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“Troubadours of the Apocalypse,” Edited by Troy Southgate

Troubadours of the Apocalypse

Troubadours of the Apocalypse

Literature about the neofolk scene has always been fleeting. Certainly, interviews with bands and musicians proliferate across the internet, articles appear in D.I.Y. fanzines and blogs, and social media gives more transparency into the on-goings of the scene, but actual literature on the subject remains absent or ineffective.

Looking for Europe: The History of Neofolk has been the flagship book to document the scene, yet it still lags behind the times. An English version of the book was published in 2013, but was heavily based on the 2005 German version with updates only to its introduction. The book has not had a chance to keep up with the scene, which has obviously seen many changes since it was first published: a huge shift in continental balance as the American scene has greatly taken off in the past decade, the emergence of important bands like Rome, and even the sudden appearance of the Eurasian martial artists, from TSIDMZ and Suveräna to Barbarossa Umtrunk, that have gained traction in the scene. The preface of the book states that “there is an urgent need for a comprehensive account of the neofolk scene,”[1] and while Looking for Europe does an admirable job at establishing that foundation and is as comprehensive as it can be, it is doing the job practically alone.

Troy Southgate

Troy Southgate

This opens the door of opportunity for other publishers and writers to explore the neofolk genre and be among the first set of pioneers to claim new grounds by establishing a discourse. There have been some forays into the subject matter. Battlenoise! from the now defunct War Office Propaganda label (now Rage In Eden) reads like a dated textual discography rather than a serious study of the martial industrial scene. Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid and Psychedelic Folk has a chapter that speaks a bit about Current 93 and another chapter that looks at American acts Stone Breath and In Gowan Ring, but the book’s focus and strength lies elsewhere. England’s Hidden Reverse, which is soon to see a reprint, focuses on British post-industrial bands. A chapter in Peter Webb’s Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music has a chapter devoted to neofolk, but it focuses on the scene’s Death in June roots. The recently released anthology Music at the Extremes mentions neofolk and martial industrial in its description, but it is mostly about extreme metal genres, with a chapter devoted to Laibach and Coil. These texts take stabs at the scene, but either miss the mark, fall short, or, when successful, choose instead to laser focus on a particular niche, leaving the subject matter still untamed and eager to be explored.

The edited anthology Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial and Neoclassical Underground is the newest attempt at scholarship within this scene. The book is edited and compiled by Troy Southgate, was and self-published through his own imprint, Black Front Press. Troubadours… takes a different approach at illuminating the genre by presenting essays directly from musicians within the scene itself—a tactic Southgate also used with his previous book, Black Metal: European Roots & Musical Extremities. There are a total of eleven essays with contributions from Gerhard Hallstatt (Allerseelen), Miklós Hoffer (H.E.R.R.), R. N. Taylor (Changes), Raymond P. (Days of the Trumpet Call), Grzegorz Siedlecki (Horologium), Riccardo Prencipe (Corde Oblique), Christopher Walton (TenHornedBeast), Daniel Pablo and Carles Jiménez (Àrnica), Francesca Nicoli (Ataraxia), Kristian Olsson (Survival Unit), and Richard Leviathan (Ostara). Per the back cover, the goal of the book is for the essayists to elaborate on their origins, their influences, how their music has developed, and what their future plans are.

The first chapter in Troubadours… is by Gerhard Hallstatt who candidly provides details of his music development and the roots of Allerseelen. Hallstatt talks of his early years of trying to become a poet and being impressed with the village of Hallstatt, Austria. He speaks of his time in Berlin, being inspired by the city, and exposed to early pioneering acts such as Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Einstürzende Neubauten, who influenced him to pursue making music himself. He ends his essay talking about his time in Wien as part of the military where he was actually making music and setting the stage for the early years of Allerseelen.

Gerhard Hallstatt

Gerhard Hallstatt

The Allerseelen chapter is nearly flawless. It communicates to the reader succinctly interesting new information. While Blutleuchte still remains the most complete and authoritative text on Allerseelen, the chapter in Troubadours… does not rehash or repackage content from that book. Hallstatt has instead opened up and revealed new critical and foundational data for Allerseelen which is infinitely useful at furthering scholarship into his project as well as providing comparative data to be used to study the scene at large. Two other chapters come close to replicating the success of the Allerseelen chapter: Olsson’s chapter on Survival Unit and Leviathan’s chapter on Ostara.

