Sunday, December 15, 2013

Interview: Sven Phalanx of Schattenspiel


Good morning sick world
Here comes your sick servant
At the break of the day
And the break of the news
- Schattenspiel

Indeed it must be a good morning here on the west coast of America, but the world isn’t necessarily sick right now, but I sure am, having been fighting a cold since Friday. And as this day starts the news that I – your humble servant into understanding the dark recesses of the neofolk world - must break to you is a first for the Heilige Tod blog, an interview!

This is the first interview I’ve done with a professional musician in a long, long time. I really want to do more of these for this blog, not just to help promote the musicians making the music, but also to get straight from the horses mouth questions about the scene and its music in general. This blog is about understanding the neofolk and martial scene, and the best way to do that is simple: just ask the creators! Despite the brooding subject matter, the air of the mysteriousness and the extreme nature, the actual artists and musicians behind martial-industrial and neofolk music are quite approachable and gregarious, eager to talk about the music that is important to them while engaging in dialog with their fans and supporters on social media.

Sven Phalanx - photo provided courtesy from Sven proper

Sven Phalanx is one such affable musician. Sven is the driving force behind the Schattenspiel project, a fairly young project which has been gaining much momentum and prestige since its inception. This past summer Schattenspiel released a new album called Aus Dem Dunkel..., and a few weeks ago made available a Best of and Tribute CD called  Licht und Schatten – The Best of Schattenspiel. To celebrate these two releases while at the same time learning about Sven, Schattenspiel, and neofolk/martial music all together, Sven has graciously allowed me to interview him via exchanged emails.

Part 01 – Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit

Schattenspiel is still a fairly young project, with the first releases emerging in 2010. However prior to this, a proto-Schattenspiel existed in the form of Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit. Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit was only active for a little over a year starting in 2009, and while it burned short, it burned bright with many compilation appearances and split releases being created.

Q: Discogs.com doesn’t list any projects before “Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit”. Was this your first project? If not, what were you involved with before?

A: “Phalanx feat The White Rabbit” was my first official music project. I had previously made ​​music that was not published and have only heard a few good friends. Those were mostly songs for small parties or background music for short films.

Q: Who is the White Rabbit from “Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit”?

A: The White Rabbit is a good and long time friend of mine. We have decided to start this project together and we then complemented each other well, as we had many common interests and influences.

Q: Why the shift in style from EBM to Ambient and Neoclassical?

A: My roots come from the EBM genre. I very much like both types of music, neoclassical and EBM. But currently, I am focusing more on the neoclassical and ambient, which does not mean that I will not make something you can dance on at any time :o)

Q: Many of the releases for Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit were released as free downloadable tracks on the Bulgarian Abandonment net label. Why did you go this route of release many of your tracks?

A: Especially at the beginning, it was a good thing to publish with Netreleases. With Abandonment I had found a label that quickly and easily has uploaded my split CDs to his page. First of all, I wanted to find myself and develop in music, which made Netreleases the best way and decision.

Q: For a project that only existed a year, you were involved with many split CDS with other artists, such as Kristus Kut and Hrossharsgrani. How did these collaborations come about for such a neophyte project?

A: The many collaborations and split CDs were just the beginning of a good thing. I have met many new people, collected valuable experience and made ​​interesting acquaintances. It was a good time, but I then realized that all of this had been too much and the quality of the publications had already suffered.

Relics of an older era: a split release of Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit and Hrossharsgrani and an appearance on the Andre Zeiten compilation from Skullline (both from my personal collection)

Q: Of the Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit era of your portfolio, what songs do you recommend others to check out?

A: Which split Cd's I can recommend from this period are the so called Masturbation Sessions with Kristus Kut. This was a very interesting project and it was released in three parts. I still play with the idea of ​​continuing this series at some point in a somewhat different form.

Q: What songs are you not so proud of?

A: Well, there exist some songs I would probably not publish today. But I think that is part of the personal development and I guess, everybody has some skeletons in his closet. :-)

Q: Unfortunately, some of the net releases of Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit (such as material released by Notariqon). Will this material ever become available again?

A: The EP, which was released on Notariqon, is contained in a slightly altered form on the re-release of the first CD Follow The White Rabbit as bonus material.

Part 02 – Schattenspiel Questions

Schattenspiel proper began in 2010 and so far has amassed a few albums along with an impressive amount of appearances on various compilation samplers. Much like Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit, Schattenspiel releases are also peppered with many collaborations with other artists in the scene, fostering not only a sense of comradeship, but also keeping the music varied and interesting.

Q: Why the need to change the name of the project from “Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit” to “Schattenspiel”?

A: "Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit "was at the beginning actually more like a working title as a real band name. I never expected that my music would become that popular! An official name of the band was necessary, especially after The White Rabbit had left the band.In addition, I've always enjoyed working with other musicians and it just looked simply funny if you would read: Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit feat. Mr.X: o)

Q: Who designed the Schattenspiel logo?

A: The logo has Igniis, a fellow musician and guitar god from Argentina, designed. He is simultaneously also a tattoo artist and he had fortunately agreed to design a logo according to my ideas. This logo should reflect the band's name and I like the ambiguity in the logo, because one can see in the shadow of a white hare, or the image of the devil ... just as much in life has a double meaning and it always is in the eye of the beholder.

The Schattenspiel logo featured prominently on the Follow the White Rabbit release (CD from Michele Brittany's personal collection)

Q: Does the name “Schattenspiel” have any meaning? Why chose this name?

