. While absolutely being a pop album and probably the most accessible one from I LIKE TRAINS, it’s not for everyone to grab and enjoy. The beats are mechanic, the guitar lines are repetitive, the vocals are dull and the lyrics are profoundly bitter and dark. The base is still post-rock guitars playing pop melodies (that sway from sweet to deafening) in a production that lay closest to post-punk. The overwhelming feeling I get from it is “cool” and my girlfriend experienced it as “oddly scary” and the more I think of it, it’s between these poles that “The Shallows” swing.
It’s one of those albums where every song is a favorite song. I might have heard the opening track “Beacons” a bit too many times now to still be amazed by it, as it’s also opening the (highly recommended) EP that was released about the same time. Second track “Mnemosyne” made it as a stand alone single to promote the album and I think it’s a great choice for a single. It displays pretty much what it’s about in a more uptempo and groovy fashion where the drums are almost presented in an electrofunk fashion, the thoroughgoing riff is quietly bubbling under a dense carpet of deranged choir like keyboards and the vocals are delightfully hopeless singing about the dangers of not being able to break destructive patterns.
Some of the other tracks I catch myself humming on could be the brokenhearted ballad called “Water/Sand”, the minimal interlude-like “The Turning of the Bones” and of course “Reykjavik” which includes the albums most intense near discharge the end.

“The Shallows” is one of my highest rated and most played albums from later years and I’ve successfully convinced almost every person I meet about its grandeur, which is also why I fully recommend this piece of odd pop to you now.


Medicine Moon – S/T EP.

August 14, 2015
  • Label: Pesanta Urfolk.
  • Year: 2014.
  • Style: Neobluesfolk.
  • Format: Digital / 7″ Vinyl.

One of the coolest and best neofolk releases in recent years came from the Pesanta Urfolk label, and NOCTOOA – the band with the deepest lead vocals in existence, emerging Sammy’s throat. MEDICINE MOON is his side-project, or second project, or whatever project you would like to call it. He carried over parts of the NOCTOOA sound to this project; the droning buzzes, the shamanistic spirit and the folk aspect of his dark folk music. However, a few things stand out to mark some main differences between NOCTOOA and MEDICINE MOON. The overall-sound is both scaled down with mainly dark guitar strums and occasional keyboards and percussion, and much bluesier. I think this is one of only a few neofolk releases I can enjoy in together with my dad. Apart from that, well, MEDICINE MOON introduces an entirely new vocalist and I can’t state this enough; Shantel possesses an amazing voice far above any neofolk standard. That she’s hidden away on this shady minuscule record company somewhere in the US wilderness, singing on four tracks on a limited EP is beyond all sense: she should travel time. She should go to the 70’s and climb a huge stage with a huge band playing and claim the microphone and sing the shit out of the audience. While the techniques are quite different, I would dare to claim that her voice, her huge register, could amaze on par with, I don’t know, Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin? Is that a overstatement? Some of the deeper vibrations also invoke thoughts of Lisa Gerrhard in her most dismal moments.
Anyway, parts of the hypnotic first song “A Place To Begin” is sung by Sammy so if you missed or don’t care to check NOCTOOA out, you can still hear his almost Tibetan throat-chanty kind of deep singing on here. It’s really cool to hear these two interesting voices collaborate but I am pleased with the decision to let Shantel handle the singing on all remaining tracks.
This EP is a reissue of a demo recorded one year earlier. A great and professional release for those who wish to venture into the neofolk places that isn’t visited very often.


Christian Lappalainen – Acid På Svenska.

August 10, 2015
  • Label: Self-Released / WMWL.
  • Year: 2015.
  • Style: Acid Folk.
  • Format: Digital / Vinyl.

