Solefald – Norrønasongen Kosmopolis

December 3, 2014 –

solefald-norrønasongen_kosmopolis

Norrønasongen Kosmopolis proves to be a fine album in a style only tangentially related to metal, but fails to rise to the point of making me want to listen to it again. Folk music can be comforting, sometimes interesting, but is usually known for being participatory, that is a group of people around a campfire singing as part of a ritual.

Solefald come to us from the entertainment fringe of folk, which here is a combination between the bands that play in the background at a Renaissance Faire and the kind of music that might be used in a low budget Romantic comedy to establish that the characters are indeed in Norway. Norrønasongen Kosmopolis features songs composed in layers, such that the band sets up a repeating pattern and then other instruments layer within that while vocals between male and female trade off, chanting lyrics of apparently great lutefisk significance.

Then it breaks into this with dinner theater style dramatic breaks where other vocalists join in abrupt transition to another pattern, like the scene has changed or perhaps the lyrics have referenced something terrifying, like a moose roaming free in the local churchyard. All of it is well-executed, with pleasant flutes and string instruments, and the vocals are elegant, but the artistic intention behind this is confused. It tries to organize itself around vocal events which do not work without visual cues, and it specializes in the kind of sing-song rhythms that work best with a “Little Vikings” playset or uncritical audience at the aforementioned Renaissance Faire. When metal guitars intrude, it is as a background instrument that makes the mix louder without adding much of musical note, which makes the vocals even louder.

At the local pub, these songs would be more fun to sing if their parts fit together in a method that allowed people to remember them and have fun experimenting within that known framework. Instead, we get a serial sequence of repetitive frameworks which change randomly for reasons unrelated to the music. That probably qualifies as “progressive” in the dissolved metal scene of today, but in reality, it is the kind of drama that attracts pretentious people looking for something mentally easy to digest. The result guarantees tedium for those who dare notice, and comfortable but random background music for the rest.

Steve von Till – As The Crow Flies

April 13, 2013 –

steve_von_till-as_the_crow_fliesIt is one thing to become acknowledged within your genre as a leader. It is still another to reach outside that genre, and become more than an artist, but a sage.

A sage is part explainer of the past, part philosopher and part artist who makes the future seem full of interest and beauty. No matter how long someone labors in popular music, they will eventually desire to become the village sage, because that is a position above entertainer. It is a trusted voice that is a guide for culture.

Steve von Till rose to fame with Neurosis, whose music he took far beyond hardcore into the realm of psychedelic and experimental music. With this re-issue of his solo album from 2000, we can hear his voice develop from rage and ambiguity to a desire to reform culture itself. This acoustic guitar album shapes itself from simple melodies and muttered, droning vocals melded into slow atmospheric songs.

As The Crow Flies attempts to create a folk music out of the postmodern time, having let the ashes of dystopia fall. These songs are sentimental and emotional, but not in the cloyingly insistent way that pop must be. Instead, like the music of Tom Waits or Dead Can Dance, songs try to nail the feeling of a particular time in life and galvanize us toward both clarity and an amorphous desire to surpass the past.

von Till carefully paces the album so that songs appear in a varied order, using additional instruments sparsely to differentiate themselves, such that mood is not broken but slowly changes like a banner twisting in a nearly-becalmed afternoon wind. These are songs both unexpected and familiar which wring out of our decaying age a new reason to believe in the emotional power of living, and that makes As The Crow Files a success of a different color.