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.


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 - Bandcamp site to purchase the album

Other Resources

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