‘My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night, but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!’ —Edna St. Vincent Millay
It wasn’t too long after receiving my copy of Ockerwasser: A Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, that I had the aforementioned chorus from the first track, ‘The Shapes of Things to Come’, playing on repeat. The same phrase has etched a timeless echo in my overcrowded lyric-bank and invoked a profound state of pensiveness. What was Edna St. Vincent Millay trying to say when she penned ‘First Fig’ in the 1920 poetry collection, A Few Figs from Thistles, other than demonstrating her poetic thaumaturgy? Irrespective, her work has meaning enough to live on, glamourised by her Pulitzer Prize and nearly one-hundred years later, going on to inspire a prominent German neofolk act in Sonne Hagal.
Within Ockerwasser, the polymath artists present an ethereal, poetic, and cultural feast. The nineteenth-century English poet Robert Browning penned the phrase ‘less is more’ in his work The Faultless Painter. Neofolk in my opinion has been subliminally built on this phrase. Ostensibly, the fundamental element has and always will be the lyrical content that demarcates most surviving acts against the one-hit wonders and unsigned follies. I don’t know a single connoisseur of neofolk that hones in on the musical embellishment or mastering component of a record to great detail. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a place, but success has historically been measured on lyrical content with the peripheral elements being symbolism, presentation, and, finally, the music. Whether provocative, controversial, thought-invoking, or historical, these elements define and amass the supporter base and keep the record labels thinking. Sonne Hagal is one of the benchmark acts that follow the aforementioned, unofficial, and creative edict, whether deliberately or subconsciously. The genre’s pioneers have left it this way, occasionally contrary to their own opinions.
There is nothing amateur or stale about Sonne Hagal. Unlike many of their ostentatious and new-coming counterparts who try their hardest to mirror similar success, Sonne Hagal prove there is a tonal aesthetic that must accompany the perceived simplicity of the music. As far as releases go, their production candle hasn’t been aflame as much as we’d like it to be. It has been six years since the release of Jordansfrost, and Ockerwasser is only their fifth full-length record in fifteen years. Beyond the post-industrial scene, an artist could end up on the side of a milk carton as a missing person, but our tight-knit community wouldn’t allow such an act to disappear without warning. I can’t think of a poet who has successfully used the term ‘good things take time’, but Sonne Hagal ensure that the saying lives on as a self-help approach to difficult situations and remove any threat of it being a motivational idiom.
A vast array of industry peers and pioneers have rallied around this release. Kim Larsen (:Of the Wand and the Moon:) performs on guitar and vocals. If you’ve never heard Ericah Hagle sing, skip straight to ‘Gold’. Her operatic and hypnotic voice brought a tear to my eyes on the first listen.
With the title’s admission that Ockerwasser is indeed A Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, the fun has been taken out of describing it in one sentence. I couldn’t consummate a better summation to describe the theme, and the addition of soprano voice passages, samples, and harmonies don’t over-complicate the musical simplicity of Sonne Hagal that we have come to love and respect.
For the pagan, the intro to ‘Devon’ greets us with a familiar chant. This directs me to the album cover: a bronze suncross symbol of Scandinavian origin. The album and artists clearly have pagan roots, and how deep they go beyond the record is immaterial. The sun (sonne) remains the most important and spiritual icon of the times, and is a common theme within the pointed end of the genre.
‘Assassins’ concludes the record and is introduced by C. G. Jung with what is perhaps the most thought-invoking of all his statements on evil. As the review opened with an iconic quote, it seems only fitting that, like Sonne Hagal, we take the opportunity to leave you in similar form:
‘We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger, and we are pitifully unaware of it. We know nothing of man … far too little. His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil.’
01) The Shapes of Things to Come
03) Of Dissembling Words
04) After the Rain
05) Black Spring
10) Mediocrity in Love Rejected