A: The name Schattenspiel means in the English Shadowplay. I have chosen this because it allows plenty of space for visual designs and the shadow play for me symbolically stands for the everlasting fight between light and shadow.

Q: Why did The White Rabbit leave Schattenspiel?

A: The White Rabbit had reluctantly left the band because she has not made ​​it to dedicate herself into music anymore. I hope that there will be a communal song sometime...

Q: What other bands and musicians have had a direct impact or influence on Schattenspiel?

A: I have been directly influenced by the band Godspeed You Black Emperor!  It is difficult to transport only by instruments a message. This band creates a mood with their music ... it is not music that you can casually consume, but by candlelight and a glass of wine should be heard consciously. In our society today, fast-paced, this is almost a luxury ...

Q: For someone new to Schattenspiel, what release and what songs would you recommend they start with and why?

A: To all new listeners I suggest the Licht & Schatten CD. It's a Best Of and Tribute double CD, which shows an interesting cross-section of the last 5 years.

Nick’s Note: Licht & Schatten is being made available by Sven as a free download until March 2014. The link to download it is: https://archive.org/details/SchattenspielLichtUndSchatten

Q: Lichtgestalten saw two versions being release, one of them being in a rather nice tin case with buttons and cards. However this appears to be your only release done so ornate. Any plans for another other special releases like this?

A: The Lichtgestalten box was really a great thing! However, something is always associated with high costs for a label. But I hope that it somehow could be repeated.

The ornate limited edition of Lichtgestalten - CD, postcards, stickers, buttons - all housed in a tin. CD from Michele Brittany's private collection

Q: Three years as Schattenspiel you now have a “best of” and a “tribute” album in the form of the (currently free) digital album Licht und Shatten – The Best of Shattenspiel. Why have such an album with a project that is still fairly young?

A: It has already been 5 years, including the time as Phalanx feat The White Rabbit.
Between 2008 and 2013 I have released 5 studio CDs and for the 5-year anniversary, I wanted to release a Best Of and tribute CD, on which I have revised some old songs new again. We also have added many vocals, samples or additional instruments to the old songs, so that it actually is a real new album. Furthermore, Licht und Schatten
contains some still unreleased songs from the upcoming album.

This CD will be 3 months for free download, as a small thank you for all loyal listeners. Then there will be this CD as pressed edition with a bonus EP.

Q: With Schattenspiel – what are you trying to accomplish or what are you trying to over all convey to your listeners?

A: With Schattenspiel I don't want to convey any profound message. I just want my passion - music - run free and deal with things I currently have a thought on. If, of course, I find listeners, who I have touched with my music, or perhaps even find their thoughts in my music, then I will be even more satisfied! : o)

Q: From 2010 to 2011 there was a serious of internet only compilations under The Seven Deadly Sins moniker and you appeared on everyone one of them along with other projects you’ve frequently collaborated with. Did you have a hand in these compilations? How come they are not being continued?

A: The compilation series The Seven Deadly Sins had been my idea.I wanted to create a platform where musicians know each other from all over the world and can connect.

However, this project, the planning and implementation was very time consuming and exhausting.
I'll surely make more compilations in the future, but probably not in such large proportions as it was with The Seven Deadly Sins
. 2013 appeared Au Bout Du Monde, our Jules Verne tribute compilation, which was designed in collaboration with Lionel Verney.

Q: You use a lot of samples in your music. Why? What do you feel sampling brings to music?

A: I think the samples can give the songs depth and density and thus also a certain mood is created.
The interaction of one's own voice, accompanied with various samples, is a beautiful sound collage to me.

Part 03 – Aus Dem Dunkel… Questions

Aus Dem Dunkel… is the newest Schattenspiel album of completely new material released in the Summer of 2013. A review of the album proper will be forthcoming in the future, but for now we can have Sven elaborate on this well done album himself.

Aus Dem Dunkel.... (CD from my private collection)

Q: You have some collaborators on this album that are very new to the scene and fairly unknown: Miss Kitty, Acta Non Verba, and Stahlplanet. Could you introduce us to them and tell us about them?

A: Acta Non Verba and Stahlplanet are two artist friends from Germany who I met during my time at the label Dead Beat Masters and appreciate and who already had one or the other publication on Dead Masters Beat. Miss Kitty is my wife, who takes over the female backing vocals for Schattenspiel and also wants to work on a couple of her own songs in the coming year.

Q: This release has the full membership of your brother Lionel from Verney 1826. You also appear on many Verney 1826 releases. As siblings, how does your musical partnership work and what do each of you bring to each others projects?

A: With Lionel I have a long-term cooperation. We have from time to time made several songs together in the past and already released a split CD.

When we were working on a song together for the Au Bout Du Monde
compilation, which should have been a "Schattenspiel vs. Verney 1826" collaboration song, the spark is finally hit us and we decided to make music together in the future.Lionel and I complement each other music-wise just perfectly and also human-wise. He's like the  brother I have  never had ...

We develop our ideas, talk about it. Then one of us begins with the first notes, shows them one another ... and we just usually have the same brilliant ideas and the work on the song continues.

Sven Phalanx and Lionel Verney - photo courtesy of Sven proper

Q: If there one, what is the over all theme or story to your Aus Dem Dunkel… album?

