Goats. Notoriously belligerent and not terribly appetizing, their association with underground or niche music in general is usually confined to either black metal or occult rock. However, Portland-based quartet the Waking Guild has arrived to shatter these stereotypes with In the House of the Goats, a charming little chamber folk record with nary a mention of Beelzebub to be found.
The band supposedly owes their musical inspiration to a European journey, during which they ‘slept in abandoned buildings, tended baby goats and pilgrimaged for hundreds of kilometres, all the while sculpting their timeless and delicate sound’, according to their Bandcamp page. True or not, such an international expedition would explain the explorative sounds and tones on display throughout the In the House of the Goats, where folksy gather-’round-the-campfire tunes flow with austere waltzes, pseudo-sea shanties, and chirpy paeans for the natural world with sophistication and ease.
In the House of the Goats is a narrative album, with each song managing to forge identifiable imagery and sensations despite the near-total dearth of lyrics. An ability to inspire the mind of its listeners is endemic to all effective instrumental music, but tracks like ‘Midnight Revelry’ and ‘Bon voyage’ convey particular ideas. These restrictions are offset by the more mysterious ‘Sandman’ and ‘Death by Crow’, whose amorphous titles betray little of their musical contents. This dichotomy is peculiar, as it stifles the creative potentiality of the music while also offering a conceptual hand to hold as the Waking Guild guides us down their instrumental rabbit hole.
Evoking these transcontinental tales using a limited array of traditional European melodies, the Waking Guild is best imagined playing in a sat-in-a-circle chamber style, dedicated entirely to the use of flute, violin, cello, organ, concertina, and some very occasional percussion. This distinctly continental flavour will doubtless appeal to those seeking a retrospective brand of neoclassical, indicative as In the House of the Goats is of the countless French, German, and British composers which predate it. By the same token, the album features an earthier, rustic quality usually reserved for the purest strains of folk music; the Waking Guild manages to spin both musical plates, traversing the boundaries of traditionalist ‘folk’ music while avoiding the austere pretensions which often plague neoclassical artists.
Despite the narrow range of instruments on offer, the Waking Guild crafts a respectable variety of sonic textures throughout their conceptual jaunt around Europe. String arrangements prance about with a contagious enthusiasm, intermittently stepping back to allow the organ or flute to shine. Each instrument is perfectly audible even when played in tandem, thanks specifically to a sterling production effort which never grows lavish enough to negate their folky chops. Concertinist Melissa Luna almost steals the show; though taking a consistent backseat in letting her colleagues hog the limelight, her concertina effectively acts as a bass-line, affording the other players a reliable low from which to bounce their respective highs.
‘Fireside’ invites special attention, since it remains the sole song to showcase the band’s surprising vocal talents. It also happens to be the longest track, lasting a stately six minutes, alternating between the usual string-flute-concertina amalgam and a near-hymnal refrain, which begs us to join the band by the titular hearth. Combining the opposing forces of folk and neoclassical, pitting the two against one another like duelling swordsmen taking turns to lunge, the song—fittingly enough, as it bookends the album like a collective reprise—perfectly represents the album as a whole. That neither side can be vanquished in the battle testifies to the manifold song-writing abilities of the quartet.
Though far from the most diverse or ground-breaking chamber folk release, In the House of the Goats is a remarkably assured debut from the Oregonian ensemble.
01) Viaggio delle caprette
02) Sunken Ships
05) Il tre d’oro
06) Midnight Revelry
07) Bon voyage
08) Shades of Green
09) Death by Crow
10) Cielo notturno