by Oliver Sheppard
A lot of the recent infusion of music and interest into neofolk can be traced to bands like Cult of Youth and the excellent Agalloch, bands originally rooted in the punk and metal scenes, respectively. This is quite a new development in the history of the music, given that it was originally thought of as a “post-industrial” style whose principle founders had come from the industrial and postpunk scenes. (Granted, Crisis were punk as fuck, and that band ties directly into the formation of the genre, too.) While there is an indie/hipster component to some of the new attention – for example, some folks insist that Chelsea Wolfe is “neofolk,” and the boundaries of the genre do continue to blur – the core of the music’s tradition continues forward and reliably delivers beautiful and inspiring releases year after year.
2013 was no different, with new entries by bands like Australia’s Lakes and Chicago’s Et Nihil being added to the canon. Below are the Top 6 Neofok releases of 2013!
1. LAKES – Blood on the Grove LP
Australia’s Lakes tread the precarious line between postpunk and neofolk, the way some of the original bands in the scene (like Joy of Life or Death in June) did. The label says of this release that it is “bleak folk, medieval wanderings and dark post-punk. Ten new songs, simple yet evocative, direct but solemn. Think of Rose Clouds Of Holocaust-era Death In June covering Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing. For fans of Current 93 and Sol Invictus, Joy Of Life and Above The Ruins, plus domestic heroes Strength Through Joy.” Whew!
But, in fact, that hyperbole is not much off the mark at all. Members of Lakes play in punk and postpunk bands otherwise, like the excellent band TAX. If you like your neofolk with an old school dark postpunk tinge, LAKES is a band you should check out. It’s my overall favorite neofolk release of 2013.
2. OF THE WAND AND THE MOON – Shall Love Fall from View? 7″
Kim Larsen’s Danish neofolk project is one of the big guns of the current neofolk scene, and lately the songs have taken a more somber turn in the vein of songwriters like Lee Hazlewood and Leonard Cohen – both important influences that have been there all along, but which have come to the fore especially strongly lately. The “Shall Love Fall From View” EP was actually recorded in 2009 and 2010 during the making of Lone Descent LP, arguably the band’s finest work and indeed one of the best neofolk LPs, period. Whereas many songs on that LP were heavily treated with effects and layers of production, “Shall Love Fall From View” is a basic, stripped down, almost “campfire” goth affair. Kim Larsen‘s haunting, deep voice and introspective lyrics make this EP a great addition to their catalog as well as to the corpus of neofolk generally.
3. DEATH IN JUNE – The Snow Bunker Tapes LP
Although some have called this the “demo version” of the previous Death in June LP, Peaceful Snow, this is actually quite a fully realized LP in its own right, much in the Syd Barrett-esque tradition of the preceding Rule of Thirds album. We could perhaps even say that The Snow Bunker Tapes complete a “raw acoustic” trilogy that began with 2001′s angry All Pigs Must Die offering, continued through to the psychedelic Rule of Thirds LP and ending here. The last few Death in June releases have seen Douglas P approach his trademark neofolk sound with a more relaxed, contemplative and “mature” feel — the sound of someone content with his legacy and life’s work — so far. There is a feeling of finality, of some sort of existential reconciliation, that pervades these songs from end to end. Peaceful Snow features the same tracks as appear here, although those are slightly reworked and with Slovakian pianist Miro Snejdr’s amazing contributions added in.
4. KINIT HER – The Poet and the Blue Flower LP
As I wrote in last year’s neofolk Top 6, which also featured a Kinit Her LP, “Although Kinit Her are from Wisconsin, there is a more Euro-folk sensibility in their music than with current US bands like King Dude or Cult of Youth, who both seem comparatively American.” The group contains members of Burial Hex and Wreathes (who are probably my favorite of the 3 groups), and whereas Death in June and Of the Wand and the Moon have offered stripped down, acoustic guitar-based tunes on their recent releases, Kinit Her offer medieval, droning, chant-filled songs. The effect is one of hearing ancient, otherworldly pagan odes. One wonders if this isn’t what it would have sounded like at some heathen ritual in the Dark Ages, in non-Christianized Europe, if they had just had the recording technology back then to capture it on tape.
Kinit Her have a Facebook page here.
Also, Kinit Her’s label for this releases, Avant! Records, is on a roll lately!
5. ET NIHIL – Onus
After the unfortunate disillusion of Luftwaffe, Chicago’s Et Nihil has stepped to the fore, delivering a solid chunk of classically apocalyptic dark folk much in the vein of old Sol Invictus and Strength through Joy. Whereas the final Luftwaffe LP – the aptly named “Dissension” disc – was a varied offering of traditional neofolk alongside dark, experimental industrial sounds, Et Nihil’s debut CD is straight-ahead, gloomy and grim stuff that sticks to what’s tried and true. Rapidly strummed guitars, sonorous and militaristic vocals, pounding and doomy percussion reverberate ominously, painting a bleak but fascinating portrait of vengeance, loss, determination, suffering, and resolve. Onus is available from Old Europa Cafe, one of the best neofolk labels around these days.
6. DARKWOOD – Schicksalsfahrt
The long-running Darkwood neofolk project is not the sort of music you put on when you want to lighten the mood. Starting off with tragic minor notes, the opening track, “Secret Places,” showcases singer Henryk Vogel’s talent for fine word composition and lyrical imagery. “The desert receives us, like enemies, like friends.” Manuela’s backing vocals provide a touch of ethereal beauty much along the lines of Rose McDowall’s contributions to Current 93 in the late 80s and early 90s. The LP is, in fact, dedicated to French storyteller Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and the sweeping atmosphere of the songs is a fine and fitting tribute, indeed. Schicksalsfahrt is a hauntingly beautiful album from beginning to end.