A: With Auf in den Kampf! begins the journey of our protagonist. As for many generations of the early 20th Century, is the war the starting point of his life . Hardly the golden years of youth behind him, he already gets the marching orders. Our hero follows enthusiastic and full of zeal. But on the "Western Front", it is soon the first disillusionment. The days and nights in the trenches stretch into weeks and months. Only the "Trommelfeuer" of enemy artillery batteries interrupts the nerve-wrecking wait, so it is no wonder that "Todesahnung" deranged his heart. Contact to family and friends is hardly possible, and eventually even the memory of his sweetheart appears like a fading dream.

Many, far too many comrades are killed ("Der Vorhang ist gefallen"). It is a lonely resting place, far from home, to lie in cold soil or in a cold sea ("The Grave at the Bottom of the Sea") . Soon he is close to giving up his inner struggle, when one evening the west wind voices and singing snatches from the enemy camp wafts to him: "We shall fight". At an abandonment is no longer to think of. The war is drawing to a bitter end. In captivity he hears one day the immortal poem "A Thought - Flower", which gives him comfort and hope.

When he returns home after the war, his first thought is devoted to the loved ones in the hometown. The reunion is overwhelming, but a few agonizing weeks later, both have to admit that too many things have changed in her life. The war has not only destroyed lives, he has also left a cold heart. As both their masks ("Masks") drop, the final separation is unstoppable ("To the Ocean"). The next day, our protagonist wanders aimlessly searching through the streets of his city ("Good Morning Sick World"). It will take a long time until he can overcome this latest shock.

Reconstruction after the war is in full swing and our hero witnesses the two new nations raise from the ashes of destruction ("Two Nations"). But once more he has to watch how little someone has learned from the mistakes of the past. Resentment, paranoia and human errors are blocking the way of progress again ("Midnight In Pripyat") so that it will take many generations before a person can finally raise "Aus dem Dunkel" to the light. But then the circle closes for him.  At last he finds rest in eternal "Zikulat" of existence

Q: With titles like “Western Front”, “Two Nations”, and “We Shall Fight”, there seems to be a combat element in some songs. Can you elaborate?

A: One should consider these songs not individually, but must see the whole CD, because it tells a story and thus are these songs in a whole new context. The story that goes into the album, I have answered in detail with the previous question.

Q: One of the best songs on this album is “Good Morning Sick World”. It’s rather catchy and poppy while at the same time being quite melancholy. Anything you want to share about this particular track and its meaning for you?

A: Thank you, Nick! : o) I personally love this song and it has become for me a kind of anthem to start the day.

Q: The cover art of Aus Dem Dunkel… is interesting. Two beings with trumpet heads and playing drums definitely convey a martial image, but the amputated man in the foreground conveys an extreme image. How do you relate this cover to this album?

A: The wonderful graphics of the Chilean artist FDO016 seemed appropriate to the thoughtful and at times dark theme of the album. The inner conflict of the album's protagonist who must repeatedly literally come "Aus dem Dunkel" (out of the darkness) in order to find himself, is indeed profound, but aptly illustrated here.

Q: For all of your albums, how involved are you in their design (artwork, typeface, layout, etc.)?

A: Since the Aus dem Dunkel… album Lionel Verney is responsible for the design and implementation of designs, whereby we will discuss each step together and discuss very long and intense about the cover motifs. Our labels then do the fine-tuning and adaptation to the artwork of the manufacturers/illustrators.

Q: Taking all your cover art into consideration – they are all very dark and mute in colours. Lack of blues and reds. Was this intentional?

A: Not originally, but we have noticed that the selected cover and their colors have ultimately always fit very well with the music.

Q: Post Aus Dem Dunkel… what are your next projects and next collaborations?

A: Recently, the Best Of and Tribute CD Licht und Schatten was released. Other plans do not exist at the time. However, we already have been working on new songs and if everything goes as planned, there will again be a new album in the summer of 2014, which has the working title of "REvolution."

Part 04 – Music Questions

As part of the neofolk and martial industrial scene, Sven is able to provide some insight not only his music and process, but act as a vessel to understanding a little bit of the genre itself. The neofolk and military pop genres are fairly enigmatic, so the insight Sven brings is just one piece of the puzzle, but a stepping stone none-the-less.

Q: You’ve done many collaborations with Barbarossa Umtrunk. How did this relationship come to be?

A: I met Barbarossa Umtrunk through Myspace and we had a very inspiring time together, in a lot of songs have been created. Meanwhile, we have even met in Paris. It's nice when you get the opportunity meeting someone in person…

A small sampling of the many collaborations between Barbarossa Umtrunk and Schattenspiel. First there is the split CD La Couronne De Glace between the two bands proper (CD provided from Michele Brittany's private collection - note the stately autograph). There is also the split CD La Clairiere Des Eaux Mortes between Umtrunk and Pale Roses in which Schattenspiel makes an appearance on the track "Gwer Nemeton". Finally, from this picture, Umtrunk and Schattenspiel both worked together on the track "Vive Le Quebec Libre" on this 5 Year Anniversary sampler from the Skullline Label (both these CDs are from my private collection).

Q: What is your creative process when you begin composing? Does the music come first or the lyrics?

A: Mostly starts the whole thing with the melody that you have in your head and trying to implement it then. Then the lyrics are written to the melody. You sometimes have a topic that you want to set into music and have already a few lyrics in my head ...then it's the other way around.

Q: What equipment and software do you use when creating music?