Kristian Olsson’s chapter reads much like the Allerseelen chapter, only less poetic and angrier in tone. Like Hallstatt, Olsson speaks of his youth, the transition of his interest from black metal to industrial, early performances, and groups, with much of the content focused on Survival Unit. Though some of the essay is heavy in the textual discography format, Olsson still provides substantial insight. For example, he says one of the most profound statements in Troubadours…, perhaps even in the scene at large:

“Once I had fully opened my eyes I realised [sic] this was no time to portray the beauty of the past or to live in some irrational pipe-dream.” [2]

This statement stands in stark contrast to the general hegemony of the underground neofolk scene who bemoan the loss of an idyllic, traditionalist era; a time and place that has been heavily romanticized in the scene’s songs, but probably as far from reality as can be.

Richard Leviathan’s chapter strays from the formula of the other chapters but provides the most specific and in-depth analysis into his personal inner workings. Leviathan explains in great detail how his fascination with Third Reich iconography came to be, and that:

“It was an image that encapsulated the power of the forbidden, not the gratuitous rebelliousness of the punk donning the swastika but a genuine and serious preoccupation with an enduring influence in whose crooked shadow our modern, Western, liberal, secular society shimmered and dithered in knee-jerk revulsion.” [3]

Leviathan squashes any ambiguities with his political stance by overtly stating:

“My enduring fetish for all things Nazi did not undermine my generally liberal, non-racist, latitudinarian outlook on life. I was South African, after all, and that legacy could not but point me toward an opposing moral and political position. I was and still am a left-leaning libertarian.” [4]

In a scene filled with pranksters, provocateurs, copy-cats, and poseurs who flirt with political ambiguity and try to protect themselves with generalist statements and disclaimers that say they are creating art over politics, it is refreshing to see a musician elaborate what they mean in a clear, concise manner. It is an important essay, and the logic behind Leviathan’s words that demonstrate his intent could probably be applied to other neofolk projects as well, if they only would lift the veil.

Unfortunately, none of the other essays in Troubadours… replicate the success of these three chapters. While the efforts of the essayists are noble, they are all guilty of being general, uninformative, repetitive, and most tragically, uninsightful. In a scene that needs illumination, the authors of these chapters have elected to keep readers and fans in the dark.

For example, in their chapter on Àrnica, Pablo and Jiménez state that:

“Àrnica was created as a way to unleash the wildest feelings and a need to look out for our own roots, which flow deeply from our origins and into our own heritage and culture.” [5]

While no doubt the authors are trying to be sincere, the statement is clearly vague and lacks revelation. It is a statement that could be said by many other carbon-copy projects in the scene and offers no real insight into Àrnica. It almost reads like promotional material.

R. N. Taylor’s chapter is an unfortunate disappointment for Taylor is by all accounts a great poet and storyteller. His chapter should have been one of the highlights of the book, but instead he plays it safe by retelling the story about the early years of Changes in Chicago, playing at coffee houses of the Process Church, taking a hiatus from music in the 1970s, and how Michael Moynihan was the catalyst to bring Changes back from hibernation. Readers of this chapter will have already been familiar with these tales, for Taylor has recounted this story numerous times in many interviews and in the biography at the official Changes website.  The irony is that Taylor begins his chapter discussing the dire state he was in after his stint with the Minute Men and concludes his introduction with, “It was a time of bitter regrets. The reasons for all of this would be far beyond accounting for here in this present article and best for another time.” [6] This is actually the type of personal insight the book needs; the more interesting and uncommon vignettes. This book would have been the perfect avenue for Taylor to really delve deep into the more obscure history of Changes. If Leviathan can pick a particular facet in his back story and greatly expand on it to create some profound new insight, Taylor could have as well. Both (potential) scholars of the scene and Changes fans want new insight, not a re-presented, repackaged official story.

