Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: Miel Noir - Honey & Ash


I figured my first real essay/post to this blog should be a review. I know a general idea of how I want to take things, but I can’t really flesh it out until I dive into the trenches. A review seems like a good medium to get the creative juices flowing and see how it takes off.

I’ve picked the Miel Noir album Honey & Ash as my first victim. It’s going to be weird trying to juggle how much of this essay is review and how much is analysis. I’ll try and straddle both and see what happens and apply for later reviews.

The format template I am going to try first is as follows. First I will list any biasness I may have. Is this an album I really like or hate? Do I know some of the people behind the music? Important to be upfront about this since it may cloud how I review. Secondly, an overview of the release itself. Who put it out? Are there other versions? What does it look like? Third, a track by track analysis. I am not the best at describing music, and I am not adept at stating which instrument is which, so I’ll definitely be learning this as I go. However I can still bring up as best opinions and analysis as I can for each track. If there are videos on YouTube, I’ll link them here as well. The next section will be cultural references. This is a preemptive section. I want to start cataloging where the neofolk and martial artists are drawing their source material from. In a world where the genre is seen as simply Fascist music, I need to start building my catalog of examples to combat that perception. And finally the last section will be any links or citations I use.

So without further ado, Honey & Ash!

Biasness

Extremely high. I’m a big supporter of the Miel Noir project and have been friends with one of the members for many years.

General Overview and Packaging

Honey & Ash was released in 2011 by Steinklang, one of the major labels that harbors neofolk and martial artists. The album has two formats, an unlimited edition as a normal jewel-case CD and a limited edition of 50 copies in a small wooden box that contains a 3” CD with 3 bonus tracks along with some bees wax candles. Prior to Honey & Ash, the Beverina & W.A.R. label released a 4 track EP called Wabenheim in 2010. All four tracks on this release are found on Honey & Ash as well, so the song critique below can apply to both releases. The Wabenheim release is long out of print, and aside from some nice postcards that were included in it, at this point it’s not really worth tracking down unless you’re a completionist.

Honey & Ash versions (my private collection)


The art style that adorns the album is quite unique. The artist is Claudia Summerer and the medium looks to be coloured pencil. The drawings are decent enough, and definitely stand out in a world were digitally created art is the norm. Each page has its own unique drawing. My favourites include the nude woman for “Das Honig-Opfer” (she has a cute butt), the fairy holding a black sun for “Sonnenmann” and the broken pot that is the album’s cover. The stone city artwork for “Der Himmel Fällt” and the scribbled sun for “Black Waves Rising” are not as up to snuff in terms of craftsmanship as the other pieces in the booklet. Regardless, the use of original art is also welcomed, since many neofolk and martial acts simply re-use older paintings, lithographs or block print drawings.

Track by Track

Das Honig-Opfer

The first track to Honey & Ash, and a well executed intro track to the album proper as well. The music is a repeating EBM-ish beat, think of DAF  (“Der Sheriff”) but with a slightly higher bpm and much more menacing in sound.  Marcel P. provides the vocals, repeating lines from Nietzsche. Unfortunately neither the booklet nor the official website provides the lyrics in their entirety to follow along. Though the lyrics and the beat repeat though the song’s 5+ minute duration, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. This track is also the opening track on the Wabenheim EP.

Verdict – Good track.

Sonnenmann

The second track of the album and definitely one of the best. An accurate way to describe “Sonnenmann” is to compare it to the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” in terms of vocal delivery. The lyrics “ich die dunkle sonne / in tiefen Wintertraum” sounds like it is sung exactly like “riders on the storm / into this house we’re born / into this world we’re thrown”. This makes the vocals inherently catchy and the supportive female vox for Lisa add a supportive element as well. The song is probably the most “neo-folky” track on the album, with a definite western feel to it.


Video from the official Miel Noir youTube channel.

Verdict – Amazing Track

Honigglut

A spoken word track overlaid onto a soft piano background with some effects. If anyone has the KMFDM album Xtort, this song has a lot in common with the secret track at the end with JR Blackmail telling a very inappropriate fairy tale. Except this song isn’t quite as well executed. It’s a bit on the sleepy side and doesn’t 100% fit in with the rest of the tracks on this album.

Verdict – Not Good

In Empty Coldness

Deep baritone vocals combined with female vocals courtesy of guest singer Ms. Köning propel this track. Köning’s singing acumen doesn’t shine here like it does on the Sagittarius album The Kingdom Come however. Despite the different vocals, samples, the background music is a faint, slow beat. In essence, it does suit its namesake: empty and cold.  So the song has a hint of melancholy to it. The lyrics are actually from Emily Brontë’s poem “Remembrance”. Brontë of course being famous for the novel Wuthering Heights.


