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28 May 2012

Review: Werewolf Songs (Various Artists)

Werewolf SongsVarious Artists
Werewolf Songs – Music Inspired by Swedish Folklore
Malört Förlag, 2012

Malört Förlag is a book publisher who specializes in “the fantastic, the numinous and the aberrant.” They also have a unique kink: for every book they publish they also release a soundtrack album. Werewolf Songs is the companion for their newly released book Varulven I svensk folktradition, an exploration of lycanthropic Swedish folklore that was first published in 1943 by author Ella Odstedt.

For the soundtrack album, a coterie of acclaimed folk and neofolk artists have been drawn together. In each case the artists were invited to digest the content of the book as a source of inspiration; in some cases traditional lyrics or music suffuse their contributions.

All in all this is a very rich, atmospheric, and beautiful album. What surprised me about it was the pensive and even dreamy atmosphere that it conjures. Perhaps folklore invokes a more reticent and sorrowful kind of werewolf that the beast of contemporary popular imagination, but with the exception of one track (Hedningarna’s “Varulvslåten”) the music is anything but wild or aggressive in character.

This observation need not be taken as a criticism, of course, but it was not quite what this reviewer anticipated. On adjusting my expectations I found myself in the midst of a graceful and eerie collection of songs.

Sedayne and Rapunzel open the proceedings with “Winter Werewolf,” a beautiful voyage through droning strings and hypnotic, melodic coils. It certainly conjures the setting of winter-bare trees and frost-laden breath under a full moon.

Birch Book follow with “Werewolf’s Eyes,” a mournful channeling of the agony of the werewolf’s double life, the melancholy and sadness of its existence. Birch Book invoke the romance and pathos of lycanthropy all at once.

Fursaxa perform a piece called “The Wolf Month.” Mist-slathered male and female vocals tentatively wind across droning melodies; these in turn flow into textural sound tapestries. At times there’s a sing-song quality to the music, and a sinister sting to its proceedings.

Hexvessel‘s “Vainolainen” opens with some Finnish spoken word, which then opens into lush guitars, flute, and bass. The singers enter with a fluid grace, to narrate a vision of lycanthropy which verges on the idyllic and quietly joyous. Such empathy for the subject matter is a pleasure to hear.

KTAOABC‘s “Waltz for Wolves” introduces a more playful feel with organ, banjo, and programmed drums in a skipping 3/4 gait. The vocal styles, organwork, and carnival feel conjure intimations of The Doors, as do the exultant declarations of chaos and demise.

Faun Fables are known for their unique and intense folk music music performances and in “A Fearful Name” they narrative the exploits of a werewolf, and its subsequent flight from vengeful townsfolk, with an edgy grandeur. The song binds tranquil moments with more daring passages. All in all an exquisite adventure in musical storytelling.

Vie sinä Leena then present us with “Kunnes pyöreä on kuu,” which to these ears sounds a lot like how The Third and the Mortal would have been if they’d been a folk band (and that should be taken as high praise). Strings, guitar, female vocals, bass all combine to conjure dreamlike imagery of nocturnal, supernatural, happenings.

Korp follow next with “Varulven (visa från Västergötland).” This is a traditional composition and lyric, in this case arranging the sprightly duet between male and female vocals around a mouth harp. It lends a nice touch of retro-authenticity to the proceedings.

“Varulvens tid” by Ulvens döttrar follows next. Wonderful and very strong three-part female harmonies are the heart of this piece, set against minimal instrumental elements (percussion standing out in particular). Particularly notable is the song’s subtle but infectious groove. Lyrically, this is another reflection on the tormented and unnatural existence that the wretched werewolf must lead.

Tondurakar perform a piece called “Visa om karolinen Anders Gråben.” This was the only track on the album that didn’t resonate well with my ears. Although being beautifully executed folk music, it sounds a little too glossy, and a little too happy, to sit comfortably with the other songs on the release. This criticism does not detract from the excellent musicianship on display, however.

Legendary folk songsmiths Hedningarna close the proceedings with “Varulvslåten,” a wild and raucous howl into the night! This is probably my favorite track, if only because it met exactly my expectations for the release as a whole. A very memorable and raucous ending to end the album!

Anyone who loves folk music will find something in this release, and it is a wonderful way to be introduced to a wide range of exceptionally talented artists. Malört deserve every congratulation for their musical taste and for gathering together such a rich compilation.

Click here to stream songs from the album.

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