Review: V.A. - Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings (2010)


artist: Various Artists
release: Whom the Moon a Night­song Signs
format: 2CD
year of release: 2010
label: Auerbach/Prophecy
dur­a­tion: 1:44:23

The sub­genre of dark acoustic or dark folk keeps fas­cin­ating me end­lessly. On the one hand, it har­bours some of the most direct and and powerful musical expres­sions of roman­ti­cism, mel­an­choly and nature mys­ti­cism that can be found in pop­ular music. On the other hand, it is a hor­ribly lim­ited and stag­nant musical idiom that can annoy as much as delight with its pathos. Prophecy, with essen­tial artists of the genre as Empyrium and Tenhi in its stalls, is of course the label to expect a com­pil­a­tion like this one from, and as can be expected, it is in its own way an admir­able piece of work. This 2CD col­lec­tion con­tains rare and unre­leased track selec­tions from a slew of more or less important artists in the dark acoustic spec­trum, embel­lished with fine cover art by Les Dis­cretsFursy Teyssier, and no doubt more of his fine illus­tra­tions to be seen in the digi­book when it comes out end of October 2010.

One of the main attrac­tions of this com­pil­a­tion will for many be the return, after eight years, of Empyrium. Per­son­ally, I found a great part of the band’s output to have aged less than grace­fully com­pared to e.g. Ulver and Tenhi, but let’s put that aside for a moment. “The Days Before the Fall”, their new track, and pre­sum­ably a portent of an upcoming album, is a fine track, somehow drawing both upon their last album Wei­land and their earlier work on Songs of Moors and Misty Fields. The first part is richly orches­trated with guitar, drums, per­cus­sion and strings, and the joint vocals (chant and clas­sical) of Schwadorf and Helm. The second half sud­denly launches into a return to the metal style of the early albums, not jar­ringly so, but still sur­prising con­sid­ering the mostly acoustic nature of their last two albums.  On the whole the track is cer­tainly classic Empyrium, an amalgam of all their styl­istic qual­ities so far, but it is also a bit on the slick side, a bit over­pol­ished and… well… by the book. It’s sure to delight many, but I’m afraid it hasn’t com­pletely stirred anew my interest in the band.

Of the other artists fea­tured here, a number come out of the wood­work quite nicely. I’ve never hidden my admir­a­tion for Vàli’s subtle layered guitar work, and his return here with new material (albeit only two short tracks) deserves to be her­alded as much as Empyrium’s. October Falls is serene and sub­dued as always; a nice listen, but nothing we haven’t heard before. The inclu­sion of the two Les Dis­crets tracks is also very nice, not in the least because he is an artist of a new gen­er­a­tion, having shown on the recent album Septembre et ses Dernières Pensées to be able to mix shoegazing metal and neo­folk in a way that goes a bit beyond the paradigm of more tra­di­tional artists in the metal/folk cros­sover. The short but sweet “5 Montee des Epies” is a stronger track than the second one, though, which is bogged down by the muddled vocal har­monies of the band. Musk Ox is another one of those younger artists who have emu­lated the instru­mental dark acoustic style to per­fec­tion, and always a pleasure to listen to. “Sol­stice” is a won­der­fully calming track that is hope­fully also a pre­cursor to upcoming works.

There are a couple of note­worthy tracks on disc 2, as well, not in the least the rerelease of Ulver’s hard-to-find 1996 track “Synen”. Released ori­gin­ally on the strictly lim­ited Souvenirs from Hell com­pil­a­tion, it was some­thing that always wandered around the net and on tapes, never again finding an offi­cial home, until now. And deservedly so. 14 years after, the track shows that if we’re totally honest, many have attempted to take this ori­ginal style of dark acoustic music fur­ther, but few have been able to equal Ulver’s level back then with Kveldssanger, and indeed, with “Synen”, which is a mas­ter­piece of that style, com­bining powerful vocals in Nor­we­gian, guitar, cello, and per­cus­sion. “Kausi­en­ranta” is an equally mar­vel­lous track - I’ll refer again to the bril­liant video here -  and Tenhi is easily one the most ori­ginal and refined of all bands present here. The only pity is that this is not a new track, and that while new material by this band would be more than wel­come. Some of the - for me - new­comers on this disc also present nice material. The moody piano opener by Nhor, for example, as well as the sparse acoustic mean­der­ings of “Krähen­königin III” by Nuc­leus Torn. A final men­tion goes to Syven, a brand new pro­ject by A. Tolonen of Nest (also fea­tured on disc 1 with an acoustic ver­sion of an older track) and Andy Koski-Semmens, a former vocalist of Pan­theist. The epic 14-minute “How Fare the Gods?” is very nice, a brooding dark piece based on tribal per­cus­sion, faint kan­tele melodies, thick synth drones and a selec­tion of ritual and clas­sical vocals. A touch more stately than Nest, and sure to appeal to a wide audi­ence.

So, what ver­dict to slap on a chi­meric release such as this? Let’s start with what this album is not. It’s not the holy grail of dark acoustic, to give this “unnamed genre” a moniker, nor is it even a best-of. The song choices lean in various dir­ec­tions, not all of them geared simply toward quality. Neither is it a true rar­ities col­lec­tion, as these songs are not all hard to find or unre­leased. And if you’re looking for the cut­ting edge of the genre, if there is any, you won’t find it in large quant­ities here either, as a sig­ni­ficant part of the tracks is quite old, and most others just rehash the same old style. To reit­erate my feel­ings from the opening, over the course of this release, I find that the genre is a dif­fi­cult one, and the bal­ance between cap­tiv­ating roman­ti­cism and over­blown chees­iness is a very fine one, or per­haps they are two sides of the same coin.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t any good, of course. For all its inde­cision, Whom the Moon a Night­song Sings is on the whole a very pleasant and listen­able col­lec­tion, where the idea is not to try and find any line in the selec­tion, but just to listen and see what you like, and there is enough to like for a broad range of listeners. Com­bined with lov­ingly made art­work and a very fair pri­cing, that makes this com­pil­a­tion worth the effort of pur­suing anyway.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Vàli: Hoest­melankoli
2. Empyrium: The Days Before The Fall
3. Nest: Summer Storm (acoustic)
4. Nebelung: Ich würd es hören
5. October Falls: Viima
6. Ain­ulindalë: A Year Of Silence
7. Les Dis­crets: 5 Montee Des Epies
8. Les Dis­crets: Apres l’Ombre
9. Musk Ox: Sol­stice
10. Havnatt: Dagen Og Natta
11. Dornen­reich: Dem Wind Geboren
12. Vàli: Hare­dans I Fjell­heimen

1. Nhor: Upon The Wind Its Wings Beat Sorrow Into The Stars
2. Ulver: Synen
3. Neun Welten: Pan
4. Tenhi: Kausi­en­ranta
5. Bauda: Ocaso (acoustic)
6. Orplid: Stille (Demo)
7. Nuc­leus Torn: Krähen­königin III
8. Lönndom: Språnget Ur Ursprunget
9. Syven: How Fare The Gods?