Video from the official Miel Noir YouTube channel.

Verdict – Decent Track

Honiggöttin

The track starts off slow, much like following the footsteps of “In Empty Coldness”, except with a bit more Gothic sounds to it. However the song really starts to build, first by adding the occasional guitar rift and then finally some martial drumming which really gives the song a nice beat. The vocals boom over the music and compliment it well. They are not shouted, but they are definitely booming. Towards the end of the track the electric guitars are in full swing, giving it a Sisters of Mercy or Seraphim Shock feel.

Youtube video.

Verdict – Good Track

Duft Steigt Empor

This track has a very interesting beginning. I am not sure how to describe it. Perhaps entering a cave in a Japanese RPG game with occasional distorted guitars? The song has a sense of urgency to it which would seem apropros for exploring a cave in an RPG video game. There’s a crystalline charm that pops up now and then with an ambient X-Files-ish riff. The lyrics are from “Honig”, one of the “Moabit Sonnets” penned by Albrecht Haushofer while he was in prison post the failed bomb plot to kill Hitler. This track is also the second track on the Wabenheim EP.

Verdict – Good Track

The Burning Season

Another excellent track, in contest with “Sonnenmann” to be the best track on the album. The beginning of the song asks the listener to “concentrate on the sound of his voice  as he counts backwards from 5..4..”. This intro makes me recall the intro to Lars von Trier’s movie Europa were Max Von Sydow asks the audience to do a similar thing. In a weird sort of way, by doing this prelude, it sort of incorporates the listeners into the song. The song has a definitely rock vibe to it (more on the Gothic side of things), making it more mainstream sounding and therefore more accessible to those outside the genre. The use of some unidentified samples that pepper the song (especially the middle) give it a quality one would find in a Frontline Assembly song.

According to Marcel in an interview with the online Heathen Harvest publication, inspiration for this track came from “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot by the way of Stephen King’s popular Dark Tower books.

Video from the official Miel Noir YouTube channel.

Verdict – Amazing Track

Der Feind

Another track similar to “Honiggöttin” in that it’s a bit minimal on the music side with spoken lyrics courtesy of  Gerhard from Allerseelen. The song has a piano which makes it reminiscent of a Sagittarius song combined with intermittent chimes and shakers that make it sound like a Death in June acoustic set. The lyrics are taken from French poet Charles Baudelaire poem “The Enemy” from his Flowers of Evil collection.

Verdict – Good Track

Honig-Traum

This track is a guilty pleasure of mine. After a vocal introduction, it gets down to business with a some nice industrial beats. It’s not sheet-metal industrial (like an old school Einstürzende Neubauten track), but more like hammering a rail road spike industrial (it goes dink-dink-dink). It’s hypnotic and pretty well done. This track is also the fourth and final track on the Wabenheim EP.

Verdict – Good Track

It’s Me

This track scares me. It starts off with a sample of a cackle-witch-like evil laughter which is a bit on the unnerving side. The female vocals of Ms. Köning make a return to this track, but they sound very demanding. Think of a battle between two witches, but only they are not casting spells, they are sing-battling each other. Now take one of those witches and replace them the listener to this song, and instead of fighting back they are in a corner cowering while the other witch continues her aural assault. That’s this song.

Verdict - Scary

Der Himmel Fällt

A weird track, more along electro-industrial and a little unnerving. If anything, this is the song that should be playing in the background if you’re left by yourself in the movie Event Horizon before Sam Neill gets you. There’s some yelling and a drone noises that pulses through the song (think of a vacuum cleaner running in another room of your house). The song itself isn’t bad, but probably should be played in limited doses.

Verdict – Decent track.

Schwarzer Honig

Gerhard makes a second appearance with this track. The background music sounds like a harsh industrial loop, but made mild. Think Feindflug but way less aggressive. As the song progresses, it takes on a bit more melody, making it sounds like Gerhard guest singing for a Funker Vogt track (think of the song “F117”, but less electronic, darker, and with Allerseelen vocals. Then you have a good grasp of this song).

Youtube video.

Verdict – Decent Track

Unspoken Words

This song is called “Unspoken Words” but it really should be called Unplayable Song. This is probably the worst song on this album. The vocals are distorted and annoying (the unspoken part?) and sounds like wailing. The music sounds like a jet plane that just wont take off. If you’re like me an import your music from your CDs into a program like iTunes, skip this one.

