Creating music that takes the listener to another place in the mind is a difficult process. I have tried many times to reach this goal with my own musical creations, but I feel I am still on the journey towards being successful at it. It is always an inspiration to find an artist who succeeds in conjuring a strong image and mood without having to tell you their intention outright.
Ainulindalë’s album Nevrast, despite a few flaws, is a deep and thoughtful record that competes with the best of contemporary neoclassical folk bands. One could easily compare their work to Where the Wood Grouse Plays at Night-era Empyrium, Tenhi’s more atmospheric works, or even the minimalistic elements of Canada’s Musk Ox. The opening notes of the instrumental introduction, ‘Hither Land’, reveal the important part that the violin and cello interplay will play in the music. The first full piece, ‘The Parting’, is arguably the album’s strongest. The strummed guitar evokes a misty Celtic atmosphere, yet the tones are nostalgic and sad. It’s the sound of glory days fading into the past, only to survive in memory. The song ends with a wonderful refrain sung in a style reminiscent of an old children’s rhyme. It is somehow innocent in its darkness, beautiful, and very catchy.
The name Ainulindalë comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythos. It is the name given to the music of creation that his gods wove the universe out of. At first the music was harmonious, until Melkor, destined to become the fallen Dark Lord Morgoth, wove his own discordant notes into creation, imbuing the world with his dark presence. The music on Nevrast easily fits this concept, composed of beauty and sadness. It has qualities that are both hopeful and dark, but as is often true of nostalgia, the feelings of beauty often overpower the darkness, though the darkened past can never truly be forgotten.
One of the overarching themes of Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion is the decline of the Noldor, the elves who left their radiant homeland and traveled to Middle-Earth to take back their stolen crown jewels from Morgoth. Against the council of the gods they waged a centuries-long war, losing much of themselves in the process. Ainulindalë captures this facet of Tolkien’s world in musical form the best I’ve heard. Their interpretation of the professor’s works are much different than Summoning’s epic metal focus on battles and magic or the many black metal bands inspired by Middle-Earth’s grimness. Ainulindalë are inspired by the myths’ archetypical qualities, not tied down into retellings of something that is available to read in the original form. Rather they use the atmosphere to create a space where the listener can think of how such struggles relate to their own lives. And resisting the darkness can often bring the soul to the depths of despair, as expressed in ‘The Parting’:
‘Who stays when fire burns the air
And all things sacred washed away?
Such proud gifted and fearless hearts
Will lead the way to misery
A fate that’s rooted deep within’
The rest of the album takes a more pensive tone than the opening tracks. Most of the musical basis comes from main-man Thomas Reybard’s finger-picked classical guitar and voice, with occasional female harmonies and lead vocals from Alice Jean. Many guests provide musical color with trombone, flute and a full string section. The songs never quite reach the same pace as ‘The Parting’ (which I wish they would, but such is a matter of personal taste), but breaks into military march percussion sections and melodic leads by the brass give the songs plenty of dynamics.
The one weak point of the album lies in the vocals. That is not to say the actual vocal performance, which is very well-executed, but more in the vocal arrangement. Reybald and Jean’s voices sound natural enough singing in English except for a few sections where words are stretched to fit the melody and the vocal stress falls on an awkward syllable. This is just enough to betray that the singers are not native speakers and the frustrating part is that it only occurs a few times, so they are not incapable of arranging English vocals. It strikes me that some of the lyrics may have been made to fit a little awkwardly after the music was already written, as the instrumental composition and performance is as close to flawless as a musician could hope. These few instances are just enough to keep the atmosphere of the album from being completely unbroken; they are made more noticeable by the rest of the album’s flawless execution. But, this is all an attempt to articulate something I can put fairly plainly: something about the vocals just doesn’t grab me like the rest of the music.
The album is packaged in a clean gatefold cardboard sleeve adorned with beautiful landscape paintings by Florence Guillot which continues into the lyric booklet. Besides the standard CD, the album comes with a DVD containing a 5.1 surround-sound mix of Nevrast. Though it was nice to watch the slideshow of artwork that plays during the album on a big screen, I don’t have the ability to play 5.1, so I can’t comment on the quality of the mix, though if the stereo mix is any indication it would be worth a listen.
Ainulindalë shows much promise with Nevrast. Should they keep up the quality, improve what they do best and polish the rough edges, they may just produce some records that will become classics of the genre.
01) Hither Land
02) The Parting
03) By the Shore
06) Under May’s Moon
08) Distant Land