A: I work with various music programs, as for example Cubase or Fruity. In addition, we also try to make up music with live instruments, especially in case of a stage performance. But nothing fixed yet, we do not rush and wait for a suitable offer.


Q: What do you think makes Schattenspiel a successful project?

A: Success is always in the eye of the beholder. For me it's been successful if I can put my thoughts into the music and then out there in the wide world where are one or the other listeners, who actually likes it! : o)

But seriously, I think that it is especially important that you make the music in the first place with a passion and not just want to be a shooting star..

Q: Why have you gotten into this genre of music anyways when there are other genres out there that may have called to you? 

A: [Lionel] It was from the beginning so that melancholy music has addressed more than other music. Even as a child: If the music had a certain melancholy mood, I was immediately caught in her spell. Hence my own music was never happy and in the dark music scene I had felt at home from the start.

A: [Sven]
I have been to many different scene at home before it has driven me ultimately in the black scene in which I am now for years and feel comfortable. When you hear the music of Schattenspiel, you're going to a lot of styles and influences, including those from other musical genres, see: electronic, classical, noise, pop. In principle, we both have a pretty open-minded taste in music what is reflected in our wide range of songs. However, common to all the songs is a rather minor-heavy, melancholy mood.

Sven and Lionel sporting some fashionable Schattenspiel T-shirts - photo courtesy of Sven proper

Q: What bands or musicians have you not worked with but would love to collaborate with?

A: I would like to do once a song with Andreas Fröhlich, a German Synchro speaker. His voice has accompanied me through my childhood and youth, and it would be a great honor for me if he lends his voice to a Schattenspiel song. I also think the voice of Elli Riehl is very interesting.

Q: How do your collaborations occur?

A: First, I am looking for musicians whose music I personally like or I think the style Schattenspiel matches. Then we'll agree on a topic and begin to gather ideas. Eventually, the musical end product arises.

Q: Has there ever been a collaboration that was sour and you would not collaborate with again?

A: So far I had fortunately mostly positive experiences with collaborations. It is an asset and if it goes well, you draw your inspiration of the collaborations partner.

Q: Since you collaborate with so many other artists – how do these collaborations work, especially with your partners being spread in other countries?

A: That's the nice thing about the new digital world ... you can work quickly and relatively easy with artists from around the world.

I am preparing a few tracks first, then send it to my collaboration partner, who produces his ideas and sets it to music and then send it back to me. The whole is then sent as long back and forth until the song was completed and you are satisfied with the result.

Q: Why do so many artists in the neofolk/military pop/neoclassical/etc scene use Facebook and not have a website themselves?

A: An own website is combined with lots of cost and labor. On Facebook there is the possibility to stay in contact with many people, musicians, labels, etc. I must admit that I personally do not particularly like Facebook, but one has almost no other option than to have an account there.
But for musicians it's a bad medium. There was at that time MySpace much better! But unfortunately MySpace has made some wrong decisions and destroyed itself.

Q: What issues and misconceptions do you feel face the neofolk/martial scene?

A: I'm afraid I can not allow to make a judgment about other people, and certainly not over a whole scene. But I do miss the "good old times" a little, where it was mainly about the common love of music. When I see how the scene is now eaten from the inside out by strife and jealousy - that makes me sad.

Q: A political question, but labels of Far Right are often applied to the neofolk and martial scene. Have you yourself encountered any Far Right elements? If not, why do you think the scene draws such labels?

A: In my world there is no place for any form of left or right fascism. Obviously, I can not speak for other people out there, but I think that every person has the right to do just that and to think what he wants - as long as other people are not harmed. Maybe a listener of our music more faces left or more right of the political center, but that is how democracy works. And I do believe that there is a difference between "political right" and "totalitarian right-wing". "Politically right" oriented people, are in every scene, but I do not think the Neofolk / Martial scene has a lot of really "totalitarian right-wing" members

Q: Has anyone actually accused Schattenspiel of being Far Right and if so how did you react?

A: I've always said that Schattenspiel  is not a political project and I dissociate myself from it.
So far I've got no complaints, which shows me that the listener exactly know it is not a glorification of some ideology with my music, but we usually deal with issues that have nothing to do with the war theme. Or (as in the case of Aus dem Dunkel…
) does not glorify the war and ideology, but look at it from a different side and criticize.

No politics, just music!

Q: Many consumers of music turn to purchasing digital copies of music (iTunes, amazon, etc.) instead of buying physical copies of music. Has this mentality had an affect on you or how you release music?

A: I must confess that I am not really engaged and befriended with the digital media. But I presume that this is an issue in our society, more and more and you will not get past it.

Q: Do you believe the physical format of music is a dying medium in the age of digital versions?

A: I think that the classic CD gradually is threatened with extinction and is increasingly disappearing from the market. CDs will be something for fans and collectors. The trend is increasingly towards MP3. People no longer enjoy ... they consume music, which unfortunately is a very negative development

Q: What can encourage someone to buy a physical release instead of a digital release?

A: One can try to arouse interest in a physical publication, by adding interesting bonus items, such as f.ex.. an EP with additional songs, patches, postcards Generally, however, you should focus on the quality of the music. If the music is uninspired, I cannot convince anyone to buy them, regardless of whether, in digital or physical form.

Q: Since the very late 1990s and early 2000s the amount of groups operating in this neofolk/martial scene has greatly increased. What do you think was the catalyst to cause so many bands to form?

