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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.

Weh – Origins.

February 16, 2011
  • Label: Soulseller Records.
  • Year: 2010.
  • Style: Acoustic neofolk.
  • Format: 2CD.

I’m doing this really quick as I don’t really have time to review this album, but I need to let you all know about it anyway. The Norwegian underground singer / songwriter / nefolkster WEH is finally available on CD format, after almost a decade of activity.
“Origins” collects all of those precious songs that was given away for free in MP3 format through the years over at WEH’s official site. All the way from 2002 “The Death” EP to “North” that was recorded not long ago at all, and it expands even further by including some brand new tracks to end the second disc. Amazing.

As the material is presented in chronological order, the first disc has all the ancient tracks, and certainly has it’s charm. By then, WEH was a more experimenting act and praised dark folk as well as death country, and often sang with a slightly growled voice. “Ballad To The Harvest” and “Lady Death” are examples of splendid apocalyptic amateur folk, but the true highlight on the first disc is certainly “And The Raven Spoke My Name”, which can be seen as something between the best of “Kveldssanger” and OF THE WAND AND THE MOON. This track has proven the test of time and has shown no sings of getting old.

The second disc starts off with a cover of the black metal band WINDIR’s “Likbør”. Fantastic work, with deep vocals sung in Norwegian. Furthermore, don’t miss “The Bells Are Ringing Doom” which is neofolk done better than most of the best artists in the genre.
From the new songs, I’d like to point out “En Bekk Av Blod” as my favourite. I haven’t heard such grieving tunes in a long time, and the lyrics (once again in Norwegian) speak of depression and apocalypse with genuine honesty.

I’m so glad that Soulseller Records saw the potential in WEH and decided to release this magnificent and retrospective two disc set. WEH’s been deserving such a nice release for years.
And you who reads, if you have any interest in the underground neofolk scene, don’t dare to miss out on “Origins”! It’s the best home produced dark folk ever, alongside with our Swedish pride APATHEIA.

Ironwood – Storm Over Sea.

February 16, 2011
  • Label: Self-released.
  • Year: 2010.
  • Style: Dark folk / Black metal / Alternative rock.
  • Format: CD.

This album is damn straight very much like the sea. Vast. Huge even. Deep. Sometimes calm, sometimes unreliable with outbursts sudden and life-threatening anger. Sometimes very calm, but never still.
Do you know IRONWOOD since before? This is their second album. The first one was a huge display of heathen neofolk metal. Great tunes, mighty vocals! I have problem with black metal being simply black metal and nothing more, so “:Fire:Water:Ash:” was the perfect black metal album for me. While it had pulse raising parts, it stayed pretty appease most of the time, with mostly clean vocals and lush acoustic interludes spread out over the whole disc.

“Storm Over Sea” does pretty much the same thing, but with a more steady focus on heavier tunes and vocals. More blast-beats, more distorted tremolo… But also plenty gentle acoustic strokes and fingerpicking. It has less tracks than the first album, but they’re longer which suits this progressive band fine. You are thrown between worlds, between storms and rafts. Not knowing where you’re landing next.
And while I’m not always super comfortable with the heaviness, I’m a huge fan of the contrasts IRONWOOD creates by combining harsh and easygoing. And it’s really well done.
The only let down on the album is “Share The Burden” which is supposedly the obvious ballad, and while it starts in good manner, it ends up almost awkwardly sweet. But that can be forgiven when you have more than an hour of well constructed and interesting music before you.

IRONWOOD’s “Storm Over Sea” is the lovechild of OPETH and AGALLOCH, raised under steady surveillance of grandmother neofolk. It’s their second, water obsessed and aggressive child, and might not be as beloved as its older brother “:Fire:Water:Ash:”, at least not in my household. But still, it’s better than most music is nowadays and even if you don’t go buy this album, give it a chance; it can be heard from start to end for free over at IRONWOOD’s official site. But that way you’re not obtaining the glorious booklet.

Cubs – The Whispering Woods.

February 16, 2011
  • Label: Rusted Rail.
  • Year: 2010.
  • Style: Experimental Folk or something close to.
  • Format: CD.

I can’t resist a band called CUBS. How could I? Add to that a lovely packaging and a super cute cover painting and I’m sold.
Yes, my first impressions on this albums were huge. Then I learned that CUBS is somewhat of an all-star band with members from nearly every act that ever touched Rusted Rail records. Our favourite radio pilot is present, and I can’t often say no to his music. Clear lines can also be drawn from this project to PHANTOM DOG BENEATH THE MOON, PLINTH and YAWNING CHASM, to name a few. Anyway, a total of elven musicians were involved in writing and recording these 13 tracks. All this and more can be learned over at Rusted Rail’s official site.

With all the aforementioned acts in mind, you could get a so-so clear picture of how CUBS sound… It’s eerie and laid back at the same time. Electroacoustic folkadelica with focus on the acoustic. Beautiful guitars, great flutework… Dulcimer, mandolin, cello, mandocello, banjo, bouzouki, samples, accordion… I like to think of it as something like TUNNG meets AGITATED RADIO PILOT. It’s experimental and new, yet very familiar and safe.
Most of the tracks are instrumentals, which isn’t as boring as I thought it would be with such a vast selection of instruments. Vocals do appear here and there and singing parts are my havens. Yeah, I could wish for more vocals but it’s not really a hangup.
As you might expect, the music is flawless. These guys know folk and how it’s should be done. And if you’re somewhat familiar to the artists before, you might now they’re also masters of putting up huge atmospheres that works almost as canvases, or television screens, in your mind. The thoroughgoing mood is bleak. Nostalgic maybe. Certainly melancholic. With a touch of hopefulness. And they’re called CUBS and has a super cute cover painting so there’s no way to resist this.

Kim Doo Soo – Evening River.

February 16, 2011
  • Label: P.S.F Records.
  • Year: 2010.
  • Style: Sad, sad psych / singer / songwriter.
  • Format: CD.

After the worldwide appreciation received for his last album, KIM DOO SOO decides to aim for an even broader audience outside Korea. “Evening River” is kind of a retrospective or best of, a collection of songs, re-recorded though, from his five album career. Strangely though, the majority of the tracks are from the already distributed outside Korea album “10 Days Butterfly”, of which I have a separate review published. But at least five or six of the tracks included here are new to me and I loved to meet them!
Kim has a truly unique sound, very fragile and tender. Not many artists has such a sad voice I feel sorry for them, but that’s the case here.
The main instrument of choice is the acoustic guitar, which is present and govern in all of his songs, and the strings are picked with heavensent carefulness. We do sometimes get slow and lulling folk songs, sometimes blues-esque tunes, and sometimes insane fingerpicking as if Kim had twenty fingers and four hands. Sometimes a soaring violin shows up, sometimes a harmonica.

I don’t mind hearing the tracks from “10 Days Butterfly” again, and I am very glad to get an insight in how this melancholic spirit was formed from the beginning.

The release comes in an exquisite gatefold digipak with a rice paper booklet containing all the lyrics, both in original language and English translations. The songs are about loss, love, lost love and loneliness. I have never before read Kim’s lyrics but the content didn’t come as a surprise; I have heard his voice, his songs, his melodies… And they’re all filled with the same kind of sadness I found in the translated poems.

I wish KIM DOO SOO all luck in his quest to win the western audience. But with such remarkable songwriting, singing and musicianship, nothing that can’t be overcome stands in his way. His approach to acoustic psych-folk is already very western-friendly, yet something that can’t be compared to anything I’ve heard before or felt before. “Evening River” is a fantastic release. Music to be swept away by. Swept away together with.