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26 Feb 2012

Review: Die Große Göttin (Falkenstein)

Die Große Göttin
Kraftplatz Records, 2011

Falkenstein is a one-man neofolk outfit from Germany, a creative vessel for musician Tobias Franke. Its music is dark, muscular, and resonant. The songs evoke myriad images of rural, pre-modern Europe: farmland at the rim of dark forests; black, moist earth; skies pregnant with clouds. This is Romantic music, to be sure, and in the best possible sense: an evocation of nature and humanity interwoven impeccably.

Musically speaking, the heart of Die Große Göttin lies in acoustic guitars and vocals – by no means an unusual format for neofolk. It is not a radically ground-breaking album, but rather a masterful crystallization of the neofolk tradition in its most organic manifestations.

Franke’s guitar work is deceptively simple, and if at first glance it amounts to little more than “neofolk as usual,” repeated listens to the album thoroughly revise that impression. His playing is subtle and dexterous; the guitar work is always just what it should be, whether playing rhythms or melodies.

Franke’s singing is downright beautiful – deep but clear, with a warmth and a longing carried by every phrase. To augment his natural timbre he applies vocal harmonies to great effect, creating choruses of voice. One cannot help but imagine a procession of musicians through the European countryside. Indeed, his voice conjures that wonderful scent of venerable wine barrels – rich and soothing and strong.

Wrapped around the acoustic guitar and vocals are a wide range of instruments which bring flourishing life to the songs (all are performed by the multi-talented Franke). These include flute, drums, cello, accordion, and others. In particular, his flute melodies are just charming and bring an almost childlike joy to bear on the dark atmospheres that they dance over.

On songs such as “Sonnenwende,” the percussion becomes downright martial – to great effect. Meanwhile, on “Auf Ewig,” Franke breaks out the electric guitar. With it he shows us just how marvelous Pink Floyd could have been if they’d only steered in a more Romantic and rear-looking direction…and also shows the full range of his imagination as a musician.

The entire album is sung in German, and for the most part the lyrics are furnished by Romantic poets such as Ludwig Uhland, Arthur Fitger, and Goethe (Franke pens the lyrics to one track). The unifying motifs are, of course, Germanic myth and folklore, with subject matter such as the Wild Hunt and the Solstice. The choice of lyrics certainly adds to the atmosphere and authenticity of the release and Franke arranges them in a very natural and fluid way.

Die Große Göttin is a beautiful, evocative, and very honest album, and Franke’s wonderful talents imbue it with tremendous sensitivity and spirit. Highly recommended for just about everyone.

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