15/12/2008 § Leave a comment
Artist: Requiem Eternam
Title: Medieval Times
Label: BloodDivine Records
01 Medieval Times
02 Heart of Knight
03 In the Name of God
04 Terrible Battle
05 The Great King
06 The Last Castle
07 Dreams for the Sky
Requiem Eternam [shouldn’t that be Requiem Aeternum?] is a two-person project focussed on creating medieval music with a religious theme. Phil X, the multifunction keyboardist and songwriter, has crafted this joyous septet “to serve his Lord Jesus-Christ through his art” so obviously Phil’s got an agenda that he needs to get across. Musically though, Requiem Eternam’s sound is very much in the vein of Dargaard with hints of neofolk such as you’d find in The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath the Cloud. It’s all dark, sinister, introspective stuff that we’ve heard before but with a highly Christian twist which supposedly lends it more weight and validity.
As good as the intentions are behind the music though, the shortcomings of Medieval Times become apparent from when the first note squeaks itself through your speakers. Before this, actually. Unsheathing this CD from the rest of the promo pack, I was greeted with artwork that looks like it’s been created using Clip Art in Windows 95. The low-res castles, armour and medieval imagery have been savagely thrust onto the CD panels with no finesse or imagination and may as well have been photocopied down a newsagents for 5p per sheet. And this is a microcosmic representation of the album in its entirety – the intention behind it is so clear and, to a point, enviable, but the execution is dreadful. I love medieval themes and music but they can tread a slender line between epic, elegant wonder and full-on naffness, and Medieval Times has set up camp firmly on the latter half of the divide.
The formula for songwriting here is pretty straightforward. You write one medieval-sounding folk passage and play it as often as the tempo will allow in a four and half minute song. You can also stick in samples from Hollywood films [such as Braveheart]; crows’ caws and battle sounds in order to perfect the medieval finish. If it sounds a bit hackneyed that’s because it is: the song elements have been chosen with such cliché and lack of thought that each of the seven numbers is devoid of heart and emotion as a result. They each come across as little more than fumbled musical mosaics which is surprising considering the author’s clear dedication to their theme, temporally and religiously.
If there’s one saving grace that the album possesses, it’s the female vocals which are done a beautiful service by the mysteriously named Claudia. The sleevenotes mention that she’s part of the Choir Santo Domingo and it’s easy to see why: each note is sung with a smooth, velvety grace in spite of being hammered with reverb, and it does lend an uplifting edge to the album. The reverb isn’t the only thing to note on the sound production though: the mastering is some of the shoddiest I’ve come across with loud sections ending up as inaudible fuzz, and some of the synth effects are so shamelessly cheesy that they would be quite happy in the soundtrack of a Nintendo game.
It’s very clear to see exactly what Medieval Times should have been – and what it wants to be – but it’s nowhere near the mark. It’s like the offcuts that bands such as Artesia and Dark Sanctuary would leave out of their music, and as a result it just ends up feeling like the runt of a very large litter that’s destined to be locked in a shed and fed scraps, huddling near any cracks of light for recognition. There is some potential here but it’s very minor and when there are other bands doing it with far more class and character, attempts like this just don’t cut it.
15/12/2008 § Leave a comment
01 Eternal Motion
02 Pain of Senses
03 Over the Earth
05 Leiben eines Mannes (Life of a Man)
06 Longing for Mistery [sic]
07 Call for the Sun
08 Village Revelry
09 Durch den Nebel (Through the Mist)
10 Autumn Fair
11 песнaя песня (Woodland Song)
Three years after their self-released EP Stahl, Neutral spin-off band Waldsonne return with their debut offering. The band consists of four members of Neutral, the main difference here being the inclusion of female vocals fronting the ensemble. As is standard fare for neofolk a lot of the songs are about trees, nature and the usual Mother Earth themes, the artwork confirming this with lots of pictures of twigs and bracken to make sure you’ve got the message. Actually it’s the same picture used three times: slightly unusual since you’d hardly think there was a shortage of bleak and dismal scenery in Russia. The Russian bands have been utilising this concept for years, it seems to sell well over on the more verdant areas of the urbane world.
It’s not like Waldsonne are enjoying the barrenness of the perpetual Winters though. Much of the subject matter of the album rotates around the need for bright weather and lush nature in stark contrast to the photography in the booklet. Maybe they’ve had enough of the whole place and rather than upping sticks and trekking West have decided to stay in Russia and plays songs about it instead. And I can’t say I don’t sympathise. As much as I love the romanticism of desolate climes it must get slightly depressing, especially when the rouble’s sinking along with the rest of the world economy and vodka indulgence is getting more expensive. Time to stock up on potatoes and get back to the home gin brewing – and you can even power clocks with the leftovers. Ingenious.
Wanderer is therefore quite a cathartic work. Its music and melodies, though not wildly original, will certainly appeal to many fans of neofolk, being traditional and accomplished for the most part. The guitar and mandolin passages are well-written and excellently played, so instrumentally at least, Waldsonne get off to a good start. The vocals are introduced in the second track Pain of Senses, provided by Veronika Martynova, but though they’re certainly not bad they lack a particular sheen and lustre. Monika is note perfect most of the time but there’s little conviction in her voice as she seems to sing a lot of the songs by numbers, vocally connecting the dots rather than feeling the music. Her lyrics are mostly in English and they’re often quite basic [calling the sun/where are you/come, come, come] but it’s the German numbers which she seems to go out of tune in, presumably because she’s having to concentrate more on the language.
Where the album generally shines is therefore the pure instrumental passages and some of these are quite strong such as the captivating Sand and Longing for Mistery[sic]. But though the harp, guitars and mandolins are all played with distinction, the violin suffers in the quieter sections. Anna-Noel Buzuk is capable of producing channelled, strong cadences in the louder segments but her violin screeches painfully through the softer parts. What’s worse still is the pipe-playing which is sometimes dreadfully off-key. This, in particular, really lets the album down and more than once an emotional musical fragment is spoiled by an out-of-place or flat instrument.
When Wanderer succeeds – which is more often than not – it’s a pleasurable and elevating experience. However, shoddy playing in some parts doesn’t make the listener feel relaxed in the hands of neofolk masters and by halfway through the album you’re left wandering whether the beauteous section you’re currently listening to is going to be ruined by an erratic bow or overenthusiastic piper. As a whole, listening to the album feels like completing a rally in an r-reg Vauxhall Astra: you’d still make it round the circuit but it could be done a lot better. What Wanderer shows more positively is a serious band with the competence to go much further with the second record. If the creases can be ironed out they could put out an excellent offering, though their debut suffers from one too many flaws to hold such an accolade.