|The split CD printed out (personal collection)|
Sunday, October 27, 2013
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.
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.:
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.
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” 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
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!
300, Rome, S.P.Q.R.
http://archive.org/details/ab-067S.p.q.r.-PhalanxFeat.TheWhiteRabbitHrossharsgraniSplit2009 - official link to download the tracks and the artwork
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
http://www.discogs.com/Phalanx-Feat-The-White-Rabbit-vs-Hrossharsgrani-SPQR/release/2846769 - Discogs entry
http://honouranddarkness.blogspot.com/2009/07/spqr.html - Review at Honour and Darkness
Monday, October 21, 2013
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.
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.
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
“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.
British heavy metal, Saxon, Trains
http://paleroses.bandcamp.com/album/princess-of-the-night - Band Camp page for this song
https://myspace.com/morepaleroses - Official MySpace
http://www.reverbnation.com/paleroses - Reverb Nation page
https://www.facebook.com/arnaud.spitz.9 - Facebook page
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I am not going to lie, that Porta Vittoria review was quite the task. I am really proud of the review, I think it was personal to me because I hold it in high regards and get stuff of my chest, but I also think I did a fairly objective job talking about the release. But the word count on that almost rivaled the word count on the chapter I am writing for an upcoming book on James Bond and popular culture. In fact, my draft for that chapter is due November 1st, and I am around the 75% mark in completion. So that means for the rest of this month, no more complex and monumental essays or reviews like that until I get my draft done.
However I cannot be lazy with this blog either. So the compromise is easy: quick reviews on releases without many tracks!
So for this (really short) review, we will be looking at the (equally short) Allerseelen single for Sonne Golthi-Ade. Let us bask in its one track glory!
None – Allerseelen is a good project and a flagship band for the neofolk genre. Marcel P. and Dimo Dimov from Miel Noir appear on this release, but this review coming shortly on the coattails of the Miel Noir review is coincidental due to the necessity of having a short review and this is one of the shortest releases in my private collection.
General Overview and Packaging
This single of Sonne Golthi-Ade was released in 2009 on the Beverina & W.A.R. Productions label.
|Sonne Golthi-Ade (form my personal collection)|
The release was limited to 99 hand numbered copies in an intriguing packaging. The CD itself is a CDr in the rounded business card design, so it’s not conducive to load into a vertical CD bay. The layout was done by Alex Wieser, one of the halves of the Beverina & W.A.R. collaboration label, but also the mainstay behind the ur-folk band Hrefnesholt. The stone ruins in the artwork recall imagery of other Allerseelen albums, such as Pedra, Stirb Und Werde, and Abenteuerliches Herz. The sunflowers are a nice touch, with the floral motif echoing the edelweiss flower on the Allerseelen album of the same name. Gerhard himself looks to have done the photography proper for this release, which he has done for other of his releases.
The packing itself is of the folding variety, with the printed lyrics in both German as well as in English, so kudos are given here. Aside from the CDr, various interesting postcards and a thin magnet that denotes what number your release is are stuffed inside the packaging. This is all housed in a thin plastic sleeve to keep everything together. It’s not particularly sturdy however, so it definitely needs to be treated like the collector’s item that it is.
Like many Allerseelen songs, “Sonne Golthi-Ade” has many other incarnations and versions. “Sonne Golthi-Ade” first appeared on the 2003/2004 release of Flamme with 3 different versions: a short version with someone by the name of Eltho on vocals, a second version with Josef Klumb from Von Thronstahl on vocals, and a final version with Gerhard of Allerseelen doing vocal duty himself. Another, but shorter, Josef K. version appears on the Edelweiss compilation album in 2005. The fifth version is this particular version, with Marcel P. on vocals. Various covers of the song by different artists also appear on the Mit Fester Hand tribute compilation.
The five versions of this song raises some interesting questions in regards to the concept of “original version”, which may be an important concept to keep in mind when looking or analyzing at songs in future articles. Many neofolk and military pop artists re-imagine their songs in different versions. Does this mean both versions are considered original? Or is it based on chronology; that the first song released is original and subsequent versions are therefore successors? What about future versions becoming the de facto or preferred version, sending the “original” out of canon? What of the case of the Flamme album where 3 versions of the song appear on the same release, which throws the chronological stance awry?
