Fire + Ice have been around since the early 90’s, releasing albums and providing the neofolk scene with songs inspired by Runes, European mythology and folktales in a greater capacity than most of the other bands within the ‘genre’.
The latest album, Birdking, was released in 2000, and nearly 13 years of carrion passed before we finally witnessed the coming of the new album Fractured Man. Ian Read, in a recent interview (Elegy No. 75), stated: “I don’t like doing music just for the sake of it and, in general, I hate doing things by obligation.”, a confession which any artist whom respects his own music ought to agree with. From a listener’s perspective, the question arising is: was it worth the wait? In my own subjective opinion, it certainly was.
I have found myself to be more than willing to push the replay button on my CD-player when listening to this album. It’s that intimate feeling which one may come across when the music resonates with aspects that define your psyche on an artistic level. Yet, when you listen to music throughout most of the day, it’s more than seldom for this particular feeling to occur. So when it does, it is obvious that you must embrace it and surrender.
Looking back, I always thought of Read’s releases as very well-done and worth buying; yet, something restrained me from regarding any of them as a jewel. For this precise reason — that I never considered myself to be a devout admirer of Fire + Ice — I was surprised with the album’s ability to impose itself on me with an effortless ease. After quite a few thorough listens, the reasons became apparent; the album has managed to maintain in its entirety, a coherent vision of what it wants to introduce to its listener. The contributions from genre-related musicians (Douglas P. [Death in June], Michael Moynihan & Annabel Lee [Blood Axis], Ericah Hagle / Bart Farar / Michael Laird [Unto Ashes], Sonne Hagal and Vurgart) were many, coming to the aid of Read in order to accomplish this goal with outstanding results. [Editor’s Note: In a correction to the information contained within the CD booklet for Fractured Man, Ian Read wrote the melodies himself for “Fractured Man” “Jubal and Tubal Cain”, “Aelfsiden” and others — not Unto Ashes. Source: Annabel Lee.]
The title track, which opens the album, captures your attention with a harmonium performance that provides a mantra for Read’s deep vocals to invoke the “Fractured Man”, in a somewhat similar manner to which Nico used the instrument to invoke her Janitor of Lunacy.
The instrumental, “Caratacus”, which was written by Douglas Pearce, serves the purpose of a resting spot and a chance for recollection before you decide to indulge in the rest of the album. The acoustic guitar is characteristic of the sound from DI6’s Rule of Thirds, adding a somewhat unexpected touch, yet not at odds with the ambience of the previous track.
“Treasure House” and “Nimm” encompass Sonne Hagal’s distinct songwriting. Beautifully arranged, these songs eulogize the singing of Ian Read and adhere to the quality standards set forth from the beginning of the album. “Have you seen?” is lyrically suggestive of the Germanic and English folk traditions regarding Seiðr rituals and the sacrifice of the Wren in the Winter Solstice. After the second chorus, the guitar is enriched by a hammered dulcimer and an autoharp, both of which are played skillfully as they widen the perspective of the song. “Mr. Wednesday” is immersed in the folk sound of Fire + Ice, a totally different version from the punk/blues version by Lykes of Yew. A nice song to listen to but not one I would single out on the album.
“Verloschen” on the other hand, despite its simple structure, can easily capture you under its charm. As with “Treasure House” and “Nimm”, “Verloschen” also features Sonne Hagal’s musicianship. Nevertheless, by no means does it tire the listener with recurring themes as each of these songs retain an autonomous authenticity.
An unexpected lyrical twist is to follow. In reference to the Old Testament’s figures of “Jubal and Tubal-Cain”, the song depicts the primordial essence that the progeny of Cain represent according to the gospel of Ian. The gnostic concept therein is perfectly matched by the haunting melody of the song, thanks — again — to Annabel Lee’s violin and the additional instrumentation surrounding it. The violin has a more foundational role on the next song, “Ælfsiden”. A lullaby for Albion where the Blood Axis couple accompany Ian Read to produce a nostalgic sentiment. “Fractured Again” expands lyrically the theme of Fractured Man, where Ian Read suggests that “what goes on in the light, acts in the darkness”. Douglas Pearce is on backing vocals along with Ericah Hagle, and the overall feeling of the song is simply an ideal way to end the album.
The capacity of Fractured Man has left me with the best of opinions and with sky-high expectations for future releases. I simply can’t afford not to smile back at the lads in the photo on the booklet’s cover.
02) Treasure House
03) Fractured Man
05) Have you seen?
06) Jubal and Tubal Cain
08) Mr. Wednesday
10) Fractured Again