Christian’s been working in the deep Swedish electronic underground for some time before he became known to me, which was about when he released this MP3 album via his Bandcamp site. It seems now like it’s been disbanded, maybe due to the upcoming vinyl release in WMWL later this year?
Anyway, I am so glad I managed to buy these tracks before they went missing because this is one of the albums I have probably spent most time with in a very long time. We have 10 tracks in instrumental versions, all more or less part of the Swedish folk tradition (with minor acidized titles), even though I am a little uncertain if “Somliga Går Med Trasiga Skor” / “Somliga Går Med Trasiga x0xor” should be considered part of it. Never mind. It still sounds good, with a more uptempo sound and also some drum beats added to break off from the otherwise slow, creeping and quite murky tunes.
Being from Sweden, these are all songs we’re born to love, stuff we sang in church before going on summer holiday in school (“Ack Värmeland Du Sköna” / “Ack Acidland Du Sköna”), songs people’s been dancing to for centuries and still do (“Visa Från Utanmyra” / “Visa Från Utansyra”) , songs we hear at weddings (“Jämtländsk Brudmarsch” / “Jämtländsk Brudacid”) and on TV and whatnot. Even my all-time favorite folk song “Hårgalåten” / “Horgacidlåten” makes a display. According to the legend, this song was originally performed by the Devil himself, to hypnotize the youngsters in Hårga and make them dance themselves to death!
The album is also a homage to the most classical of all acid synthesizers ever, the Roland TB-303. Not only is it the only instrument on the entire album and not only does it work at cover art… All the tracks are exactly 3.03 minutes long, making the album itself 30.3 minutes which I find super funny. It was also sold for 30.3 Swedish Kronor, I do however suspect the vinyl version to be a bit more expensive than that, the only right thing to do is to sell it for 303 Swedish Kronor!
As I mentioned, the thoroughgoing tempo is really slow and there are so many cool and hypnotic sounds and “Acid På Svenska” is impossible to stop listening to. Great work, super work.


Petrels – Mima.

July 31, 2015
  • Label: Denovali Records.
  • Year: 2014.
  • Style: Experimental / Ambient / Cosmic Post-Rock.
  • Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital.

PETRELS is what Oliver Barrett’s been up to since he decided to chop the head of his beast, BLEEDING HEART NARRATIVE. This is a project that builds huge theme based albums, with diverse sounds and styles, and won’t let anything stand in its way. “Mima” was the third album to be released in a very short time (given the quality that’s been carefully put into each of the releases), and it ask questions around mythology. What role will myths play in our future, when we’re seeking all the answers? No better place to discuss that than in the unknown realms of outer and inner space; “Mima” also draws inspiration from the magnificent  poetic space opus “Aniara” (Harry Martinsson, 1956).
While BLEEDING HEART NARRATIVE absolutely was of experimental nature, PETRELS is even more so. “Mima” opens up with the most lengthy (14 minutes) track on the disc, called “The 40 Year Mission To Titan is Overtaken By the 40 Minute Mission To Titan”. It starts with these wave kind of static sound start plowing in, slowly, to increase in intensity and you start feel something is going to happen, yet you can’t figure out what. After a couple of minutes, everything is silent, except for some beeping flickering oddity and then, KAPOW, and explosion of orchestral and cosmological cacophony. To hear this in headphones while paying attention is mind bending, you wanna hold all the sounds but there are so many you’ll just get confused and realize the best option is to just let them do whatever they want to do with you.
This goes on for quite a while and you might sense some post-rock and neoclassical in the mix, which is how PETRELS often perform.
The rest of the album, which is but 4 tracks, continues in the same vein; spitting sonic asteroid belts in your face, tricking you to feel what you can’t feel and taking you to soundscapes you couldn’t imagine. Some sounds are so odd, you’ll feel odd just thinking about them and the fourth and last track, “Treetiger”, gives you some pop tunes to dance to if you’re in to that.
“Mima” is a monumental album from one of the best producers of experimental music to date, an extreme voyage for us daydreaming intronauts that will never make it to outer space.


Grouper – Ruins.

July 28, 2015
  • Label: Kranky Records.
  • Year: 2014.
  • Style: Ambient / Singer/Songwriter.
  • Format: CD / Vinyl.

