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Eclipse Review: Nature and Organisation - Death in a Snow Leopard Winter (1998)

artist: Nature and Organ­isa­tion
release: Death in a Snow Leo­pard Winter
format: CD
year of release: 1998
label: Snow Leo­pard / World Ser­pent
dur­a­tion: 41:19

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

If Death in a Snow Leo­pard Winter has been given a bit of a step­moth­erly treat­ment in the annals of music his­tory, it is undoubtedly because it will forever stand in the shadow of its pre­de­cessor. Beauty Reaps the Blood of Solitude was per­haps the quint­es­sen­tial neo­folk album of the 1990s, with a star cast of David Tibet, Douglas Pearce, and Rose McDowall, along­side many other excel­lent guest musi­cians. and of course Michael Cash­more as main com­poser. Sev­eral of that album’s songs (“Blood­stream­runs”, “My Black Diary”, “Bone­white­glory”) fea­ture among the high­lights of the genre, and its instru­mental pas­sages and indus­trial ele­ments did noth­ing to hurt the album’s appeal either.

This album is quite dif­fer­ent. As Cash­more him­self indic­ated in the liner notes, it is unfin­ished, and he had planned to add wood­winds, per­cus­sion, and vocals, but was forced to aban­don these com­pos­i­tions at an early stage. In their cur­rent form, the twelve move­ments are for piano (by Cash­more him­self) and string quar­tet (Eliza­beth Toney, Jeremy Jack­son, Han­nah Walker, and Dan Brad­ley). Judging by the descrip­tion, the final work would have been a grand (cham­ber) orches­tral piece, and with this in mind it’s under­stand­able that Cash­more presents the album as a “rough mix”, unworthy of any­thing more than a mid-price CD.

But per­haps he is selling him­self short. In ret­ro­spect, and treat­ing it as a fin­ished album instead, Death in a Snow Leo­pard Winter is a beau­ti­ful com­pos­i­tion, and it is the min­imal instru­mental setup that lends it part of its charm. It is here, to my know­ledge, that Cash­more for the first time presents his romantic clas­sical com­pos­i­tions in this form, altern­at­ing del­ic­ate and very min­imal melodic piano pas­sages with emo­tional swells and full sweeps of strings. Not only does it work per­fectly for these com­pos­i­tions - though I’m sure the full orches­tral ver­sion would have been great, as well - it also fore­shad­ows the sparse style of Cash­more’s later work such as Sleep Eng­land and The Snow Abides. In that sense alone this is a valu­able album.

But, con­text aside, this album is simply very beau­ti­ful, and favour­ite piece of my col­lec­tion for spe­cial moments. It works equally well on cozy dark even­ings at home, as on sol­it­ary treks through the woods, regard­less of sea­son, though winter is per­haps the obvi­ous time. It lends itself well to calm con­tem­pla­tion and a bit of nos­tal­gia or weltschmerz, and per­haps the romantic­ally inspired but also mod­ern com­pos­i­tions are per­fectly suited for such a mood.

There are few com­posers who ven­ture into this style of music nowadays, but those that do are valu­able, tak­ing the step from more folky song based music to com­pos­i­tions that are more expans­ive and loose, while keep­ing a sort of organic and romantic feel­ing. Richard Moult, though with a style wholly of his own, is one of the few oth­ers who does this with great suc­cess. As such, many of the com­pos­i­tions com­ing from these people are works to treas­ure. Death in a Snow Leo­pard Winter, though unfin­ished as such, is def­in­itely one of those.

Reviewed by O.S.


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