America has historically been somewhat underrepresented within the international neofolk genre, one that has come to have an unwritten but steadfast association with Europe. This is something I’ve always felt to be quite unfair, seeing as we have no shortage of bizarre legends, historical anti-heroes, and mystifying folkways—all of which deserve to be resurrected for the new generation no less than their European counterparts. This is, of course, not to mention America’s historical position as progenitor of alternative forms of folk music. The nation’s relative youth, combined with the intricacy and the beautiful bastardy of our traditions, fits perfectly into the genre’s overarching concept of old and new’s simultaneous symbiosis and death-struggle. Divided We Fall, released by the German label Morituri te Salutant, presents a survey of offerings from some of the more compelling North American representatives of the genre, both relatively new and fully established.
The compilation is stylistically diverse, starting with the opening track of Side A (Et Nihil), which calls to mind something a Haunebu pilot would tune to on the dial of his craft on the long flight into some Antarctic base. While the distressed German samples create a familiar and welcoming ambiance, it would have been interesting to forego the tried-and-true Teutophilia in favor of something more thematic. The rest of the tracks range from ethereal, darkwave dirges (Harvest Rain) to epically long psychedelic ballads (Destroying Angel with the longest single track on the record, which isn’t a bad thing), to surreal lounge piano (Thomas Nöla & the Black Hole).
Side B features a similarly heterogenous progression, from rather bombastic military chanting to deep-dark-forest ceremonial metal interspersed with Latin incantations (Night Profound). David E. Williams’ (arguably an American folk legend in his own right) contribution stands out as being decidedly more synthesizer heavy than the other tracks and characteristically laden with metaphor and ultra-black humor. “Onion Tree” is the stand-out of the record in terms of originality, along with Blood and Sun’s “At Rest” and perhaps Harvest Rain’s ”Roads,” which is so richly dismal that one can almost smell the clove smoke. Curiously absent is the recent Anglo-American formation, the Muskets, who would have made a perfect addition, however that void is remedied by the fact that nearly all of the members are represented by their own projects.
The compilation is thematically grounded by bare-bones acoustic tracks from the serious American veterans of the genre, Changes, closing out each side. Make of that symbolism what you will—change is the only constant.
Though a traditional, acoustic guitar-heavy neofolk gestalt permeates the compilation, the North American microcosm it presents is as far-flung, wide-spread, and full of interesting detours as the nation itself. While it would’ve definitely been interesting to see some material that forgoes the traditional conventions of the genre in the rebellious American fashion, it is nevertheless pleasing to have our continent represented by such a stylistically varied compilation.
A1) Et Nihil – Right Hand Son
A2) Harvest Rain – Roads
A3) Destroying Angel – Dead Man Down the Corridor
A4) Thomas Nöla & the Black Hole – Schemes (Reprise)
A5) Changes – Sweet Eve (Live)
B1) Awen – The Sickle and the Setting Sun
B2) Dying and Rising – Green Banner
B3) Blood and Sun – At Rest (Version Greenpoint)
B4) Night Profound – Veneficum
B5) David E. Williams – Onion Tree (Take 1)
B6) Changes – The Saddest Thing