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Richard Leviathan | Credit: Michele Brittany

Miklós Hoffer’s chapter on H.E.R.R. is the boilerplate essay for Troubadours... Hoffer begins his essay with some personal back-story, but it lacks the attention to detail or an interesting spin that is found in Hallstatt’s and Leviathan’s essays. The majority of the chapter reads as a textual discography, with Hoffer musing over each release: who released it, when, and a personal but unfulfilling thought on it. He concludes with ambiguous news that H.E.R.R. is working on new material and that he’s working with other bands. This formula is followed, with minor variations, by the other essayists in the book.

While these essays are lackluster, it is not the fault of the writers. These writers are first and foremost musicians and lyricists and not trained writers. While the scene certainly has its fair share of musicians who are also brilliant writers, such as Stephen Thrower and Boyd Rice, the fact of the matter is that writing is still a craft that needs honing, and the majority of writers in Troubadours… lack that. In this scenario, the onus is now on the editor to assist by providing feedback, suggestions, edits, and alterations to make their essays worthwhile and informative. In Troubadours…, Southgate appears to have accepted the chapters from their authors “as is.” While this may preserve the voice of the musicians—which is extremely important to do—it has the consequence of fostering uninformative and uninteresting essays due to lack of editorial input. This is a huge disservice to the contributors, as is demonstrated with the Àrnica and Hoffer examples previously discussed.

One of the weakest bullet points from the book’s description is the attempt to get the writers to talk about future projects and news. Simply put, this book is not a proper medium for this. What a musician may or may not do is an ephemeral concept and does not need to be documented in this book when other avenues, such a personal websites and Facebook pages, are better suited. If the book were trying to capture a historical point in time for each band, capturing their thoughts and news in the moment, as a true document, then perhaps it would have been successful. Troubadours… did not carry this out proficiently, leaving many of the chapters concluding either with “news” that would have been a better fit on their social media, or ending with ambiguous statements of not knowing what awaits the musician in the future.

Aside from the lack of editing partnership with the writers, the book feels amateur and haphazardly put together. The description on the back cover is verbatim Southgate’s foreword to the book—a missed opportunity for the editor to add more substance to the anthology. There is no index, and nearly every chapter is separated by two blank pages, which only accomplishes to pad the already short book. Other editing mishaps are plentiful, such as both Miklós Hoffer’s and Carles Jiménez’s names are missing their accent marks in the table of contents. Prencipe’s chapter actually has an “LOL” [7] in it, which should have been excised from a book that is trying to be more professional. Olsson’s chapter, though one of the best articulated chapters, suffers from an over usage of ellipsis throughout. In other words, Troubadours… feels like a rushed, unpolished, and unedited anthology.

Kristian Olsson

Kristian Olsson

Not all is without hope, however. Some insight can be gleaned if one tries to connect the dots and look for commonalities or try to unearth other interesting insights using interdisciplinary means. For example, the hate/closet-acceptance relationship with the mainstream and popular culture is a recurring theme across most of the authors’ writings. Many of the authors lambaste the mainstream and popular culture: from Taylor saying neofolk transcends “superficial pop-culture,”[8] to Hoffer saying that the mainstream approach isn’t appealing, that it is “all about the money nowadays,”[9] to Siedlecki stating that present-day music and media is shallow and idiotic.[10] These are all sentiments echoed by many individuals in the underground scene.

The irony is that all the musicians in Troubadours… are deeply rooted in the mainstream and pop culture. While they may state their loathing of it, they all operate well within it: they are inspired by pop-culture artefacts (many of the musicians in the book readily list mainstream acts that have had an influence on them), and they contribute to pop culture, though currently at the fringes. The state of the neofolk scene now mirrors the transition that its sister genre, black metal, was experiencing during the 1990s.

In describing the state of the contemporary black metal scene in its formative years, Michael Moynihan expressed that the genre and its practitioners had become both popular and lucrative:

“Fully aware they have a viable commercial and artistic product to sell, they take their music careers seriously.” [11]

In other words, a scene that was once completely subaltern, dealing with esoteric material, has now risen above those bonds and into the greater currency. Black metal is not unknown now. Quite the opposite, it is well-known and has solidified itself in both underground and popular culture.

