There is much that can be said about neofolk artist Richard Leviathan’s new album Paradise Down South, recorded under the iconic moniker of Ostara and released by Portland’s Soleilmoon Recordings. The album is a modern masterpiece of the neofolk genre — lyrically, musically, and conceptually. As most fans of the genre know, Richard Leviathan began with the legendary Strength Through Joy and recorded two memorable full-lengths, The Force of Truth and Lies and Salute to Light. Leviathan has also worked with such artists as Death in June, Sol Invictus, Forseti, and NON, to name a few. Shortly after the demise of Strength Through Joy, Richard and Timothy Jenn began their work as Ostara, which I’ve always considered to be an evolution of Strength Through Joy. With Ostara, the duo had released albums featuring catchy songs that are, at times, very pop-esque and even feature tracks with electric guitars on some of the older releases.
If one looks through interviews with Leviathan, or has paid attention to his lyrics which usually contain large amounts of symbolism, it is easy to see that he is a very intelligent individual in matters involving politics, metaphysics, history, and so forth. With Paradise Down South, Richard has continued to both amaze me and captivate my mind with the way he writes lyrics. With songs such as “Debt on Credit” and “Lone Wolf Cry”, it seems that he is referring to certain current events such as the global financial crisis and the loss of identity throughout Europe. One track that particularly grabbed my attention is “Darkness Over Eden”, in which Leviathan confesses of a secret love of America. What makes this song interesting is that it seems to be about the inevitable fall of world powers. With poetic lines such as “history has shown all empires must decline” and “they joined the dance of fate and chance”, it seems that he is referring to nations or empires that have left the realm of safety and joined in the realm of international politics, thus partaking in this “dance of fate and chance”. Even the title of the song “Darkness Over Eden” implies a nation once thought of as paradise that has begun its downward descent.
Ostara’s previous lyrical themes are evident as well, particularly those that concern a kingdom or paradise that has been lost for all eternity whilst an inner struggle exists that longs to acquire it once more, especially in the title track “Paradise Down South” and the aforementioned “Darkness Over Eden”. Many of the songs, such as “Dark Romantics”, also center around the theme of descending in order to transcend above, with lyrics like “Don’t catch me if I fall. Gravity’s a more honest way to grow into the soul”. These lyrics seem to contain the theme of descending in order to grow into something new or find a hidden paradise. Another important aspect is that they contain open-ended questions that have been prevalent in Ostara’s previous works, which is a particularly cerebral quality that is often difficult to find in modern music. The lyrics also contain a certain uplifting feeling, a feeling that seems to take you to the depths only to bring you back up again.
Musically, I would go so far as to say that the album is very much down to the roots of the neofolk genre, yet at the same time still creates a very unique listening experience. Paradise Down South features many tracks that are upbeat and contain the pop-esque sound that Ostara have made a habit of incorporating into their music, yet it also creates a sense of nostalgia. “Debt on Credit”, “Darkness Over Eden”, and “Silent Symphony” are perfect examples of this neofolk / pop hybrid, while others such as “Dark Romance”, “Vagrant Heart”, and “Wreath made Hollow” are fine examples of the otherwise classic neofolk sound. This makes for a very enjoyable listening experience as each song sounds entirely different than the last, yet at the same time still manages to maintain the unique sound that Ostara has always created. Many of the songs on this album are very catchy as it contains melodies, both instrumental and vocal, that even a listener completely unfamiliar with the genre can enjoy.
Unlike some of the older Ostara albums such as Ultima Thule, which featured some electric guitar work, this album is a purely acoustic album. While I say that it is a purely acoustic album, I do not mean that it is solely Richard Leviathan and an acoustic guitar, as it does contain a lot of the atmospheric background music via synth that his music has always featured since the days of Strength Through Joy. The song “Black Hole of Light” is a perfect example of this use of synth, though it is not the only one on the album. Adding to the atmosphere and overall sound of the album is the poetic structure of the vocals which, I had previously mentioned, is exceptionally catchy. An added bonus and great finale to the album is the track “Havamal”, which is an atmospheric piece featuring a sample of a portion of the Norse epic being recited in beautiful fashion. The album also features a guest appearance by none other than Douglas P. of Death in June, who plays an e-bow on the track “Dark Romanics”.
Overall, I enjoyed the album and am very impressed with the great songwriting ability of Richard Leviathan. Both musically and lyrically, the album is sure to impress any fan of the neofolk genre and may also welcome new fans. Paradise Down South is a powerful album all around, and Leviathan has once again proven that he is quite the intellectual, having a talent for leaving the listener both thinking and questioning everything that he has chosen to explore lyrically. The album is a fine example of the neofolk genre and has the capability of becoming a classic in the genre.
01) Debt on Credit
02) Paradise Down South
03) Darkness over Eden
04) Heart on the Rock
05) Garden of the Rain
06) Silent Symphony
07) Story of Lament
08) Vagrant Heart
09) Black Hole of Light
10) Wreath made Hollow
11) Dark Romance
12) Lone Wolf Cry