Aus Alter Zeit by Styrdwolf is a martial/neofolk album that was released in the spring of 2012 in three different versions. There is a standard single disc, a double-disc, and a triple-disc boxset, all released via Germany’s limited quantity/quality SkullLine label. This review has specifically been written for the single-disc version, which is also available for free streaming on bandcamp, where it has been presented as high-quality mp3s of all thirteen tracks, which collectively clock in at a meaty forty-five minutes of music.
The Bandcamp package not only provides mp3s of all the tracks, but a complete set of high-resolution packaging artwork too: the cover, booklet, inserts, inlays, and even graphics for the CD too. The mp3s combined with all the artwork makes this format as close as one could get to experiencing the album (both aurally and visually) without actually having a physical copy. In a way, this is quite impressive at being a facsimile of a traditional way of consuming music at a fraction of the cost.
As impressive as the package is, unfortunately the music proper borders on lackluster, never striving to be better than average or generic neofolk music. Issues with generic sounds, lack of good mastering, and problems with the artwork anchor this album to this disappointing state. In short: Aus Alter Zeit could have been executed much better.
There is a formula for Aus Alter Zeit—acoustic guitars over light, unobtrusive martial drumming with an occasional peppering of other sounds, such as chimes, accordions, and wind instruments. While this formula has been honed and perfected by various bands and projects before, the issue is that Strydwolf does not add, contribute, subvert, challenge, or expand on these sounds. Strydwolf simply seeks to emulate it. This creates an interesting scenario in that there are no bad or unlistenable tracks, but also there are no amazing or standout tracks either. The album blends together from start to finish, but within the entirety of the neofolk genre, it’s another face in the crowd.
To try and combat this situation, Aus Alter Zeit employs quite a few guest musicians on the album: Zomerbries, Falkenstein, Gnomonclast, Hou En Trou, Shattered Hand, and Argheid. If you’re scratching your head, confused on who these bands are, you would not be alone. Of these projects, only Gnomonclast and Falkenstein have a real musical repertoire. The other projects only have a smattering of guest and compilation appearances, and even those appearances can be counted on one hand. Because none of these projects have any real body of work, they also do not have a discernible sound to them to add to Aus Alter Zeit. In other words, these guest appearances bring neither marquee value nor musical variety or identity to this album.
Lyrically, Aus Alter Zeit has both German and English texts, so listeners of either language can enjoy a majority of the songs. The subject matter varies, such as appreciating the night sky in “Darkness,” to the standard-issue song about sun adoration in “Everlasting Sun.” However, the lack of lyrics in the booklet and the muffled vocals at times does make understanding some of the songs problematic.
The iconic neofolk anthem “Wir Rufen Deine Wölfe” gets a new iteration, but unfortunately does not hold its own to the prior incarnations out there. The mixing on this track does not seem quite right, as the vocals are too muted and indistinguishable against the music. This production issue seems to be a consistent problem for Aus Alter Zeit, and can be found on other tracks such as “Love’s Secret” in which the vocals do not quite harmonize together and sound gravelly and at odds with each other.
A few tracks attempt forays at being more than average and the end results are fairly enjoyable. Examples include “Everlasting Sun,” whose music and vocals are catchy and a bit more memorable. “Darkness” is the most consistent and competent track on the album, with a nice uptempo rhythm with the music. The most diverse track on the album is “Die Wiese Schäumt,” which employs the aforementioned wind instruments, tambourines, and chimes, giving the song a pleasant, romantic, and renaissance feel to it. What holds this track back from being better is that the vocals are mismatched; they are a lot darker and deeper than what this track needs, and would have been better suited to a song that leaned more towards folk-noir.
While the music maintains the average neofolk status quo, the photographic artwork itself is mundane and uninspired. There is a theme to the photography, of travels in the woods and reflected portraits in a guitar, but the problem is that the photography lacks effort. There’s no filters or contrasts, the images all look flat and lifeless. In particular, there is an image of a top of a statue or an ornate root with the sun shining behind it. This causes the stonework of the structure to be extremely shadowed, masking the detail. Some simple post-production work in a photo-editing program could have corrected this, but instead Strydwolf elected not to do that.
In fact, this image practically sums up this package very well. It’s as if this package was a first draft or a first demo of an entire album, and instead of additional work with a modicum of effort to really make it flourish—to really give it additional dimensions and depth—Strydwolf seems happy with it as is. And while the music experience isn’t bad, it’s simply not remarkable nor memorable.
02) Van Uit Een Nieuwe Wereld (Feat. Zomerbries)
04) Die Wiese Schäumt (Feat. Falkenstein)
05) Darkness (Feat. Gnomonclast)
06) Aus Alter Zeit (Feat. Hou En Trou)
07) Handen In Elkaar
08) Love’s Secret (Feat. Shattered Hand)
09) For No Reason
10) Wir Rufen Deine Wölfe (Feat. Argheid)
11) Everlasting Sun
12) Inschrift Für Einen Dolch
13) Im Kreise