A: I presume this is partly due to the fragmentation of two music scenes, the Gothic / Dark Wave and the metal scene. Elements from both scenes formerly strictly separated are fused in the Neofolk / Martial scene to a then brand new and own mixture. New style elements are still coming along. And certainly the cost factor is very important. I don’t have to sell the house, yard and family to afford the necessary equipment for making music. I also need not necessarily an expensive recording studio to accommodate music. By eliminating these inhibitions many people start in a career as a musician has been facilitated.

Part 05 – Personal Questions

A final series of questions about Sven himself.

Q: What advice to you have to give to other aspiring musicians?

A: For all artists, it is important that you do that in the first place, what one pleases. I have met, in recent years, many young and talented musicians who just wanted to be famous and thought that they will get everything easily – money and women. And when they realized that this is not the case, they just lost the interest in.

Q: Where do you draw your inspirations from? Religious, occult, history, films, etc..etc..

A: I take my inspiration and ideas for new songs from my environment. I work with the music which touches me. In addition, I’m also inspired by people like Jules Verne or Edgar A. Poe and good movies.

Q: What other musicians or bands do you hold as your idols, that you may seek to emulate or be inspired by?

A: A true idol that I want to imitate… no, that is not existing. Each person is an individual and should find and develop his own personality and style.

Q: As siblings, how do you and Lionel settle any differences when it comes to collaborating?

A: Until now, Lionel and I had no conflicts whatsoever. He's like a brother to me and I often have the feeling that we are kind of soulmates.

Q: Aside from Schattenspiel, what else do you do? Do you have a job or another hobby?

A: Unfortunately, you cannot only live by making music, so I have a job in telephone sales. In my spare time, I meet up with friends, go swimming, watching good movies or party in the Gothic scene

Final Thoughts

I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to Sven Phalanx for allowing me the privilege to conduct this interview, and also to Lionel for his input on a question as well. I hope this interview generated interest into the casual reader to check out Schattenspiel. With an entire free tribute and best of album available, the venture is certainly worth it. Please see the links below to find available Schattenspiel content to sample.

Many of the answers Sven provided were statements I had not anticipated, such as the fragmentation of the gothic/darkwave and the metal scenes (something that was not visible to an American such as myself). This opens up a whole can of worms that I want to explore and I am gracious for Sven for pointing me in this direction.

I whole-heartedly support Sven and Schattenspiel, and want to extend my appreciation to Lionel and his project Verney 1826. I hope to have them grace the pages of this blog again in the future with reviews and more interviews. If any other artists that approve of how this interview was conducted and would like on themselves, feel free to contact me!

Sven Phalanx - photo courtesy form Sven proper

Thank you once again Sven!

Official Links

https://www.facebook.com/Schattenspiel.Music - Official Facebook page for Schattenspiel
https://www.facebook.com/Verney1826 - Official Facebook page for Verney 1826
https://archive.org/details/SchattenspielLichtUndSchatten - download for the tribute album (active until March 2014)
https://archive.org/details/abandonment - The Abondment label - one can find many of the old Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit appearances here for download
http://archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22The%20Seven%20Deadly%20Sins%20Compilation%22 - Search at Archive.org to download the Seven Deadly Sins compilations

Unofficial Links

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Schattenspiel - Discogs.com entry for Schattenspiel
http://www.discogs.com/artist/Phalanx+feat.+The+White+Rabbit - Discogs.com entry for Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit
http://www.discogs.com/artist/Verney+1826 - Discogs.com entry for Verney 1826

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Review: Sagittarius - The Ivory Rehearsals


Whoa, November came and went and where was an update to Heilige Tod?

Simply put, so busy. I had done October an entire month of reviews and I really didn’t want to do another review. I am trying to generate new knowledge about the neofolk and martial scenes, so I wanted my next piece to be something academic. So I had been working on an interview to give to Sven of the band Schattenspiel (I’m almost done creating it!) and at the same time doing a huge quantitative analysis of neofolk and martial activity since 1990. That project, got huge and I am still working on it.

We are now in December and I need to generate some content to show this blog is still active and still very serious in its mission. Luckily out of the blue something different arrived. One of my favourite bands, Sagittarius, released an mp3 album of rehearsal tracks for the Songs From the Ivory Tower album. This sudden release is actually to generate donations to help the legal fund of Malahki Thorn of the online magazine devoted to neofolk/martial music, Heathen Harvest. Sagittarius is trying to raise awareness of his plight of his money situation being drained by court costs associated to his medical marijuana usage. So Sagittarius is asking people in the scene to help spread the word, so I am stepping up to the plate to do my part.

Biasness

Extremely high. My dear friend Marcel P. is part of this project, so I am automatically biased toward his work. Since this is a release for altruistic causes, this may impact my review of the album as I try to promote it to raise awareness.

General Overview and Packaging

The Ivory Rehearsals is a digital only release done via the Bandcamp website (link below), available for 5 euros (or greater if one donates more). The whole package comes in a .zip file that contains 14 mp3s, and images for the cover art and inside booklet. I have not had the time to print the booklet out at Staples to see how it looks, so the image from the download will have to suffice:


Cover Art from the Bandcamp download

The songs were recorded in 2008 and before and are rehearsal tracks for Songs From the Ivory Tower. This means they are not necessary finished product per se, but they are also not demos or ashcan tracks either.

