There is usually a bit of concern as a music critic when a band’s label debut sits for several years without even a hint of a follow-up of any kind. As the norm, that usually means that a band’s introduction into their given scene didn’t go smoothly for any number of reasons, but traditionally it’s because their debut didn’t strike a chord with its intended audience. While it’s plausible that this was also the case with France’s The Enchanted Wood, I’d like to think that it has more to do with relative obscurity than anything. France’s neofolk and martial artists have long been criminally overlooked, with the most notable exception to that rule of course being the lauded work of Dernière Volonté. Some artists, such as Pale Roses, however, are arguably deserving of their exile for recent substandard efforts on important labels from Ahnstern to Old Europa Cafe. The country has also given rise to one of martial industrial’s biggest black-sheep-artists in Barbarossa Umtrunk who, despite a prolific career, has often been shied away from for perceived questionable Eurasianist politics, especially after more recent commentary from Alexander Dugin on the situation in Ukraine came to light. Sadly, even one of the most talented artists that the country has birthed in recent years in Ainulindalë, as well as one of neofolk’s most dedicated and quality-driven recent labels in Autre Que, continue to not achieve the audience that they deserve, while others like Life’s Decay appear to have thrown in the towel completely.
So what of The Enchanted Wood? This debut album for respected post-industrial label Steelwork Maschine, Monster Parade, was released at the tail-end of 2012 and has yet to have a formal successor announced, though an even more obscure self-titled album came to be in 2008 on the band’s own label, Doryphore. The life of the project appears to have slowed significantly, with a string of seven live shows last year and only one thus far this year, hinting that the project still perseveres with activity yet is far from having vitality. The Enchanted Wood is something of a curiosity as while it is centered around Michel Le Faou alone, it appears to have two different formations surrounding him featuring different line-ups for each. The band additionally appears to have roots that are growing more out of the indie / math rock scene than the post-industrial which is implied by their inclusion on Steelwork Maschine, but it gives the band a bit of a progressive edge, allowing them to create a sound that is unique yet not altogether unfamiliar. Certainly standard neofolk fare should not be expected here, nor should the surreal, occasionally bordering on absurd visions of Current 93‘s breed of apocalyptic folk.
Instead, what we find on Monster Parade is an experimental form of alternative country with fantastical, emotional, and arty themes that would seem more at home on Prikosnovenie or Projekt than Steelwork Maschine, though granted there is a certain indescribable Death in June flavor to be found here hiding underneath the layers of noise guitar, theremin, and gloomy organ. The sound that The Enchanted Wood strive to achieve ranges widely, from the aforementioned alt. country of “The Ape King” that would be right at home alongside Murder By Death or the Handsome Family, to the carnival waltz style of “Death to My Neighbour” and the Einsturzende Neubauten-esque dark repetition of “Death Is Knocking at Your Door.” Even “Children of Solitude” has its own vaguely martial flavor, utilizing choirs and a militant rhythmic section to create a desperate if not overly dramatic march-into-darkness atmosphere, while the title track, “Monster Parade,” opts for a ghostly slow-dance approach that pulls a 50’s ballad sound to the present through a layered, brilliant theremin performance, inevitably drawing mental comparisons to the incredible Larsen project that has been so prominent on Important Records and which has worked with everyone from Baby Dee and David Tibet to Julia Kent over the years.
If nothing else, it is the sheer quality of the diversity present on Monster Parade that makes it a triumph of the genre, and as such it remains more than a little shocking to me that it remains a lost gem even as I try to see the logic behind its obscurity. Amazingly, even through the incredible range of approaches that they take, The Enchanted Wood manage to hold onto a consistent atmosphere throughout the entirety of Monster Parade, indeed drawing out a sullen, occasionally somber mood in which a different grotesque, grisly, or otherwise strange character could be outright implied for every track.
Given the slow-moving nature of the project as well as the inventiveness and high standards seen here on Monster Parade, it seems that perhaps their silence is more about quality-control than a lack of motivation. It may be some time before another release surfaces, but there’s always the danger that one may not ever come at all. Those who find themselves worn out and frustrated by the lack of growth and evolution in the non-spiritual sectors of the neofolk genre in the past decade or so will surely find a treasure trove of inspiration here.
01) The Ogre at Midnight
02) Children of Solitude
03) Monster Parade
04) The Ape King
05) Death Is Knocking at Your Door
06) Death to My Neighbour
07) The Cotton Song
08) An Invisible Friend
09) The Phantom Creeps