Considering the interest that seems to have been generated by my last article on Russia’s revered neofolk duo Ritual Front, it seemed like the ideal time to tackle one of dark folk’s other extremely talented East European artists in Moon Far Away. Though they exist in a completely different style of neofolk than Ritual Front and have much in common with the worlds of experimental, ambient, electronic and dark pop music, Moon Far Away has been largely celebrated amongst primarily neofolk and neoclassical audiences during their nearly two decade-long career. Undoubtedly, they have come to be known as one of Russia’s most beloved folk projects within their own country in the past decade, and have become an exceptional aural diplomat to the Western World for East European neofolk in that time as well though it seems that they’ve let their music do most of the talking rather than speaking on their own behalf due a tendency towards anonymity. The certainly haven’t avoided that spotlight in person, however, and have played live shows with the likes of Horologium and Desiderii Marginis, as well as a reportedly very dramatic performance at Folk Pagan Fest IV.
This dramatic appearance is heralded by several noticeable characteristics of the band, from their white, mask-donned garb to their incontrovertibly metaphysical presence, lyrics, and themes. Their sound can certainly be characterized as Neo-romantic, but still manages to attain a level of compositional prowess that is varied enough to occasionally cross borders that takes comparisons everywhere from the spiritual and medieval, percussion and vocal-driven music of Dead Can Dance to the lavish and exploratory ambience of Larsen. In many ways, their music can be considered on the ‘ritual’ end of the spectrum, though they have little in common with ritual ambient artists as we know them today. Instead, they have more in common with modern pop folk artists like Wreathes whose lyrics focus on the enigmatic and whose music is far more complex than the common Western neofolk artist. The music on Minnesang, in that respect, is largely driven by medieval percussion and non-guitar instrumentation, some of which contains noticeably psych tendencies, and some of which are purely there to create an archaic atmosphere.
Though the additional instrumentation (pipe organ, strings, and many others) is the primary melodic feature behind the music of Moon Far Away, there is a traditional element of acoustic guitar to be found, it just seems to get lost in the mix of the tracks or simply serves as a melodic backbone to the rest of the composition. It never seems to take a frontal position as a primary dynamic behind the song-writing. That said, there are a great many other subtleties to be found including blatantly electronic influences (especially on “Filled by Memory” with its elaborate bass-work and nearly futurepop sound) and a distinctly pop approach to song-writing both in sound and structure. Though the female vocals can be considered fairly run-of-the-mill, albeit beautifully performed, the sparse male vocals take the stage when they are present. A great example is “Witchcraft by a Singing”, a track that finds primary songwriter Count Ash exhibiting vocals not far from those of Current 93’s David Tibet. This track also features lyrics that were taken from 16th/17th-century Protestant English poet John Donne’s “Witchcraft by a Picture”. The track “Goe, and Catche” also features lyrics taken from the writings of John Donne. These aren’t the only occasions of literary sources behind used for lyrical inspiration on this album, however, as, outside of the traditional Russian folk song of “Shumff Gudit”, lyrics are also taken from The Gospel of John, Charles Baudelaire’s “Franciscae meae Laudes”, and a hymnal from Saint Nikolai Of Serbia.
All of these elements combine in the end to create an overall atmosphere on “Minnesang” that is distinctly hallowed. Their creations are complex yet relaxed and modest. Their vocals free-spirited and joyous, humbling and melancholic, while in moments they are genuinely heartfelt and nearly hymnal through the open-air, crystal clear production that they achieve. Their compositions aren’t exactly reminiscent of the monk-like atmospheres in holy monasteries, however, though it is difficult not to get the impression that Orthodox Christianity almost assuredly plays a role in the figures behind the project. The images evoked through their music are, instead, more akin to a direct spiritual tie to nature, an idea that has its roots in Heathenry and, since they’re based in Russia, Slavic Paganism. It is music to dance around the snow-laden ruins to, to sing praise to the sky to in thanks for a return to normality that the future brings. It is music that takes us away from the insane monotony that an increasingly consumerist world has brought us and brings the human spirit back to its metaphysical essence. Stunning, if not absolutely unique.
01) And Light Shineth in Darkness (Prologue)
02) Sweet Olga
03) Goe and Cathe
04) Deus amet Puellam
05) Filled by Memory
06) King Son’s Journey Pt. I; Lunar Isle
07) King Son’s Journey Pt. II; The New Sleep
09) Witchcraft by a Singing
10) Holy Mother Russia
11) Come, Brother in white Church (Epilogue)
12) Shumff Gudit (Bonus Track)