Track Analysis

Tracks 01 to 13

I am going to have to eschew my normal track by track commentary for this album as it really doesn’t add anything to the dialog. Down the road a proper review of Songs From the Ivory Tower will grace the pages of this blog and that is were the analytic attention should go. Trying to look at these tracks 1 by 1 will be a minor duplicating of future efforts, but since these tracks have no vocals or other instruments (every track is only piano), and are not indicative of the finish version that was proper released, then it’s not fair to compare and contrast.

Instead I am going to do a lump review for the first 13 tracks of this rehearsal album. Now the first thing we need to keep in mind that these are rehearsal tracks and the band is upfront about this. This shows in that the production quality is not as high as one would see in a normal Sagittarius album. There are a few instances were one can hear background noises as a track concludes. Also, every single track is piano only. The trademark Sagittarius flute is missing, as well as all the vocals, guitars, cellos and other instruments.

Regardless of this, the songs are still quite good. The piano work retains its top-notch sound. It’s lush, solemn, rhythmic and verdant when it needs to be.  In fact the best way to describe these tracks is as follows:

Imagine it is a snowy December. You’re in your house entertaining guests around the fireplace drinking warm alcoholic beverages. One of your guests is Mr. Cornelius Waldner himself, and he has secretly been eating all the sugar cookies. Now on a sugar high he needs to vent his energy. In the corner of your living room he spies an old piano, unplayed in a while. Cornelius comes to you and asks if he can give it a spin and you agree. He sits at the piano to play for his private audience and these tracks would be the result.

So really, these tracks are just a really-really-really REALLY stripped down version of Songs From the Ivory Tower. They stand on their own really well.

Missing from these tracks though is “Trunkene Flut” and “The Song” which appear on Songs From the Ivory Tower. In their stead however is a new track which will have its own analytics.

Verdict – Good tracks

Wildgaense Rauschen Durch Die Nacht

As far as I can tell, this track is exclusive to this digial only release. I’ve scoured all over Sagittarius’ discography, and a track by this name appears on no album, EP, single or compilation release.

This is the final track of The Ivory Rehearsals, and it is short but uplifting. The piano in this song is not on the melancholy side, but is instead upbeat. This would be the kind of music one would play in a taproom, or maybe to a scene in a silent movie. It provides a good outro to the album.

Verdict – Good song

Final Thoughts

The Ivory Rehearsals provides an interesting glimpse into the creative process of an album proper. The tracks are higher quality than a “demo” track, but a little less quality than the true release of Songs From the Ivory Tower. It’s amazing to try and imagine the process of these tracks becoming the final versions that we have all heard. Personally I’d still recommend Songs From the Ivory Tower over these tracks since 1) it’s an amazing album, but 2) that album represents the true vision and final form of what the artists have intended. I’ll always recommend the final version over a pre-version.

Regardless of that, I still recommend The Ivory Rehearsals. The piano work is still amazing and retains that classic Sagittarius sound. Also, this download is dirt cheap at only 5 euros. It’s almost 45 minutes of music (14 tracks) for the price of 6 songs on iTunes (exchange rate take into consideration). You’re getting a lot of good music plus one exclusive track really cheap.

Finally, the efforts of Sagittarius to help out Malahki are noble. Malahki was doing his part to help proliferate the scene and give these unknown and new acts a voice. I sympathize with his past efforts and I hope in some way I can accomplish with this blog what he did with Heathen Harvest. The taboo-ness of marijuana, especially medical, are fastly being eaten away here in the states, with such states like my old home in Washington and Colorado already decriminalizing it. So to see someone in this predicament seems like a farce. So the monies for this release also go to a good cause, to help someone out.

And a final thing, it's also a good release to old you over until the next Sagittarius album. It's been a bit since The Kingdom Come was released, so having some kinda-new/kinda-old content is a nice appetizer. 

Cultural References

Stefan George, Fredrich Silcher, Johann Krieger

Official Links

http://theivoryrehearsals.bandcamp.com/ - Bandcamp site to purchase the album

Other Resources

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit vs. Hrossharsgrani - S.P.Q.R.


The final week of October, I hope everyone is having a wonderful autumnal season.

This hopefully should be my last week of the short reviews, since my Italian Eurospy chapter is due at the end of the week. But a lot of other stuff is going on, big changes at work, Comikaze comic book con at the end of the week, etc. I may have to ask for a day extension. The hardest part (middle and end) is written, just need the introduction!

This week I’ll be reviewing the two track S.P.Q.R. split release between Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit and Hrossharsgrani. I am actually cheating a bit on this review since I’ve written a review for this release last year for the Metal Archives. However, it’s been a year and a revisit to the material might be beneficial for its re-appraisal. I will not copy my original review at all, but use it as a foundation to help me crank this review out. Also, I am leery about the Metal Archives’ system of expelling bands not metal enough, and I fear someday this review will be expelled from their collection since I doubt either band is “metal enough” for their criteria.

Biasness

A small amount – I’ve been friends with Alex, the man behind Hrossharsgrani for many years, and even collaborate with him on his Ceremony of Innocence project, but I doubt that relationship will get in the way of doing this review without bias. 

General Overview and Packaging

S.P.Q.R. is a net release put out by the Bulgarian label Abandonment back in 2009. The two tracks and artwork are available for free download under a Creative Commons License (see link below). In fact, the vast majority of Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit releases were done via the Abandonment label via this method.

