Night for Day is the second and most current full-length album from Wisconsin neofolk trio Black Light, released just two years after their sold out self-titled debut. This nine-track album was released in a limited cassette run by fellow Wisconsinites Brave Mysteries who specialize in limited cassette runs and, occasionally, other formats as well. Rik Smart, Rob Michels, and Caroyln Baker are the trio that make up Black Light, a band described by Brave Mysteries as “haunted luddite neofolk” while they describe themselves as “progressive Americana folk.”
Both descriptors are appropriate at conveying the type of folk music present on Night for Day, but this needs elaboration. Night for Day is a somber and gloomy album, from the cover art depicting the dark aftermath of an unidentified skirmish, to slow acoustic ballads with lyrics that are deep in metaphors of storms, dark forests, and readying for battle. At a cursory glance, the folk album certainly has martial qualities (aside from the cover art), particularly in “Through the Fear” (“storm through the fear and raise up your shield and take up your spear”) and apocalyptic qualities, such as in “Storm of Destiny” (“shadows cross the land so bleak it seems to me howls turn into screams”) and “Eternal Forest” (“the rain has washed the sun away from today”). However, per Smart’s own explanations, such imagery is actually allegory for personal struggles—that it’s a “battle of the mind and the soul” with music being their weapon. It’s nice to see such a subversion of genre tropes, as most neofolk and martial bands wholeheartedly embrace the overt imagery of war and bloodshed, or the end of the world brought down by the hands of modernity. Instead of cliché, Night for Day comes off as humble; a listener can enjoy the album for either the overt imagery of battles and storms, or the covert metaphors for the internal battle of one’s self.
Since this is an album that juggles both concepts, the music adapts to fit both themes well. There are no pop sensibilities here, with most tracks leaning more to the minimal side. The music has a weight to it; the acoustic guitar is slower and exploited to carry the burden of melancholy. Of particular note of being even more haunting than other tracks on the album is the song “Through the Fear.” In this song, Baker’s voice was recorded many times and then layered, giving the effect that a group of children is singing. This effect, coupled with lyrics such as “storm into battle” and “raise up your shield and take up your spear,” is unnerving due to the visuals of (normally innocent) youth singing such words. This juxtaposition of vocals that contrast the wartime subject matter recalls Honey LTD’s song “The Warrior,” but while that song goes for a psych-pop sound, “Through the Fear” goes for one that is decidedly psych-folk.
“Eternal Forest” easily qualifies as the best, most well-rounded track on the album. Aside from the more optimistic sounding guitars, there is a crystalline chime that rings through the song which, when coupled with Baker’s vocals, gives a slight ethereal feeling. “Von Tognar’s Song” comes quite close to dethroning “Eternal Forest” as the best track. This track actually sums up the entire mood, theme, feeling, and perhaps goal of what Night for Day is trying to convey. “Von Tognar” refers to a black metal band fronted by a friend of Smart’s who unfortunately took his own life. With lyrics such as “I’ll never see you again my old friend” and “roots that bore straight into Hel from where you now come and go as you please,” the song is a means of coping with loss, but also an homage and a remembrance of the life of Von Tognar. It’s also one of the most pleasing songs to listen to with its more dream-like melody.
What holds “Von Tognar’s Song” back from greatness on the album, and other tracks such as “O Fiery Waves,” “Storm of Destiny,” “Remembrance,” and “Master Aflame,” is Michels’ black metal vocals. While some bands have been able to integrate black metal vocals with a more folk sound, such as Agalloch and Amiensus, Black Light do not accomplish this feat convincingly. While black metal vocals would normally be complimentary to gloom and melancholy, they simply are not incorporated well into Night for Day. Even if present on a black metal album, these vocals are lackluster and lack the oomph that powerful black metal vocals have. The end result is an inferior vocal performance that winds up undermining the effects of Baker’s more ethereal psych-folk style, which service the album far better. This is unfortunately a missed opportunity, especially for “Von Tognar’s Song.”
The packaging for Night for Day takes a minimalist approach. The cassette sleeve is double-sided, with the exterior being a piece of art depicting a pile of dead soldiers in a barren field with dark, cloudy skies overhead, while the interior is nearly blank, save for a black and white drawing of a shield, helm, and armaments, with the names of the three band members in the corner. Aside from the track listing on the back outer flap, as well as the band and album’s name on the spine with label logo, no other texts, lyrics, credits, or visuals are to be found. Ironically, the cassette itself is opaque blue, in contrast to the rather bleak and unassuming nature of the rest of the packaging. Regardless, the whole package has been professionally produced and printed, in stark contrast to many of the D.I.Y. cassette releases that underground labels have been adhering to as of late.
Night for Day shows much promise in Black Light. The dark folk element would be appealing to fans of the folk-noir crowd, and there is enough of a hint of martial elements to entice those fans as well. The dark psych-folk sound is where the band excels the best at, and should be the path encouraged for them to explore more. The black metal vocals should be relegated to a different project altogether.
A1) O Fiery Waves
A2) Eternal Forest
A3) Storm of Destiny
A5) Masters Aflame
B1) Through the Fear
B3) Von Tognar’s Song
B4) The Other Side