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Aeldaborn – Fountain of Darkened Fires

There is a new generation of impressive Germanic neofolk building on the horizon, and if you thought that the previous generation was a leap forward in terms of complex instrumentation and clandestine or academic Heathen / Pagan themes, you’ll really be finding something truly special in this new wave of artists, starting with the wonderful Aeldaborn.  In truth, Aeldaborn isn’t exactly “new” as they have been actively releasing material since 2003, granted these early releases were simple self-released CD-R’s and their output effectively ceased for a seven-year period between 2004 and 2011.  During this two-year period, two recordings found the light of day in “Culture of Darkened Fires” and “The Serpent Drum” respectively.  Despite this couple of early releases, the band is indeed new in the sense that they’ve suddenly reappeared back into the world of neofolk with a label to release their music — a label in Deggial Records (whom are the musical face to the larger literary publisher Editions Roter Drache) whom is firmly positioned to support their very unique style.

That mentioned unique style certainly breathes heavily of the original artists in the neofolk genre, and in that light Aeldaborn take a proverbial couple steps back in order to move a few steps forward.  They are exceptionally emotional in their performance in a number of ways, using sometimes complex, sometimes primitive, highly expressive vocal styles and melodies that are more prominent in traditional folk than that of the more commonly found stoic, melancholic style.  At other times, they take an all-together different course by utilizing an angry, almost post-punk vocal style, especially for “Noch Brennen die Uralten Fueur” as well as Odin’s segments in “The Descent of Odin” — a musical take on the poem of the same name by 18th century Englishman Thomas Gray.  That said, the performances on “Fountain of Darkened Fires” are largely shared, and the vocals are of no exception featuring no less than four separate performers, though every person has an instrumental task within the compositions on most occasions as well.

There are seven separate people whom are an official member of Aeldaborn and take part in this release, while there are no less than five additional musicians assisting in the creation of the songs.  That adds up to 12 different musicians performing on various tracks throughout the album.  This is important, as the sheer amount of performers offers the potential for incredibly complex compositions with many different melodic perspectives; perspectives that help make the songs on “Fountain of Darkened Fires” not only incredibly rich in detail, but absurdly varied.  While the vocals are certainly the most prominent piece of Aeldaborn’s style of dark folk, their backbone lies largely in the unique percussive / martial foundation that the music is built off of.  It not only sets the tone for certain tracks, but its performance, more often than not, creates a layer of tension that is expertly accented towards the mood that the song seeks to create.  The term martial can be fairly misleading here as the songs on “Fountain of Darkened Fires” aren’t militant in the martial-industrial sense, but rather are classically tinged and even sometimes are modestly tribal in a pre-Christian Germanic sense (“All Darkness Comes”).

Then there is, of course, the traditional reverb and delay-laden acoustic guitar strumming that makes most neofolk so beautiful.  Like most folk of this style, its presence is largely secondary and used as an atmospheric tool rather than a complex one, and its performance is characteristically textured by subtle violin, synth and miscellaneous instrumentation arrangements — the latter of which comes through in full force with flute and harp in the crowning achievement of the record, the track “Below the Wings of Isis” which features label-mates Inneres Gebirge.  This track is exceptional in every way, from the way it progresses from its modest, dreamy beginning in delayed vocals and a simplistic harp melody to an all out joyous screaming to the sky of “And give your children light, to break the final chain” in the end.  Lyrically, this is Thomas Lueckewerth’s moment to shine.  The vocals are performed in perfect tone and emotion by Sepp Funkel (whom, for the record, has landed a firm spot as my favorite neofolk vocalist with this song), but Thomas simply provides one of the greatest lyrical works in the history of neofolk with this epic.  It is a great work inspired by the obvious theme of Isis, and in its tribute to the deity it speaks of, in dual meanings, our past, the beauty of life prior to modernity, of spiritual enlightenment, of the current dark age in which we live, and the awakening of a new era.

This is not the only subject of interest, however.  As mentioned, the project covers everything from the epic poetry of Thomas Gray to “Independence” by none other than Aleister Crowley and “Wie Weben” by the most significant German poet of the 19th century, Heinrich Heine.  While the importance and influence of poetry on Aeldaborn cannot be understated, esoteric, spiritual and worldly themes inhabit an equal portion of their lyrics through the Egyptian themes of Seth, Isis, and Naos, and even social / environmental criticism — all of which subjects which are found in fruitful supply in the album and whose inclusion is based on the author behind the lyrics.  Another interesting observation is that their lyrics seem to either border on apocalypticly dark (“All Things must come to an End”, “Ship of Fools”) or exuberantly bright (“Pagan Candlelights”).  There is certainly both a sense of loathing for the modern age and a sense of community — as well as a certain understanding that there is a lack of a much-needed larger one.  As with any good album, there are as many words waiting to be read between the lines as there are readily visible in poetic fashion.

With the exception of sparse vocals that are mildly abrasive in tone and may take some of the more melancholic neofolk fans off-guard, there is a distinct and noticeable lack of experimentation on the album which goes a long way towards helping their rather heartfelt and genuine music take hold in the listener.  Indeed, most of the music on “Fountain of Darkened Fires” is all too familiar in many ways, but it somehow also removes itself from those influences and stands in an area that is fairly unique unto itself.  In a direction that goes in line with the earlier sentiments that their music has much in common with the founders of the genre, there is a definitive rawness to their production that furthers their organic intentions and sound.  There’s simply a great deal to be excited about with Aeldaborn, and along with other new artists like Sangre de Muerdago, Wreathes, and Osewoudt, they’re living proof that neofolk is not only growing and evolving albeit in subtle fashion, it has still has a great many breaths left in its lungs before it, like many unique genres of its caliber, inevitably collapses in stagnation.

“What Call Unknown, What charms Presume
To Break The Quiet Of The Tomb?
Who Thus Afflicts My Troubled Sprite
And Drags Me From The Realms Of Light?”
–Baldrs Draumar–

Track List:

01) Intro / Nature as it is
02) Parthenian Circles
03) The Descent of Odin
04) Ship of Fools
05) Independence
06) All things must come to an End
07) Noch Brennen die Uralten Feuer
08) All Darkness comes
09) Four Crowns of Winter
10) Below the Wings of Isis (Feat. Inneres Gebirge)
11) Wir Weben
12) Naos
13) Pagan Candlelights
14) Io Seth!
15) Outro / Mit Mann und ross und Wagen

Rating: 5/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Deggial Records (Germany) / Deggial Records 002 / CD
Neofolk / Neoclassical