Mo Anam Cara, meaning soulmate or spiritual guide in Gaelic, is the sixth album from Irish singer and multi-instrumentalist Joy Shannon and her band The Beauty Marks. With shades of conceptual black metallers Ulver, Mo Anam Cara is a musical tribute to the goddesses and spiritual guides of Celtic and Norse mythology (plus a little Tolkien) in the form of a circular journey through the seasons of the year, with each track detailing a different holiday or pagan tradition from the ancient Celtic calendar. Samhain, Beltaine, Lugnasadh and Mabon, as well as the mythologies and deities behind them, all get a look in.
While metal acts have long had a fixation with pagan mythology and archaic traditions, Joy Shannon and The Beauty Marks come closer than ever to summoning the feeling of winter in a tenth century Northern forest. This is as much down to Shannon’s instruments-of-choice being the Celtic harp, cello, and harmonium – with some super-distorted electric guitar adding background colour and a modern industrial/noise edge – as it is to her lyrical fixations. Mo Anam Cara is atmospheric, evocative, haunting and beautiful, with ethereal layered vocals and glistening harmonies – Shannon has previous experience in operatic voice training – floating atop mostly traditional instrumentation that is at times rustic and intimate, at others orchestral and grand. Think Joanna Newsom lending her harp to Sabbath Assembly to play on a Cave/Ellis score to a Wicker Man prequel and you’re halfway there. In keeping with its subject matter, the music on Mo Anam Cara is as unsettling as it is eerily poignant, with moments of undeniable beauty arising from the gloom (see “Ostara Blodeuwedd” and “Finduilas” in particular).
Music has been renowned for its ability to conjure images and emotions, to enchant and bewitch, descriptors which are particularly meaningful with regards to Joy Shannon and The Beauty Marks’ invocation to age-old spiritual traditions and knowledge. Mo Anam Cara closes with “Mabon Airmid (Bring Back The Dead)”, a track named for the Irish goddess whose song could raise the dead, a fitting finish for an album that is its own act of giving musical life to an all-but-lost spirituality and sense of magic.