Examples of other bands that perform such revising and re-imagining of their songs include Kirlian Camera (“Coroner’s Sun”, “Eclipse”, and “Edges”) and Von Thronstahl (“Hail! You Captain and Thy Guard” and “Wider die Masse”). Death in June is fairly notorious for performing many songs, particularly “Runes and Men”, with completely different sounds and with lyrical substitution (German wine becomes California wine).
So with this in mind, I can see how doing some critical analysis on the source material (the songs) may become troublesome down the road. It’s like watching a movie – what is the correct version that one performs scholarship on? The theatrical cut? The director’s cut? The extended cut? Or all three have to be taken in tandem with each other? These are choices that have a huge impact on the questions to ask and the outcome of them.
For this version of “Sonne Golthi-Ade”, whatever it is, it is not an “original” version in regards to chronology of being released. It is however “original” unto itself in that it is performed differently and has different personal, but still canon to the Allerseelen library. Unfortunately, I lack the Flamme release (for now), so I can only compare this version of the Josef K. vocal version that appears on Edelweiss.
(side note – maybe this entire concept of versions and originality can be explored in a future essay wherein I look at all the versions of a particular song, compare and contrast?)
Video from the Miel Noir official YouTube profile
Compared to the Edelweiss version, this version of “Sonne Golthi-Ade” feels stripped down. While Josef K.’s vocals were front and center, along with a hint of echo-ey effects, Marcel P.’s vocals seem distant and take a backseat to the music. This version also lacks the psychedelic intro and some stringed instruments that the Edelweiss version has. However this version does have some programming that sounds like a hint of an emulated oboe.
Both songs carry the same beat and rhythm and at this level sound really close to each other. The biggest, most overt difference is the vocals, with Josef actually doing his “good” singing (no “Mars Macht Mobil II” nonsense here!).
The guitar and base work for this version of “Sonne Golthi-Ade” are top notch, but I can’t help but feel the over all production is a little less inferior than the Edelweiss version. Regardless, the song is extremely catchy and rhythmic, and could border on a neofolk-pop song, sort of the grounds that Naevus were flirting with when they were active.
The lyrics themselves are an homage to Bernhard Marby, an occultist, astrologer, and rune master in Germany in the early 1900s. In traditional neofolk fashion, the lyrics recall flames, the sun, runes, and some existentialism.
Song Verdict – Good Song
The single of Sonne Golthi-Ade is an interesting release and this particular version is executed pretty well. The problem is that its now rarity and with so many other versions of the song already existing, I feel this version has issues of standing out on its own right. It’s not that it is inferior or better than the Edelweiss version, it’s just a different version but with enough common elements that it doesn’t vary too drastically. In all truthfulness, if you have another version, you’re probably not missing out on this version. What this version does need is perhaps a second life on a compilation CD.
Flames, Friedrich Bernhard Marby, Runes, Sun,
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Allerseelen/87491224738 - Official Facebook
https://myspace.com/tonkunstschmiede - Official MySpace page for the label
Thursday, October 10, 2013
And I keep hitting re-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat
- Selena Gomez
And that is exactly what I’ve been doing since getting my copy of Summer Of Our Discomfort by Porta Vittoria two weeks ago. I had ordered the album from Old Europa Café as a happy accident. I was originally intending to purchase an album by another artist on the OEC roster, but figured I would try and get the most out of the shipping costs and support Rodolfo by ordering another album. I randomly checked out the linked videos to Porta Vittoria’s “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” and “Your Trash, My Treasure” and was immediately hooked. I took the gamble, bought the album, and have been extremely pleased. I have not listened to much else since receiving it.
I've been looking forward to doing this review since getting the album and rocking out to it non-stop. I am going to do something a little different with this review than I did with Miel Noir review and that is to do an analysis on Porta Vittoria’s music videos. For a twelve track album, five songs have videos, all made by the band themselves. That tells me the videos are quite integral or important to the experiance and not just for promotional purposes. Doing the Miel Noir review was tough, since I am not too proficient in the language of music. However I am quite adept at looking at the mise en scène and analyzing films. One of the goals of this blog was to spend a little bit of time furthering my scholarship in Italian film studies after doing my thesis on Antonio Margheriti, so I’ll consider this Porta Vittoria essay part of that goal as well.
None really – I just love their music and videos
General Overview and Packaging
Porta Vittoria is a new band to the scene, with Summer of our Discomfort being their debut album, just released this past summer. The band is a duo, made up of Christian Ryder and Lisa Duse, both filling in a myriad number of roles.
