Various Artists - FatheR-LanD [Steinklang Industries - 2012]Whether you consider them a necessary evil that seldom brings anything of value to the artistic table or a quick, cheap and easy way to renew your repertoire in any given genre of music, compilation records tend to hit the shelves with alarming regularity these days and separating the wheat from the chaff in what has almost become a niche market in its own mercantile right can sometimes prove tricky.
Released as a collaborative effort between Steinklang Industries and Latvian-Austrian joint-venture Beverina & W.A.R. Productions to commemorate the passing away of the father of one of the label’s founders (note the hyphen in the title), this 2012 album sees some of the big names of today’s neo-folk scene share the stage with a slew of lesser-known acts to present us mostly (sic) unreleased or re-worked material.
Sagittarius starts off the proceedings with their appallingly generic brand of cringe-inducing and pompous naïve-folk before Austria’s Jännerwein inject some well-needed quality into the whole with a refreshing melancholy ballad enhanced by some nice violin work. German heavyweights Von Thronstahl grace their umpteenth presence on a compilation with the re-working of Northern Sons under Southern Skies, a song that could originally be found on their 2009 Conscriptum double collection set and does ample justice to their now quite respectable legacy. Swedish-Hungarian duo Stormfågel constitute the first nice surprise in store: spicing up their now established Nordic folk with electronic-flavoured touches, their contribution hits bull’s-eye on most levels. Never having been a big fan of theirs, this one caught me deliciously unaware.
Verdandi and Svarrogh bring us back into more habitual neo-folk territory, the former with a ditty that plays it decidedly (too) safe, the latter as efficient as always with their own inimitable brand of sing-along Balkan-folk. It is then time for Christoph Ziegler to make his first appearance on the album with his Atomtrakt project and the reworking of an early song which sounds at times like the leftover from an old Reutoff recording session and can best be qualified as forgettable. On to the unpronounceable Hrossharsgrani (one of Oðinn’s innumerable names, as it were, and one of Alex Wieser’s innumerable projects, Uruk-Hai being probably the most established) and a track that is as effective as it is weird. An acquired taste, for sure, but quite original to say the least.
Dead Man’s Hill contribution is admittedly one of the strongest on offer. An up-tempo exercise in spookiness it manages to conjure up a very effective atmosphere, the kind of track that makes you want to dig deeper into an artist’s discography, which is exactly what the purpose of this exercise should be, really. It’s then back on home turf with Werra and its 100% Teutonic brand of neo-folk in the Forseti vein. Truth be told, it’s been heard many times before but here, the mixture of folk-ish guitar and German lyrics works to quite good effect.
It’s ambient time now with the last three tracks of the compilation, starting with the return of Christoph Ziegler and his Vinterriket project, which brings us into the darkest recesses of Middle-Earth. Nothing new under the (black) sun but always ear-pleasing enough for those with a taste for those sounds. Rasthof Dachau then do more than convince with an apocalyptic track the soundscapes of which owe a lot to mister Konofal’s work but still manage to conjure up the intended atmosphere. Ukrainian project Oda Relicta bring up the rear on a somewhat lighter note with a short and simple track that features trumpet which seems lifted straight from a Lolek & Bolek cartoon. And yes, it sounds better than this description might have you believe!europakorps
Obviously, most, if not all, of the above bands can be found on various other compilations so if you are reading these lines, chances are you will be familiar with some of the names on offer. I’ll be honest, if you’re hard on cash these days, there are probably more essential records coming up that should warrant your attention. If you still believe in the banking system, though, and have just been rewarded with some meagre interests, you might be tempted to invest some of it in this fairly middle-of-the-road affair.