I went ahead and went the extra mile and burned the tracks to a CDr and had the artwork printed at a Staples. The results turned out rather nice, if a little D.I.Y.:

The split CD printed out (personal collection)

According to the download’s website, Alex of Hrossharsgrani did the artwork and layout for the sleeve, and it looks good. When printed out it looks rather professional, with the cover image of Roman soldiers in a skirmish fitting the subject matter of this release. I actually really like releases like this that have a specific theme, it provides context as to take the songs in (and helps with me writing the analysis too!). S.P.Q.R. stands for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, and this release is about the military might of ancient Rome.

Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit is actually a defunct project, being active solely in the year 2009 (with one compilation appearance in 2010). The project has been superceded by the much more superior Schattenspiel project, helmed by Sven. Hrossharsgrani is one of the many projects of Alex Wieser who is most famous for Uruk-Hai, but for this blog he is of more importance for his ur-folk Hrefnesholt project.

Track Analysis

Nehmt Ihnen Alles

“Nehmt Ihnen Alles” is what I could call a “martial-minimal” type of song. The music proper isn’t too complex, it’s a singular industrial-rumbling-bombastic-noise: “chug-chug-chug / chug-chug-chug / chug-chug-chug” – looped for the entire song save for the last few moments. What breaks up the droning industrial riff are inserted samples culled from the German dub of the movie 300, specifically lines of the Spartans yelling in unison. At a high level, the configuration of samples from a martial source (in this case the movie 300) and the droning industrial element recalls the style that Dernière Volonté had with their Obéir Et Mourir album, only less ambient and more harsh. Specifically, this song is a lot like “Blood, Tears” by Langemarch that appears on the Georg Kolbe Bildwerke compilation. “Blood, Tears” is also a martial song with samples of a call-and-response from a commander and his troops, much like the call-and-response from the Spartans in the 300 samples.

Verdict – Decent Track

Enemy

“Enemy” is a lengthy piano driven track peppered with samples from a source I cannot identify. There are some muted war-esque drums in the background in sparse parts, which adds a slight martial element to the song giving it a good flavour. However what works against this song is this static/rumbling effect that carries the majority of the song. It sounds like a cross between slowed down radio static and airline noises from an old Microprose flight simulator. It’s more noise than harmony and obfuscates the good piano work and underlying martial temperaments. Near the 6 minute mark the song picks up and it the under layer sounds particularly good, with this martial-clapping effect. I really want to appreciate the song more, but the static noise is too much of a hindrance.

Verdict – Below average track

Final Thoughts

As a free download, you can’t go wrong with trying both tracks risk free. If you do, I would suggest spending the extra dollar or so printing out the jacket and making yourself a nice physical copy. Over all, the two tracks are not the greatest entrants for either band. In regards to Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit, I would skip them all together and go straight to Schattenspiel, a far superior project in almost all regards. However, most of Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit tracks are free to download, so maybe it is worth the risk, but it’s a bit of a gamble, with tracks like “Dark Whore in High Heels” which is ambient noise with samples of a woman having intercourse and “Mitten In Dein Herz” which sounds like a bouncy techno song. And whatever you do, stay away from their cover of “Crimson and Clover”.

In regards for Hrossharsgrani, they tackle the subject matter of ancient Rome and its military might with the album Pro Liberate Dimicandum Est and they do it in a way better fashion. In fact, that album came out in 2009, the same as S.P.Q.R. which would be fitting to label “Enemies” as an unused track for that album. Pro Liberate Dimicandum Est is a way better foray into Horssharsgrani than “Enemies”, so I highly recommend going that route instead.

But again, in the end, the price tag of nothing really mitigates the risk of exploring. So take the plunge anways!

Cultural References

300, Rome, S.P.Q.R.

Official Links

https://www.facebook.com/Schattenspiel.Music - official Facebook for Schattenspiel, the successor to Phalanx feat. The White Rabbit
https://myspace.com/hrossharsgrani - official MySpace for Hrossharsgrani

Other Resources


Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: Pale Roses - Princess of the Night


The final weeks of October are upon us, a spooky time, a season for a witch.

My girlfriend and I got to meet +Brian Garant  for drinks and Mexican food this past weekend, and he bestowed upon me some CDrs of music that I should’ve heard but have not. He also showed me a book called England’s Hidden Reverse which now costs a zillion dollars, but I took the hit and found a copy on Abe Books. Primary texts for this genre of music are hard to come by, so I need to scoop up what I can. Perhaps what I can do is put some annotations up on this blog?

So now we are in week two of short reviews as I continue to work on other projects that need to be wrapped up by this month’s end. This will be a review of the one track single Princess of the Night by +Pale Roses , a French neofolk band. Much like the Allerseelen Sonne Golthi-Ade review, I’ll be positing more questions that I want to note to tackle in future blogs.

Biasness

None – but +Ben MFA  from Pale Roses is a cool guy and I like to talk to him whenever the opportunity arises.

General Overview and Packaging

Princess of the Night is a one track single put out by Catgirl Records Historical in 2011. Catgirl Records Historical is a sub-label focusing on neofolk bands and falls under the Catgirl Records label proper, a label specializing in noise music. All the Catgirl releases are in a D.I.Y. style, some fairly absurd (wrapped in supermarket adverts, scotch tape, etc.), but for the sub-labels the releases they are in giant transparent A5 sized envelopes with graphics on photo paper and the music on generic CDrs.