Describing the sound of Porta Vittoria is difficult, since they do not fit in the normal neofolk/military pop/martial/neo classical mold. The description for the album at the Old Europa Café website describes the sound of the band:
[Porta Vittoria] combines high class sounds from different genres and cultures moving between noise and classic, jazz and blues, electronica and ambient: a musical globalism for modern incompatible societies. But most of all Porta Vittoria deliver a true "Mediterranean pop".
The Google+ biography of the band describes their sounds as:
Defined as a "global rétro-avant-garde", Porta Vittoria has its roots in the combination of sounds from various genres and cultures, in order to conceive a musical globalism in modern incompatible societies.
When I think of the term “retro avant garde” I think of Laibach and how they describe themselves as “retro futurism”. Both Porta Vittoria and Laibach have a lot in common in this regard. While Porta Vittoria lacks the industrial, bombastic, and martial elements found in Laibach, both band are idiosyncratic in their sound, but have a continuity that draws on kitsch, retro, with some added deconstructive-ism. I hate to tag Porta Vittoria as a post-modern band, since that is label that has been overused for the last few decades and many would argue that we are actually in an unnamed post-post-modern age (some would say post 9/11, but I believe that to be pandering to Americanism). However with their subversion of kitsch elements and retro sounds, Porta Vittoria definitely fits the attribute.
I am not sure about the term “Mediterranean pop”. When the word “pop” is suffixed to a non-geographic noun, such as synthpop, bit-pop, military pop, electro-pop, etc. – it does sound like it’s own genre. However when “pop” is suffixed to a geographic noun, such as J-Pop, K-Pop, and so on, it sounds like popular music from Japan or Korea or wherever. The music is definitely avant garde, and its neofolk/martial qualities (and ergo inclusion in this blog) is mostly guilty by association by being part of the Old Europa Café lineup.
I am not sure what Porta Vittoria is, but what they are is different and they sound good.
|Summer of our Discomfort (personal collection)|
The release proper is in a glossy digipack with booklet and sticker. The booklet has some nice aesthetics to it in terms of typeface and layout using the white space. However what space they do use is unfortunately wasted by using lyrical excerpts instead of the lyrics in their entirety. The lack of full lyrics is near criminal since I am unable to follow along with the lyrics 100%. Both Christian and Lisa sometimes sport some full accents and some words can hard to identify to an English speaker such as myself. They both sound lovely singing, but not being able to follow along does dampen the experience. This may have been mitigated if the band had their own website and posted lyrics in their entirety. Here is nice gem of lyrics in the booklet for “Concrete Island”:
|Yes, you are.|
But alas, in the age of Facebook, access to a band’s lyrics is the exception and not the norm.
Track by Track & Video Analysis
World Crashing Down
The Summer of our Discomfort opens with a synthpop inspired track. The first half of the song Lisa provides the ethereal vocals, lamenting the bleak words that “we’re getting neurotic from chemical waste” and our “existence is wasted in an assembly line”. The music is key/piano-esque driven and mellow with a nice beat. At the half way point of the song the vocals stop and the music picks up. The song becomes faster and more grandiose, and in a way, optimistic. A counter to the song’s first half that was more misanthropic in lyrical content. The song is saying that the world sucks (crashing down!) from a variety of over stimuli, but we will be ok in the end.
Thematically, if I had to compare this song to another song, it would be “Kein Problem” by Melotron:
Jeder weiß, dass der Kanzler ein Lügner ist
Und dass Vasallen bis zum letzten Tag marschieren
Jeder weiß, dass die Front sich verschoben hat
Und dass Helden nicht wirklich existieren
Jeder weiß, dass der Krieg längst entschieden ist
Und dass die Guten stets verlieren
Alles kein problem…..
Verdict – Good song
Official video from the Porta Vittoria YouTube profile
The video begins with a window shot of a lake before showing Lisa in a red one piece, hosiery and boots reminiscent of flight attendants during the golden age of commercial aviation post WW2. She stands amidst glass buildings and business parks, but are void of other people save herself. Footage of her singing is juxtaposed against other found or stock footage. It’s mostly in black and white, but it is various clips showing cities, buildings, factories, machines, science at work, signs, traffic, construction, etc. This all looks to be footage from industrial shorts and educational films. When combined together the footage takes on a City Symphony quality. If you’ve seen Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927) or the more well known Man with a Movie Camera (1929) by Dziga Vertov, then the resemblance between those films and the first half of “World Crashing Down” is apropos. These retro clips do tie into the “retro” aspect of Porta Vittoria perfectly.