GROUPER (Liz Harris) has been around for 10 years now, releasing stuff both totally on her own, and on various labels. This here is her tenth studio album and one of the better ones as well. While she doesn’t let herself be limited by borders, the art she present is often recognized by tape loops and drones. What dominates “Ruins” is mellow piano melodies and singer/songwriter kind of vocals and it’s amazing to hear. Careful steps, already from the more abstract intro, yet every sound that goes by leaves a great trace behind. The production is pleasantly DIY and parts of the album sounds like it was recorded using a toy piano in a different room. You can hear a micro oven beep any any faulty notes remained faulty to keep the feeling of intimacy and authenticity intact.
“Ruins” is one of my favorite album from these last years and particularly the lengthy song “Holding” has an odd capability to choke-hold me down to the bed by just being nothing but utterly beautiful.


Occult – Skogen.

July 27, 2015
  • Label: Self released.
  • Year: 2015.
  • Style: Dark folk / classical.
  • Format: Cassette.

OCCULT is, or at least was during this particular time, a Swedish duo consisting of Hanna on piano and Ia on vocals. It is at once pretty obvious what it’s all about. “Skogen” means “the forest / the woods” and all the song titles are nature oriented in a gloomy fashion, just like the cover art for the cassette. Musically, it’s quite minimal. Elegant folk melodies on piano, deep, vibrating, murmuring vocals and occasional nature sounds in the background. Both the instrumentation and the vocals are great, I especially like when the piano picks up a totally new melody and takes the singing for an unexpected dance and the symbiosis is great for creating this great and dusky atmosphere that’s consistent throughout the entire tape. Honestly though, I really don’t like the lyrics, to me they’re all cliche, dead trees, dead souls, but for the author they have a true and huge meaning which is pretty obvious in the way she expresses them. The sound, and production, walk in their own unique shoes but at times it reminds me of those piano interludes found in 90’s northern black metal, and particularly the works of WONGRAVEN occasionally comes to mind. I saw OCCULT warm the stage up for two of the greatest acts in the neofolk world right now, and there were some rumors about that being the last OCCULT gig  with the present piano / vocals setting. Words were, that Hanna wanted to set out on her own adventures in jazz, and Ia was looking for new musicians to support her. As they’re both awfully talented I wouldn’t be late to check out whatever any of them produce in the future but I think that OCCULT without this great symbiosis between these talents, these long time friends, these two visions, won’t ever be the same. However, “Skogen” has all the potential in the world to become a true cult gem. Tack.


In Scherben – Dort an jenem Baume.

March 14, 2011
  • Label: Lichterklang.
  • Year: 2011.
  • Style: Neofolk.
  • Format: CD.

Remember a few years back when you could find a new German neofolk band nearly every week? Those were the times.
Lately, the scene’s been pretty idling. New bands have been more attracted to STURMPERCHT and their alpin-folk, and here I’m torn. While I do, of course, welcome new bands, I can also sense that this new lot of alpine-folkers are shallowing the dark folk scene with focus on extraordinary music rather than what’s most important. Read on, I explain further down there…

Is the genuine German neofolk dead? I feared, some hoped. No, here come IN SCHERBEN with their first proper release. I say proper because I don’t count SkullLine releases. Also, I recall a demo from deep within my head. But thanks to the young label Lichterklang (this is their third release only) we can now enjoy this album called ”Dort an jenem Baume” and it’s on proper CD format, presented in a most charming digipak with a booklet and all.

IN SCHERBEN are still young. There are things to improve. The guitar does not always sound crystal clear, the vocals are a little out of tune here and there, and the percussion often feel insecure, but this is neofolk as it should be and, at least for me. The spirit is more important than a perfect sound. And spirit here is, I can tell you. That deep romantic spirit, yearning, longing for something long lost…
This takes me back to the days when SONNE HAGAL and FORSETI ruled the scene, when things were simple and wonderful. A repeated melody on acoustic guitar, some back-drop atmospheres, occasional kettles and / or snares, deep male vocals. That’s all it takes. You don’t need that hudry-gurdy, your strange Bavarian flutes and countless guitars / zithers, lutes, key fiddles / whatever. Because if you don’t have what it really takes, the spirit, then you’re failing nevertheless.
I’m not attacking the alpin-folk genre in general here, but I’m attacking the fact that we have 20 bands circulating that are all imitating the same band, a band which cannot be imitated anyway.
”But you do welcome 20 FORSETI clones, right?”, well I do and I don’t. It’s harder to be a clone of something that doesn’t have such a unique sound, it’s easier to put your own hallmark in sound and mood with smaller measures. Something IN SCHERBEN proves. And I will love to learn what the future holds for this young project.