This is the ultimate fate of the neofolk, post-industrial, and martial-industrial scenes as well, though it seems to be occurring at a snail’s pace. These genres are closely related and associated with black metal music, not just in themes and subject matter, but even with shared musicians as well, so the comparison is appropriate. Genre progenitor Death in June has already been operating with the mindset as described by Moynihan. In an interview with Heathen Harvest, Douglas P. has talked about the financial importance of keeping one’s back-catalog in print while at the same time shooting down critics of the practice of re-re-releasing his repertoire.[12] On the pop culture side of the coin, the 2014 mainstream film The Guest, which has a soundtrack that consists entirely of underground bands such as DAF, Front 242, and Clan of Xymox, and features Death in June posters and paraphernalia prominently in one of the character’s bedrooms.  Newer outfits, such as Rome and Chelsea Wolfe, whose music is being used to promote The Walking Dead spin-off and Game of Thrones, are already reaching commercial and critical success that eludes the majority of bands in the scene.

Troubadours… demonstrates the overt aversion to this inevitable paradigm shift, and for that it is of more interest than individually what the authors are trying to convey. When applying other frameworks to analyze the book, additional insight can be surmised, but in the end, the book’s attempt to document this scene from the perspective of a handful of relevant musicians is not successful. The end-result—an unprofessional and unedited anthology—is disappointing when compared to what could have been accomplished. It is the hope that another round of aspiring writers and scholars can take the baton and represent the scene with the justice it deserves.

_____________________________________________________

Written by: Nicholas Diak
Publisher: Black Front Press (Portugal)
Editor: Troy Southgate
Publication Date: February 18, 2015
File Under: Music / Music Biography
Language: English
ISBN: 978-0-9931703-0-0
Format: Paperback
Pages: 150
Cover Artist: Zbigniew Boguslawski

Contents

“The Roots of Allerseelen” —Gerhard Hallstatt
“Voices of Other Times, Treasures in Unlikely Places” —Miklós Hoffer
“Out of the Darkness” —R.N. Taylor
“A Brief History” —Raymond P.
“The Thought and Sound Behind Horologium” —Grzegorz Siedlecki
“Ten Years of Corde Oblique” —Riccardo Prencipe
“The Bookless Gnosis” —Christopher Walton
“Àrnica: Drums from Ur” —Daniel Pablo and Carles Jimenez
“Ataraxia” —Francesca Nicoli
“A One-Man War” —Kristian Olsson
“The Only Jew in the Village” —Richard Leviathan

Footnotes

  1. Andreas Diesel and Dieter Gerten, Looking for Europe: The History of Neofolk, trans. Markus Wolff (Germany: Index Verlag, 2013), 11.
  1. Kristian Olsson, “A One-Man War,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 106.
  1. Richard Leviathan, “The Only Jew in the Village,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 119.
  1. Ibid., 121.
  1. Daniel Pablo and Carles Jiménez, “Àrnica: Drums from Ur,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 83.
  1. R. N. Taylor, “Out of the Darkness,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 36.
  1. Riccardo Prencipe, “Ten Years of Corde Oblique,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 69.
  1. R. N. Taylor, “Out of the Darkness,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 45.
  1. Miklós Hoffer, “Voices of Other Time, Treasures in Unlikely Places,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 28.
  1. Grzegorz Siedlecki, “The Thought and Sound Behind Horologium,” in Troubadours of the Apocalypse: Voices from the Neofolk, Industrial & Neoclassical Underground, ed. Troy Southgate (Porto, Portugal: Black Front Press, 2015), 60.
  1. Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind, Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground (Los Angeles: Feral House, 2003), XII.
  1. Douglas Pearce. “This is not Paradise: Part Two of a Face-to-Face Interview with Death in June.” Interview by David Tonkin. Heathen Harvest, February 4, 2015. https://heathenharvest.org/2015/02/04/this-is-not-paradise-a-face-to-face-interview-with-death-in-june-pt-ii/
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