At the halfway points of the song, Lisa not only stops with her singing, but steps out of the video entirely, leaving only clips montaged together the carry the video’s narrative. In this latter half of the song, the clips are now drawing from different sources: B-sci-fi and horror flicks, pornography, experimental shorts, cult classic movies and Japanese hentai anime. While I wish I could identify which Hentai they are from (I see no naughty tentacles, so I suspect we are not in Toshio Maeda’s La Blue Girl or Urotsukidōji territory) I can identify some of the other clips: a dissected alien from Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction (1995), a red flying demon from Dennis Muren’s Equinox (1970), Dorothy and her red shoes from The Wizard of Oz (1939), Ray Harryhausen’s Kraken from the original Clash of the Titans (1981), a giant chainsaw wielding Nazi from the Australian action-comedy series Danger 5 (2012), Pee Wee Herman from his eponymous children’s show, a spaceship from This Island Earth (1955), and the unmasking of the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).
To further compound things, these clips are also edited into nature footage of mountains, clouds, canyons, flowers, sunsets, glaciers, desertscapes and rolling sylvan fields. It’s almost as weirder and more bizarre the clips get, the more serene and tranquil the nature footage it is juxtaposed against gets. Sergei Eisenstein would be proud of the feeling of unrest delivered from the edited clips in contest with each other. The film ends on the shot of a rustic cabin by a lake before returning to the window shot of the lake that the video started with, in essence bookending it or a return to normality. With this being the final shot, it seems in the contest of over stimulation (the crashing hectic world) and nature, nature comes out triumphant.
Moments We Have Stars in Our Eyes
A sad song, with a melancholy piano with occasional subtle ethereal flairs. Percussion with a minor jazz element picks up a third of the way into the song, giving it a cinematic quality. Christian provides a subdued choral refrain that is a on the introspective side. The song ends with the music picking up in a resolved way – sad, but happy at the same time.
Verdict – Good song
Official video from the Porta Vittoria YouTube profile
Some men are breast men. Some look at butts. An hourglass figure for some. Or maybe that nerdy look in scenester glasses. Me? I love stockings and hosiery. From pinup girls in garters to burlesque dancers in thigh-highs. A woman in stockings grabs my immediate attention. So it is with a bit of discomfort that when I look at the video for “Moments We Have Stars In Our Eyes” that I feel my fetishism of women in hosiery belittles or offends this rather somber and serious video in Porta Vittoria’s repertoire. However, I’ll take some solace in that Christian has definitely shot and edited this film to accentuate the two female protagonist’s stocking clad legs, so maybe I shouldn’t feel ashamed at all. In a way, the stocking fetishism almost recalls a Tinto Brass like quality to the work (except less ass shots) who despite his subject matter, made sure to make his beautiful actresses even more beautiful, and that is definitely going on in this video.
This video, along with the video for “Sad Lieutenant G.D.”, has a distinct narrative going for them. However this video has the most subtext and is extremely multifaceted. The short narrative of this story is two women in love with each other rendezvous and take their own lives together by overdosing on sleeping pills. The black and white photography is not dark enough to be a noir, but it still adds a somber element to the story. The tragic love between the women recalls David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001): both this video and Lynch’s film depict a lesbian relationship in a humble and emotive way, but ultimately tragic.
There are some interesting and subtle moments in this video. In the beginning, the blond lady wakes up in a large bed alone. She looks over to the other side and even puts her hand there. We are not sure who should be occupying this portion of the bed. Perhaps she is in a relationship with another, probably a man? She has been waiting for him to leave for an extended period so she can receive her female lover?
I suspect this is strongly the case and the bed is not shared with her female lover. The black haired lover is actually en route to the blond woman’s apartment via train and long walks and carries her luggage with her. Halfway to the apartment the black haired lover abandons her luggage to the streets. This is a critical scene in many aspects. Firstly, if she lived with the expecting blonde beauty, she would’ve carried the luggage to her destination – their house. The luggage has wheels so it’s not a hindrance at her travels. Instead the abandoning of the luggage is metaphor for the black haired woman leaving her doubt of taking her life behind. Another way to put it – if you’re going to commit suicide with someone, you don’t pack luggage for the weekend. You don’t pack at all since it’s going to be a one way trip. She had her luggage because she was not sure she was going to go all the way, she could stay a while and then leave. Her having her luggage shows she had doubts of dying with her lover, her leaving it shows she is committed.