Verdict – Terrible Track

Black Waves Rising

Cowboys riding into the sunset, that’s what the track sounds like. Dimo’s deep baritone vocals from “In Empty Coldness” return for this track along with the dink-dink railroad music from “Honig-Traum”. There’s some nice, though muted, guitar work as well.

Verdict – Good Track

Dunkle Waben Birgt Der Fluß

The last track with Gerhard from Allerseelen. The Sagittarius piano-like work is present and gives the track a nice, classy feel without sounding too bourgeois.  The vocals get distorted now and then, and you have the feeling of someone just out of eye side whispering some dark secret amongst themselves.

This track is also the third track on the Wabenheim EP.

Video from the official Miel Noir YouTube channel.

Verdict – Good Track.

Eherne Ulmen

The last track on the normal album release for Honey & Ash and unfortunately a let down. This is an abstract song, with murmured vocals over some experimental industrial soundscapes and a reverb that borders on noise music. There’s a computer-out sound that appears now and then that sounds a little like the computer-out noises in Kirlian Camera’s Invisible Front 2005 album.

Verdict – Bad Track

Whatever That Hurts

“Whatever That Hurts” is a track from Tiamat’s much revered Wildhoney album, a fitting album title from Miel Noir to draw a song from, with Miel Noir’s own fascination with bees and honey. This bonus track exclusive to the wooden box version definitely does not fit into the sound of the rest of the album, we’re in full doom metal territory here. The vocals change from gothic-whispers to enraged full on metal. The guitar work is excellent. Miel Noir don’t do anything too drastic with their cover, it’s fairly faithful and fans of Tiamat would appreciate.

Good song, but I am more of  an “The Ar” fan myself (also from the same album).

Video from Dimo Dimov’s official YouTube channel

Video for the Tiamat version for comparison

Verdict – Good Track

What It Was

This second bonus track is really fast pace. It has a noise-industrial beat looped, and in a weird way, it’s catchy. A bell tolls in the background while Marcel’s vocals keep up with the higher bpm. The track has a lot in common with “Das Honig-Opfer”, but noisey-er.

Verdict – Good Track

Honig-Wahn

The third and final bonus track. Miel Noir dives into chip-tune/bit pop territory with this song. The foreground music and vocals are all ethereal and whispered, but in the background there is some video game-esque blips and bleeps like what is found in chip tune music. Maybe if Welle:Erdball made a really slow ethereal track, it would sound like this?

Verdict – Good Track.

Final Thoughts

Only three tracks (“Honigglut”, "Unspoken Words", and “Eherne Ulmen” … and maybe “It’s Me”) strike out on this 16 track album, giving it a good ratio of good or excellent tracks to misses. The music carries pretty canonically from track to track, combined with the artwork gives it a nice uniform experience. The production value on each track is superb, which is good in a sea of other neofolk and military pop bands that are more akin to bedroom musicians.

Marcel states in an interview with Heathen Harvest that it’s hard to find neofolk elements on Honey and Ash. I agree it’s hard, but I also posit they are there, with songs like "Sonnenman" and "Der Feind". This is one of the problems with this genre of music, is that there is no clear cut definition of neofolk, military pop, martial, and neo-classical music. If we were to Venn Diagram all the projects and try to place them into these genre categories, there would be so much inbreeding and overlap. Projects collaborate with each other and the barriers in sound and genre exist. An interesting example is Kirlian Camera. Are they or are they not neofolk? They certainly do not sound like “traditional-acoustic” neofolk that you would find in bands like Belborn and Of the Wand and the Moon. But on the other hand, the fan base is identifical, they draw a lot from the same source material, appear on the same compilations and rostered by the same labels. I think Miel Noir falls into this category, especially for a guilty by association category as both members of Miel Noir are heavily involved in other more traditional neofolk or ur-folk projects.

And thus another purpose for this blog – the answer that question of what exactly is this enigmatic genre?

Cultural References

Friedrich Nietzsche, Emily Brontë, Albrecht Haushofer, Charles Baudelaire, fire, sun, honey, and of course bees. In the Heathen Harvest interview, Marcel also posits that Meliai (nymph), Absinth (fairy), and Greek lore factor into this album,


Official Links


Other Resources

https://www.facebook.com/ClaudiaSummererArt - Claudia Summerer’s Facebook

Other Reviews to Balance Out This One


Citations



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