Review: Sol Invictus - The Cruellest Month (2011)


artist: Sol Invictus
release: The Cruellest Month
format: CD
year of release: 2011
label: Auerbach
dur­a­tion: 56:50

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

It’s been a year or six since the last proper Sol Invictus album, and we’ve had to turn to Tony Wake­ford’s con­sist­ent work on vari­ous side pro­jects (The Triple Tree, Orches­tra Noir, Grey Force Wake­ford) and solo works to fol­low the man’s cur­rent musical dir­ec­tions. Nev­er­the­less, it seems he’s gathered enough inspir­a­tion from all these endeav­ours to infuse Sol Invictus’ sem­inal neo­folk with some new influ­ences.

As has been the case with prac­tic­ally all albums by the band in the almost 25 years of its exist­ence (an impress­ive datum in itself) there is some recyc­ling of themes, melodic motifs, and com­pos­i­tion struc­ture. What fas­cin­ates me is that des­pite of this, and with the help of a vary­ing and ever-changing musical arrange­ment, most of these albums are still inter­est­ing and fresh enough, and The Cruellest Month is no excep­tion. Tracks like “Something’s Com­ing” and “Toys” (though the lat­ter is lyr­ic­ally very enjoy­able) have per­haps a bit too much of that “heard this before” feel­ing, but over­all, there is a lot of vari­ation. Andrew King’s rendi­tion of tra­di­tion­als (“Edward” and “Cruel Lin­coln”) dif­fer from his solo works in the addi­tion of the Sol Invictus band, and prac­tic­ally embody the part of neo­folk that is rooted in folk bal­ladry. Tracks like “Stella Maris” and “Fool’s Ship” tackle a more expans­ive sound and naut­ical theme where the rich arrange­ments for flute (Guy Har­ries), dul­ci­mer (Reeve Malka) and violin (Renee Rosen) truly shine. The same point applies to the bril­liant instru­mental “April Rain”.

Another selling point of The Cruellest Month is the col­lec­tion of series of tracks that have been all over the place, except together on a defin­it­ive Sol Invictus stu­dio album: “To Kill All Kings”, “The Bad Luck Bird”, “The Cruellest Month”, and “The Blackleg Miner”. All are live staples, typ­ical anthems, or at least bound to become one, so it’s good to have them all here. I must say that a bit more fire could have gone into the deliv­ery of these here and there, but over­all, these are solid tracks, and more examples of what has kept Wakeford’s com­pos­i­tions inter­est­ing through­out the years: a strong sense of rhythm, song struc­ture, and mem­or­able melod­ies.

The first couple of drafts of this review in my head com­pared The Cruellest Month to side pro­ject albums that have impressed me the past few year (Ghosts by The Triple Tree, Marble Heart by Grey Force Wake­ford, Not All of Me Will Die by Wake­ford solo). The greater degree of exper­i­ment­a­tion that Wake­ford dis­played on such albums is in some sense laud­able, and part of me wishes a bit more had trickled through into this one. All the same, this is a Sol Invictus album, and another part of me real­ises that stay­ing rel­at­ively faith­ful to the song-based tra­di­tion of neo­folk is what keeps the band on track as a pro­ject. In that light, the bal­ance struck between tra­di­tion and more loose com­pos­i­tion and instru­mental play on The Cruellest Month is excel­lent. So, it’s a new album by what stands as the main­stay band of the neo­folk genre, and though it’s not a thor­oughly sur­pris­ing one, I’d say it’s exem­plary and at the top of what the genre has to offer.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Rain­ing In April (2:34)
2. To Kill All Kings (4:50)
3. The Sailor’s Aria (1:38)
4. Fool’s Ship (4:24)
5. Toys (3:20)
6. Edward (5:36)
7. The Bad Luck Bird (4:14)
8. April Rain (5:33)
9. Cruel Lin­coln (7:59)
10. Something’s Com­ing (4:11)
11. Stella Maris (3:26)
12. The Cruellest Month (5:45)
13. The Blackleg Miner (3:23)

1 Rain­ing In April 2:34
2 To Kill All Kings 4:50
3 The Sailor’s Aria 1:38
4 Fool’s Ship 4:24
5 Toys 3:20
6 Edward 5:36
7 The Bad Luck Bird 4:14
8 April Rain 5:33
9 Cruel Lin­coln 7:59
10 Something’s Com­ing 4:11
11 Stella Maris 3:26
12 The Cruellest Month 5:45
13 The Blackleg Miner 3:23

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