Another subtle aspect of the video is the complete lack of other people. The black haired woman traverses the train station, parks, plazas, and streets and there is no other soul to be found (one car does drive by in one scene, but I write this off as a fluke or accident since every other shot in this video has been meticulous to show no other person). In this world only the blonde and the black haired women exist. They are literally all alone but together. It could be their relationship has put them in this situation. The world does not want them and offers no other people for them to be with in any capacity, so they leave the world together as lovers.
The video also depicts it is Christmas time, with snow and publicly decorated trees. A time usually devoted to spending time with your loved ones, but also a terrible time to be alone.
The two lovers do not commiserate their relationship with sex prior to taking their lives. Instead they talk to each other, gently touching, caressing, kissing, and finally overdosing on pills. In a way it shows that their relationship is much more tender or truthful. You can have sex and not love that person. But you don’t touch/interact with someone the way they do in “Moments We Have Stars in Our Eyes” without being in love with that person.
Kaziglu (sic) Bey means “Lord Impaler” and was the moniker attached to Vlad the Impaler by the Ottoman Empire. Vlad is more commonly associated as an inspiration for Dracula, but he was more infamous at his time for his skirmishes against the Ottomans during the 1400s and his signature motif of impaling his foes.
Porta Vittoria’s song takes this route of analyzing Vlad. “Kaziglu Bey” is an instrumental proper, with a real brooding synth riff, slight militant percussion with some ethnic instruments, chimes, and a wind instrument that I cannot identify. It definitely has a Middle Eastern feel to it. The song also has some sound samples incorporated into it, which what sounds like rattling chains and swords being unsheathed. “Kaziglu Bey” is atmospheric and eerie, while remaining accessible for normal listening.
Though the song lacks lyrics, the album’s booklet contains a excerpt penned by Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu that glorifies the deeds of Vlad.
Verdict – Good Song
Official video from the Porta Vittoria YouTube profile
The video for “Kaziglu Bey” takes its cues from the video for “World Crashing Down” in that it is a montage of edited clips from other sources. Unlike “World Crashing Down”, the band has not edited themselves into the video and it exists solely as black and white clips depicting life in the Middle East decades ago, with a specific call out to Jerusalem. Onlookers gawk at a shackled bear on display while Hasidic Jews bow in the shadows. A shepherd herds his flock of goats into a village, old men gossip, and people mill about the markets and stone buildings. The clips also contain footage of a fictional representation of Vlad himself and ends with him overlooking a field of impaled people.
There are political overtones here. Perhaps a response to the recent turmoil in Turkey with all the protestors being injured (and worse) by their government? Perhaps a call for Vlad to come back and dispose of the corrupt Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan? Unfortunately, political science is not my forte and I don’t think I am qualified to assume the political stances of Porta Vittoria based on one song.
Fire in the Boudoir
Acoustic guitars carry this track as Lisa and Christian take turns singing. This track is how defunct Belborn would sound if they upped their production and incorporated other sounds into their folk sound. This is the most neofolky track on the album and it’s executed well.
Verdict – Good song
Guenther Lause Ist Nicht Bekannt
If Summer of our Discomfort has a low point, it is unfortunately this track. All the other tracks on this album have complex layers of music, sound interesting and great vocal delivery. This track is unfortunately on the boring side. Lisa’s vocals suffer here – and are especially disappointing after seeing her impressive delivery on other tracks, particularly “Your Trash, My Treasure”. The music sounds disjointed, like pieces of other songs stitched together. It doesn’t have the fluidity or cohesion that the other gems in this album do.
Verdict – Worst track on the album
You want house music? In their idiosyncratic approach, Porta Vittoria approaches the house genre of music with this track and pulls it off quite well. The beat is catchy without going full house/rave/techno. In fact, it’s more “chill” than “groove” in the beginning, and perhaps the samples of oceanic waves crashing in the background of the music gives it that feeling. The latter half of the song picks up the bpm and turns to full on danceable track.
The lyrical representation of this song in the booklet is hilariously bad however (see above).