Princess of the Night (from my personal collection)

Princess of the Night is no different, with all the photography focusing on images of trains and train tracks, which are fitting for the songs lyrics (see below). The images are heavily modified, to be in grey scale and gloomy, but nicely executed. The CDr is non-descript and would benefit with a sticker placed on it, lest it get mixed up with other CDrs. The print run of this single was 20 units, making it fairly collectable.

Track Analysis

Princess of the Night

“Princess of the Night” is actually a cover originally performed by British heavy metal band Saxon. Saxon was part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which notable acts such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Venom were also a part of. “Princess of the Night” originally appeared on Saxon’s 1981 album Denim and Leather.

Fan-made Youtube video for the original Saxon version

The first interesting tangent I want to note is the strong association between neofolk/military pop and the metal genre as a whole: the bond between both camps is strong and often blurred. This will definitely have to be a series of blogs by themselves to explore this association, but at a cursory glance there are some key points that need to be made. Firstly, many metal musicians are neofolk musicians and vice versa. The members of Pale Roses, for example, are also in a doom metal band called +Modern Funeral Art. Marcel P. from +Miel Noir  has been in Halgadom, a band that is 50% of the time neofolk and 50% of the time black metal. Cornelius from Sagittarius had his own black metal project called Hailstrom. Josef K. from Von Thronstahl sang for the Tanz Metal group Weissglut (Tanz Metal and Neue Deutsche Härte being used interchangeably) and guest sang on one Agathodaimon album (Chapter III). Carl Lang from Agathodaimon and Megalith performed with The Days of the Trumpet Call. Black Ambient musician Alex Wieser from +Uruk Hai  has an ur-folk project called Hrefnesholt. Dimo Dimov’s flagship project of Svarrogh began as a black metal project that gradually took on neofolk elements over time. Austrian ur-folk supergroup Sturmpercht has seen musicians that are or were also part of metal bands, such as the aforementioned Dimo Dimov, Christoph Ziegler (Vinterrket) and Hajot Gmeilbauer (Soulsearch). And even if a neofolk band has members not part of the metal scene, they have collaborated with them, such as Changes and Cadaverous Condition or Der Blutharsch and Our Survival Depends on Us. The list goes on and would benefit from a relational diagram of sorts.

Secondly, one can help but noticed that both metal bands and neofolk/martial bands draw subject matter from the same source material. From Vikings to occultism, from anti-Christian themes to paganism, from WW2 to alchemy, from medieval battles to Germanic poetry. Styles and imagery are also shared, such as Death in June using umlauts in their band name. This pool of subject matter definitely needs to be cataloged, and which I have been preemptively doing it by listing what cultural references when possible when I do these reviews.

Finally, another observation to bring up is the abundance of covers. The neofolk and martial genres of music do an amazing amount of covers. Although maybe “covers” is not the right word to use when traditional songs are sung, such as Blood Axis doing “Follow Me Up to Carlow” or Werkraum doing “Jabberwock”, but regardless they are lyrics these artists didn’t originally compose and are re-appropriating them. Aside from traditional songs, the scene does make rampant use of covers, both of songs within the genre and out. Many bands have done a cover of “Runes and Men” by Death in June. Outside genre examples include Von Thronstahl doing a cover of The Stranger’s “Curfew”, Kirlian Camera doing Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and Pale Roses doing this Saxon cover, And let’s not forget all of those Laibach covers either!

Lots of footnotes I want to mention with the intent to cover later, and this release by Pale Roses triggers those creative juices for questions to ponder and then address.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxYFM5yNDqc - Video on Arnaud’s YouTube channel (Arnaud = Pale Roses member). Some reason, Blogger doesn't want to embed this video. 

“The Princess of the Night” is a song about a train and the narrator’s fond memories from their youth of receiving mail, riding it and being in awe of the power behind the train. However the narrative is told in past tense, indicating the train is no longer in service, has been scrapped, or is still in service and not performing up to snuff any more.

The original Saxon version is in traditional British heavy metal fashion, and the song is definitely better sounding in proportion to how long your hair is. If you’ve ever heard “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest, then you’ve basically heard what the original Saxon version sounds like.

The Pale Roses version is extremely stripped down, slowed down, and subdued. This version is all acoustic guitar: it has the feel of a man standing solo by a fire, guitar in hand, lamenting the sad lyrics to a quiet audience. The vocals are equally somber and ghostlike and compliment the lyrics in this regard. You wouldn’t know the lyrics were so somber listening to the original version, but you definitely do with the Pale Roses version.

While the vocals do fit the subject matter, as a matter of personal taste, I prefer Pale Roses’ vocals in other songs. They are far superior sounding in their native tongue, with songs such as “Le Village Assasin” and “La Nativite Julienne” being good examples of them in top form.

Verdict – Decent Song

Final Thoughts

“Princess of the Night” is a decent enough song, but I would not recommend this track to someone who has not heard Pale Roses before as a foray into the band. I would instead recommend their split album with Barbarossa Umtrunk, which is far superior.

This release though has got me thinking more and more how complex this blog will be, and how writing about neofolk and martial music is going to be a huge, multifaceted task. But as I explore deeper in the heart of it all, I do hope the readers gain and even more appreciation for these bands and explore them as well. All of these reviews are from bands from my personal collection, and I am not wasting my money on buying crap, so you know the bands I am show casing here, I stand behind.

Cultural References

British heavy metal, Saxon, Trains

Official Links


Other Resources