In this rather elegantly designed 4 panel gatefold sleeve lies the double-CD "Where Tattered Clouds Are Stranding", released by our old friends The Eastern Front.
The somewhat unusual album name derives from a line in the poem 'Gunnar's Holm' by Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson: In the south of Iceland, between the Eyjafjöll and Fljótshlíð, in the area sloping up from Landeyjar toward the interior, is a wide expanse of plain. Once it was covered with grass but is now almost completely buried in sand and gravel as a result of fluvial erosion. At one place in this waste of sand, east of Cross River, a patch of grassy ground remains intact. It is known as Gunnar's Holm and people still say this is where Gunnar from Hlíðarendi turned back when he and his brother were riding to their ship; the story is familiar from Njál's saga. This is the background to the poem:
This numbered limited edition compilation is, in fact, a tribute to the life and work of the Icelandic sculptor and painter Einar Jónsson (1874-1954). At a young age Einar proved himself to be an unusual child with an artistic bent. At that time there was little or no tradition of sculpture in Iceland, so Einar moved to Denmark where he attended the Copenhagen Academy of Art. In 1902 the Althing (the Icelandic parliament) awarded Einar a grant to study in Rome for 2 years. He returned from Rome to Copenhagen and settled down there. In 1909, after living abroad for almost 20 years he made an arrangement with the Althing to provide him with a home and studio in Reykjavík. In return, he agreed to donate all his works to the country.
"Where Tattered Clouds Are Stranding, the label’s 13th release, is easily their most ambitious yet, though, and it seems likely to really make the post-industrial scene in general sit up and pay attention to what The Eastern Front is doing ... [they] have assembled a very impressive and international roster of artists for this tribute. The vast majority of the 28 tracks presented here were composed especially for the album, and the many well-known contributors represented here make this an unusually important compilation."
The importance for Nazgul is rendered somewhat more simply with the presence of track 5 on CD2, where WACH make a rare appearance on these pages with an all new track, "March of the Sleepless." Following the opening passage (sounding to these ears like the pomp and ceremony conveyed by an orchestra at the start of a symphony) the track develops with the sound of a regular strike pattern (itself developing into a more percussive marching rhythm) overlain with a light, echoing synthesiser which is akin to a eerie wind blowing across the industrial landscape thus created. The overall effect gives the image of power, work and creativity, which seems appropriate given the concept of the album as a whole.
As background to the release as a whole, the two CDs of ...Where Tattered Clouds Are Stranding come packaged in a very elegant double gatefold cardboard sleeve, with pictures of Jónsson’s sculptures. The two discs are entitled ‘Grief’ and ‘Birth Of Psyche’.
The first CD, ‘Grief’, is devoted to neo-folk and martial industrial artists, with 14 contributors overall, including such famous names as H.E.R.R. and Von Thronstahl, Cawatana, Rukkanor, Cold Fusion, Storm Of Capricorn, Horologium and Westwind.
The disc opens with ‘Morgen’, recorded in 2005, from the now sadly defunct German husband-and-wife neo-folk duo Belborn. The track is acoustic guitar-based, with both male and female vocals and ambient electronics in the background adding another layer of interest to the mournful folk ballad. Cold Fusion’s ‘May Be Another Way’ is very different, a vigorous rock drum workout, with crowd sounds and spectal female vocals. Other highlights of the first disc include Cawatana’s song ‘Have No Option (This Is A Dream)’, which features Agnes Toth from Hungarian band The Moon And The Nightspirit – too bad The Moon And The Nightspirit don’t appear in their own right, their music is always rewarding.
Weihan’s ‘Útlagar’ (‘Outlaws’) displays a bombastic, barbaric splendour reminiscent of Graveland’s Creed Of Iron-era work. H.E.R.R. and Von Thronstahl collaborate on ‘Liberating Spirit’, with the end result blending H.E.R.R.’s neo-classical elegance with Von Thronstahl’s austere, militant rock. Josef K.’s vocals are a kind of death metal growl I’ve never heard him employ before. Kammer Sieben’s ‘Ihr’ provides a quiet interlude amongst the prevailing martial stridency of the first disc, with a delicate picked harp melody leading into swelling orchestral strings, brass and lugubrious timpani. Horologium’s ‘Fate’ mixes baleful keyboards with vocal samples from film and opera to absorbing effect. Polish martial project Rukkanor closes disc one with ‘Epitaph’, which sets lyrics by Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh to picked guitar, tubular bells and snare drum rolls for a slow melancholic elegy.
The second CD, ‘Birth Of Psyche’, is given over to more ambient and industrial artists, and there are also 14 contributors here, including Artefactum, Rose Rovine E Amanti, Shining Vril and Kadaver. It’s probably fair to say that there are a lot fewer famous names on this disc than on the first one, but there’s still plenty of interesting music to be enjoyed here, and some new discoveries to be made. Kadaver’s ‘Funerals Of Tomorrow’ is a collaboration with Refuse To Die. A muted trumpet sounds in the distance, obscured by suffocating layers of drones, in the style of As All Die or Folkstorm’s quieter moments. Rose Rovine E Amanti contribute ‘Violini E Rose’, which is a radical departure from anything I’ve heard from this project before – layers of violins playing chamber music over a rippling submarine ambience, with the repetitive phrasing recalling the work of modern composers like Philip Glass or Steve Reich.
It’s very interesting, and a long way from the typical Italian neo-folk Rose Rovine E Amanti have released previously – it was a surprise to find them on disc two of this set, not disc one, but the nature of their music justifies this choice. Gandolfs Gedanken, last heard by me on the Hermann Hendrich tribute CD, present ‘Gewissensbisse’ in which a bright, harpsichord-like phrase repeats over cavernously deep percussion and a confused babel of German vocal samples. Shining Vril, the dark ambient solo project of industrial scene stalwart John Murphy, contribute ‘Figure I’, a baffling piece of Nurse With Wound-like experimental psychedelia, with long accordion drones embellished with shifting, restless layers of obscure chirrups, whispers and chimes. Gregorio Bardini’s ‘Cobra’ is a live track, a soothing and meltingly beautiful duet for harp and flute which seems quite out of place among the industrial rigours of disc two. Sitra Ahra is a German project previously unknown to me, but ‘The Scorching Breath’ is top-notch ritualistic ambient in the vein of Inade, Apoptose or Coil, with hissing whispers insinuating themselves between suspenseful strings, amid an atmosphere of stifling menace – well worth checking out.
Nazgul's copy of this album is #30 of 1,000 and although it's not an album that finds its way onto the death-deck that often, it is certainly a rewarding experience to play through once in a while.