Verdict – Good track
Death in Venice
“Death in Venice” begins as a lounge track, with some heavy cymbals action and sparse piano work. Definitely a piece to sit at a small round table, drink in hand as you take in a smoky atmosphere. The vocals say “I can’t take my eyes off you”, so the setting could very well be in a lounge watching an attractive performer.
However, at the half way point the music shifts genre and becomes a shoegazer track, reminiscent of the Canadian band Faunts (particularly their Feel.Love.Thinking.Of album). The lounge music is dropped and instead has some dream-pop or light space rock/electronic quality to it. Both Christian and Lisa deliver soft, almost whispered, vocals to which the music compliments well.
Verdict – first half decent track, last half good track
This track starts off eerily, with words spoken in reverse and pulsing noise that sounds like cues from Dark City (1998). After the this introduction, the song starts proper with a mix of piano and jazz work. There is a small element of space rock too hidden in some of the synth riffs. The sax elements give it a bit more bourgeois feeling, and I can just imagine a glass of bubbly in my hand.
Verdict – Good song
Sad Lieutenant G.D.
The first song I heard by Porta Vittoria which lured me into their claws. If there is one track on this album that sums of Porta Vittoria’s sound, and defines them as a band, I would posit it is this track.
“Sad Lieutenant G.D.” is a fun and catchy track that has a lot of different sounds going for it. Sometimes festive sounding, sometimes western. Sometimes folky and sometimes even a bit of light rock. Lisa and Christian take turns singing, giving the song an even more multifaceted feeling. There’s a section at the 2:15 mark that makes me think of Derniere Volonte on their later – pop-ier albums, so I am going to go with that in trying to equate this song to something tangible. I don’t have the capabilities to even suggest where the sounds are coming from, so I will not even try. Let’s just leave it at it is complex but great song.
Verdict – Amazing Song
Official video from the Porta Vittoria YouTube profile
Of the videos from Porta Vittoria, “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” has the most narrative going for it. There is a definite story, start to finish, and it fairly accessible to watch.
The setting of the video appears to be a post-apocalyptic setting. In a way, “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” recalls the filone of Mad Max and Escape from New York clones that Italy was churning out in the early 1980s: 2019 – Dopo la caduta di New York (1983), 1990: I guerriere del Bronx (1982), I nuovi barbari (1983) and many others. Lisa portrays the protagonist in this video – her bullet belt and black western attire recall a mixture of The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone’s westerns and the Vault dweller from Fallout 3.
The video starts off with Lisa surveying and then leaving a smoldering battlefield. The carnage no doubt caused by her, and in a way, the smoking fields harkens to the fields of impaled bodies shown at the end of the video of “Kaziglu Bey”. Perhaps Lisa is as ruthless as Vlad himself? She looks serious, but contemplative as she sits aside a lake and wanders its shore.
She happens upon a funeral procession manned by mourners in tattered clothes as they carry a coffin. And who would the deceased be? The cowboy hat atop the coffin that matches the one draped on Lisa’s back provides insight in that she is probably witnessing her own procession.
Her travels next take her to an abandoned building in the middle of a canyon that has two grave markers, one clearly marked as “unknown”. After much pacing about the grounds, Lisa deals herself cards from her tarot deck, briefly shown earlier in the video as she sat at the lake. The tarot cards make me think of Italo Calvino’s story Il castello dei destini incrocitai in which characters tell their story via tarot cards to each other. I suspect Lisa is trying to write her own destiny: she probably has killed many people (as alluded to in the opening shot), but seeing images of her own funeral processing and the grave of the unknown (which probably contains her remains), she deals from the deck hoping for a better fate than the one she is destined. She has more visions of a skulled faced woman that she draws her pistol upon. It is this brief encounter with a symbol of death that Lisa decides not to fire. Instead after consulting with a speeding clock (signifying her time is rapidly coming to a close) she discards her gun, deciding a more pacifist route is perhaps in order. She ascends into the snowy mountains. Looking defiantly at the mountain summit, she discards a final tarot card – that of a skeletal corpse - and ascends to her fate.
Le Reve Et La Vie
A serious sounding track, it has the same atmosphere that “Kaziglu Bey” does, it puts you at unease. There is a definite military sound to this song without going overt military-pop. There is some “chanting” of sorts that makes me think of an medieval army getting equipped for a sortie along with some aggressive pushing of a piano note. A slight electronic-noise pops up in the background now and then that sounds chiptune-ish.