Cult of Youth – S/T.

March 14, 2011
  • Label: Sacred Bones Records.
  • Year: 2011.
  • Style: Post Punk / Dark Folk.
  • Format: CD / Vinyl.

I don’t do vinyl. Hence, I’ve never really done CULT OF YOUTH before. But now when they’ve finally put a CD out, I can introduce this beyond wonderful orchestra to you. And while I haven’t bought any of their back releases, I have of course heard them before, mostly via MySpace, sitting here in front of my laptop with one speaker, trying to make something out of what I was supposed to hear. Yes, I am very glad to see a CD release and I hope they will keep on coming because I’m the most stubborn music consumer ever and I won’t ever do vinyl!

Anyhow. This is CULT OF YOUTH from the United States of America. A bunch of some awfully good looking fellows, which you can find proof of in the booklet.
CULT OF YOUTH raised from the underground and have become some sort of living legends in the neofolk scene, often mentioned in the same sentence as LUFTWAFFE and GNOMOCLAST, and I think they’re the most credited neofolk band ever, that doesn’t even play very much neofolk at all. I’d say post punk with a folky touch, if labels are important to you.
Imagine a bit of ADAM AND THE ANTS, especially the catchy ”Kings of the Wild Frontier” era, mixed up with the aggressiveness of a young NEW MODEL ARMY. Add to that the hypnotic, rolling drums that are significant for KILLING JOKE and a big dose THEATRE OF HATE of course. Then drag Tony Wakeford from the since long disintegrated ABOVE THE RUINS project, slap him in the face, pump him to the bursting limit with caffeine and have him to howl in front of the microphone. You could also see it as a more lively DEATH IN JUNE from the times before ”Nada!” but that is the chicken way out.

But, yeah, yeah. I mentioned lots of great bands up there. What does that say about CULT OF YOUTH anyway? Well. If you drag the best from those bands, and add to that lots and lots of youthful creativity and some of this years absolutely strongest melodies, you end up with CULT OF YOUTH.
This album, also called ”Cult of Youth” has a great diversity. It’s most of the time quite hot-tempered, there are songs based upon frenetic violin sounds, punk wallops, disturbed 60’s pop flirts and more, but the album has a softer side as well and a couple of heartfelt ballads sneaked into the production. Every track will surprise you with a new sound, new ideas, new rhythms and I love that in an album – to have something to explore.

If I must choose three tracks for you to begin with, to get you convinced, I’d say:
1. The opener ”New West”, the song Kirk Brandon forgot to write himself. Also a track that prepares you for everything this album has to offer. It’s catchy and snorty at the same time. You’ll hear the pumping bass, the guitars and a bit of the violin as well.
2. The acoustic punk song ”Monsters”. I can’t and don’t feel like dropping references here, but you’ll like it. Play it loud and jump around ’till you match your heartbeats with the pounding kettle and you might end up a few calories lighter.
3. Definitely ”Weary”. This is my favourite and from now on my standard any future candidate to the ”Track of the Year” title must match. I just love the violin, sounds almost at a fanfare. I also love the drums and the chorus and that last part where the distorted guitar drops in.

I’d also love to mention any of the calmer tracks, but I promised three only and three you have presented already so go find out what the rest is all about yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I’d actually dare to gamble on that one.

There, that was my introduction to CULT OF YOUTH and their first, self-titled CD.
If you’re one of those ”doesn’t feel like reading much” types, then here is a summary:
”Cult of Youth” is a wonderful album in so many ways.