Novalis Deux – Ghosts Over Europe

01/02/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Novalis Deux
Title: Ghosts Over Europe
Label: Ars Musica Diffundere / Black Rain
Genre: Neofolk

Track Listing:

01 Put On Your Shoes
02 Homecoming
03 Ghost Over Europe
04 Sleeping Violin
05 The Clown
06 Passing By
07 Rome
08 One Step
09 World In Flames
10 Your Hell

Novalis Deux have been around for a while, long enough for it to matter that they stick a number after their original name ‘Novalis’ in order to stop them from getting confused with the German progressive rock band of the same name. 2008 sees the release of their fourth full-length album but it hasn’t been an unmarked and frictionless road here. After an apparently difficult time concerning the loss of a drummer they decided not to throw in the towel as per their original plan but do what most self-respecting bands would do: get another one. And there you were thinking that neofolk bands didn’t have any drama in their lives. I’m still waiting to see Tenhi smash up a Stradivarius.

Ghosts Over Europe is the result of a two-year slog in which the band went from a line-up of three members to seven, now incorporating multiple instrumentalists and singers. Novalis Deux are not your typical neofolk band though: they toy around with a number of different styles – not in a haphazard avant-garde fashion, but in a more of an understated and modest way. It’s quite common to hear shades of folk and Goth bubbling away in the music as well as pop and electro but there’s no doubt that everything has been underlined with a bedrock of neofolk. Ghosts Over Europe is very much a folk record, just one with different twinges to add something fresher to the genre.

The album opens with the curiously named ‘Put On Your Shoes’, presumably an indication of moving forwards with the opening of the album. It’s one of the more accessible tracks with just guitar, military-style snare drumming and the dual vocals of Stev and Marcel leading into a catchy chorus before one of the album’s strongest tracks, ‘Homecoming’ begins, which features some beautiful female vocals and violin playing. Novalis Deux are clearly very serious about their work and all the instruments are played faultlessly, with the guitar sounding crisp and clean and the violin sliding round with composite skill. The title track and ‘One Step’ are also clear highlights, the latter opening up with some synths that wouldn’t be out of places at an EBM club before the clean guitars come in for the verse, which is something certainly unusual for a piece of folk music.

However, though some of the songs are quite likeable straight away, they can descend into repetition in some parts and pure bizarreness in others. The song that takes the most credit for this is ‘The Clown’ with its buoyant, riant bassline and lyrics about well, a clown, and though the band may have thought some dark humour was another good break from the norm, it doesn’t work as either parody, irony or sarcasm. As well as this, though there is great playing and singing in places, it’s still troublesome trying to find much feeling in the music. The emotion is certainly there in some parts but it doesn’t jump out at you straight away or convince you when you do find it, and as a result a lot of the album ends up as one massive piece of potential that promises a whole lot but doesn’t ultimately deliver, like a grade A guest who fails to make it to a party at the last moment.

Ghosts Over Europe attempts – and mostly succeeds – in doing something different with the neofolk sound. It’s just a shame that there is so much warmth and sensitivity missing from the music, meaning it’s quite common to be underwhelmed with the album in spite of many promising sections. The band are clearly quite confident in their sound from the solidity of the performances, but in spite of some catchy moments, good insights and competent instrumentals I couldn’t help coming away from the record thinking that something was missing – some real essence and depth. Ghosts Over Europe is a creature with head but no heart – great ideas but no soul – and it’s this which prevents it from being the moving, unobtrusive take on neofolk that it so nearly is.

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