Verdict – Good song
Your Trash, My Treasure
Easily the best song on Summer of our Discomfort, just barely beating out “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” for this honour. While “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” greatly sums up Porta Vittoria’s style, range, and abilities, this cohesive song shows them at them at top form. The song is pure jazz and lounge bliss. Lisa’s vocals are sultry, confident, and seductive and her English with enunciated just right. The lyrics are clear and easy to follow without textual aid and are catchy and memorable. The production professional and spotless. The jazz element puts you directly into a Robert Rodriguez flick.
The song is a take on the adage of “another person’s junk is another person’s treasure”. I find one of the important lines in the song to “I feel myself completely different from you”. It takes the trash/treasure dichotomy to the extreme, that the difference in how two people can perceive what is important/valuable is so great that they can lose their own commonality or even connection. I also connect with the line about “bad taste being great to you” since it affirms my own passion with exploitation/genre/populist cinema, the type of films shunned by many movie aficionados.
Verdict – Amazing song
Official video from the Porta Vittoria YouTube profile
The second video I saw for Porta Vittoria, and what sealed the deal for me to take the plunge with their album.
The setting for “Your Trash, My Treasure” is among abandoned factories, warehouses, and rooftops that have fallen into ruin, slowly being overtaken by small trees and other foliage. The setting has the same post-apocalyptic elements found in “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” and it would not be too farfetched to say they take place in the same world or are canon to each other. The video also has ties to the message and clips from “World Crashing Down” in which that video nature re-establishes its dominance on the over stimulus world. “Your Trash, My Treasure” seems to show this relationship of nature and modernity as well.
Lisa makes an appearance in this video as does Christian himself who has been absent from the other videos. Both play a more omnipotent role for the narrative, singing to the listener/viewer as they traverse the hallways and lots of the industrial ruins. The stoic nature of Lisa from “World Crashing Down” and “Sad Lieutenant G.D.” has been replaced by a sultrier demeanor, which complements the lounge/jazz elements of the music. Christian looks uncomfortable and nervous.
The third protagonist of the video is an unnamed woman who disrobes, runs among the ruins nude until settling on some debris of circuit boards and wires that she turns into a rudimentary bikini. You would think after seeing the pornographic and hentai clips from “World Crashing Down” and the stocking clad women from “Moments We Have Stars In Our Eyes” that this character would be even more sexualized. But the exact opposite is true. Though she is nude, her actions don’t sexualize her. She goofily sits atop of items, wobbles around, makes weird faces. If anything, her character is more of a nymph, dryad, or some sort of sylvan creature, frolicking through the foliage of the ruins. Her body is in its most natural state (nude), and even lacking in unnatural attributes: tattoos and plastic surgery. So for her, she explores the debris looking for curious and having a bit of fun.
Christian explores the ruins, taking in its nooks and crannies. Lisa however finds something to treasure amidst the rubble – a giant bull skull!
That’ll look good up on the wall.
Cosmic Melancholy of the Thinking Ocean
The final track of the album. Not exactly ending the experience with a bang, but not with a whimper either. It’s a decent enough track, but after the amazingness of the preceding tracks, “Cosmic Melancholy of the Thinking Ocean” is a bit anti-climatic. The song starts off as space-synth track, like a subdued, less poppy Galaxy Hunter song. It finds some footing at the end with the addition of Lisa’s vocals and ends better than it started.
Verdict – Decent track
The only sour note for this release is the lack of lyrics in the digipack. The craftsmanship of the music and production values, the range of music stylings that work in tandem with each other, the fun songs and the serious songs, along with the accompanying videos on YouTube make this an impressive debut release. I look forward to their next release!
Both bands I’ve reviewed so far, Porta Vittoria and Miel Noir don’t categorize easy into neofolk and martial tropes. But like the band Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio which flirts with other sounds, I think bands of this ilk challenge or make fluid the barriers of these genres.
As for me, this was a good review to do. I felt more at ease looking at the videos than I did with the music proper. However I do hope I gain a bit more proficiency with the music analysis department as this blog goes on.
B-films, nature, Vlad the Impaler
https://www.facebook.com/portavittoria - FaceBook
http://www.youtube.com/user/cosmicmelancholy - YouTube Channel
http://www.discogs.com/artist/Porta+Vittoria - Discogs Entry