Mars. Roman God of War. Even today, the name has a special place in the hearts and minds of men, doesn’t it? Like his Greek contemporary in Ares, Mars brings about a certain intangible presence of masculinity and cunning or intelligent violence that accompanies modern man’s coming into its infancy as a modern cyclical, empiric presence. Considering this strong Roman presence in the aesthetic of the release, it would make sense that we would follow in the eventual footsteps of Constantine and evolve out of Classical Roman mythology and into the grasp of Christianity through the album title “Sons of Cain”. Cain is a well-known infamous character from the Christian religion whom is known for being the first human to commit murder. Combined with the mythology of Mars, this sets up “Sons of Cain” to be somewhat of a spiritually violent affair. However, the work between the two gentleman in Mars is quite the opposite, instead choosing to focus on philosophy and literature from the likes of Yukio Mishima, William Butler Yeats, and Rudyard Kipling, though their influences are only present in a few tracks on the album.
The mentioned duo behind Mars is composed of Oliver F. and Marcus S. — the latter of which is otherwise known for his work in :Golgatha: under the moniker Christoph Donarski. The project is currently on an indefinite hiatus, so his focus is, at least for the immediate future, on Mars. As with :Golgatha:, Mars is unique in that it ventures outside of the general “comfort-zone” territory of the genre in which it is consequently a part of in neofolk, instead opting for a sound that is at times compatible with its European foundation, but also heavily influenced by the American style and deep voice of Johnny Cash and Steve von Till. This American sound helps to sustain that noted masculine appeal that is brought on by the Roman god of war himself, but also gives a decisively melancholic mood to tracks like “The Hand that Loves”. In the sense of atmosphere, the album is quite a roller-coaster, opening with the beautiful “Worldserpent” which briefly talks on a philosophical level of the secrets that Mishima’s polarity-vanquishing ouroboros is bound to.
The second track, “Hymn to Mithras”, continues the literary and Roman approach of the project through using Kipling’s “A Song to Mithras” as its lyrical foundation. “Memories” reinforces the sombre yet violent edge of the philosophy behind the album through an opening sample from the recent film Shutter Island: “God loves violence! Why else would there be so much of it? It’s in us. It’s what we are.” With the wealth of external influences on the project to this point, it might seem strange to some listeners that the compositions come off as quite minimal. In fact, outside of the traditional guitar and voice approach, there is little outside of sparse and lightly used percussion elements to speak of. In a positive view, this further helps to separate the project from their neofolk contemporaries, but in a way it leaves the music feeling empty at times — not in the sense that it is lacking identity, but simply in the fact that the sound in the music sounds too vacant, and the themes seem to give little reason for this other than the bleakness of the latter half of the album. It also leaves the mix open enough that a few unfortunate guitar and timing issues are audible. It’s simply more “raw” than “organic”.
Despite these few flaws, “Sons of Cain” has a lot to offer the philosophically minded folk listener. The philosophy of Mars is perhaps summed up best through the track “Man’s Creation” which utilizes W.B. Yeats’ poem “Death” as it’s lyrics. “Death” isn’t simply a work dedicated to the art of dying itself, but rather a deconstruction of man’s defined idea of death and how we are influenced by our own cognizance and emotions that incontrovertibly change the idea of the process for us. He also explores the fact that there are many ways that a man may live and die in his life — not simply cease to exist in conscious reality, but through emotions, mental trauma, defeat, and countless others. By renaming the poem “Man’s Creation”, Mars has, perhaps in a few ways, changed the context of the poem in subtle ways, but mostly they are helping to confirm that while death is not a conscious aspect of life in other parts of existence — at least as far as we know on a scientific level — it certainly affects and afflicts us as a conscious species on every level of existence. Thus, while there are plenty of lighter moments to be found on “Sons of Cain”, Mars appears to be working to get to the core of what makes us human on the darkest level.
02) Hymn to Mithras
04) The Spirit’s Glance
05) Sons of Cain
06) (It was Never the) Darkness
07) The Hand that Loves
08) Man’s Creation
09) A Thin Red Line
11) The Road