Putting down some thoughts about Touch the Earth’s Into the Wild has proven to be a difficult task. Finding information about the group has been like unravelling the riddle of the Sphinx, and the album cover doesn’t provide many more clues as to what sort of music the album contains. It is a vague photograph of a flat, rocky landscape, overlaid by a triskele that is almost invisible, but for the right lighting. The group and album name are presented at the top and bottom, with Touch the Earth actually being smaller than the album title Into the Wild (and typeset in the much-maligned Papyrus font—really?). This actually had me convinced for a while that the band was called Into the Wild and the album ‘Touch the Earth’. Needless to say, I was already off to a confused start before I ever even put the album on play. Oh well, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
The amateur visual presentation aside, the album is a mix of British folk, tribal, ambient, and Eastern new-age sounds. The lyrics are hymns of praise to ancestors, nature, and tribal lands. However, all of this is as vague as the album cover itself. It’s hard to pin down who these ancestors were, what natural phenomena are referenced, or where these lands even are.
The inscrutable triskele and a few snatches of Gaelic give me a clue that these hymns are sang to some place on the British Isles, but I can’t be more specific than that. The website linked in the liner notes is not actually a band website, but the site of the Caer Corhain Shamanic Development Centre. It turns out Touch the Earth is made up of members of this organization who perform at their events. Now, I do not deny or demonize the mystical. I have my own spiritual path that I take seriously. I don’t hate all things that fall under the banner of “new age” either. In fact, I don’t even know how to properly define ‘new age’, but these sorts of organizations teaching generic ‘shamanism’ and other self-empowerment mystical paths with extremely broad definitions always put me on edge. This isn’t to say that they are all bad, and I understand that Touch the Earth have good intentions. They just don’t do it for me.
Herein lies my problem with this sort of new age art. They seem to reverence the past, yet their visual—and much of their sonic—presentation is devoid of tradition that might root them in a place. I sense more reverence for the past in a raucous song by The Dubliners or a pipe tune from The Chieftains than I do in a drum circle song about unnamed ‘ancestors’. However, I may be projecting my biases where they don’t belong, and I will admit to generalization. In any case, let’s examine what really matters in the end, shall we? The music.
The album opens with ‘Mother’s Lullaby’, an a cappella affair with a droning background. The brief song forecasts the Goddess devotion theme that carries through the rest of the album. The ten-minute ‘Creation Song’ is an example of the best that Touch the Earth gives us on this album. The music is a stomping mix of droning Celtic fiddle, guitar, drum, and resonant voice. For this brief moment, Touch the Earth sounds like Hexvessel without the electricity, woven with shades of Wardruna, Sedayne, and Sieben.
However good this track is, it doesn’t last. There are a few more songs in a similar style in ‘Aura’s of Colour / Fly Like an Eagle’ and ‘Withered One’, but neither lives up to the first. By the middle of Into the Wild, the guitar and violin mostly disappear and the songs all revolve around tribal drums and voice or ambient wind instruments. This is where the album loses me. The British folk elements are fewer and further between and songs seem more influenced by Native American music. The lyrics end up reading like a list of a Romantic poet’s observations during a walk around the countryside: ‘All life in the seas, trees, Mountains so high / Sun and the moon, greatest star nation / White fluffy clouds, green fields and blue skies.’ After a few minutes, I am left wanting to listen to the artists listed above.
I could imagine these songs taking a more transformative effect as a part of their shamanic gatherings for those who partake in such things, but divorced from that context they do not work as a whole. As much as I enjoy ‘Creation Song’—and I really do—I cannot recommend Into the Wild as a full album. However, I have hope that Touch the Earth may refine the things that do work and create more music in that vein because the potential is there.
01) Mother’s Lullaby
02) Creation Song
03) Oak Tree
04) Aura’s of Colour / Fly Like an Eagle
05) Dark Faerie
06) Withered One
08) Dart Call
09) Into the Wild
10) Call of the Wild
11) Born of the Wildlands
12) I Am
13) Sing to Me