Friday, 4 March 2011

OAK FOLK [V/A]

Band: HREFNESHOLT
Title: Oak Folk
Format: 6 panel digipak CD pressing on the Ahnstern label (Austria) from 2010, cat ref AORCD 14 / AHNSTERN 48. Contains 12 exclusive tracks contributed by European and North American bands, theming their songs to the motif of the sacred oak tree. The concept is the brainchild of Gerhard Hallstatt of the band Allerseelen (see text). You can download or just listen to the 'Oak Folk' medley - a 30 second mp3 sample of all 12 songs - through the Steinklang site.
Edition: unknown, presumed unlimited

Track Listing:
01 Agalloch - Where Shade Once Was 5.14
02 Allerseelen - Eiche Aus Eisen 4.32
03 Arnica - Altas Hojas 4.22
04 Changes - The Oak Trees 2.26
05 Dannagoischd - Ôichâbleddr Onnd Ôichâsâmâ 5.43
06 Fräkmündt - Eiche, Tüüfu, Geissebueb 3.49
07 Hrefnesholt - Winter Eiche 8.00
08 Klammheim - Des Mörders Eiche 4.21
09 Splinterskin - A Bed Of Burning Leaves 4.16
10 Sturmpercht - Die Tausenjährige Eiche 4.05
11 Waldteufel - Unter Einer Eiche 4.43
12 Werra - Eichenlaub 3.56

Certainly a well presented CD this one, featuring one of Nazgul's favourite projects: Hrefnesholt.

Look up this CD online and you'll be sure to stumble across this description, which seems to have been used wholesale on every message board and label link out there!

"Oak Folk is a CD anthology compiled by Gerhard Hallstatt from Allerseelen with exclusive contributions by numerous European and North American groups who have one thing in common: a close connection to nature, to trees and woods. All the groups were invited to write a song about the sacred oaktree. The result is a wonderful compilation with songs with an atmosphere somewhere between Dark Ambient, Folklore and sometimes even a slight Black Metal touch. The CD comes in a 6-page-digipack edition with photographs by Gerhard Hallstatt, designed by Haate Kaate who already did stunning artwork for other Ahnstern groups like Allerseelen and Svarrogh."

A number of these bands will be familiar in name, as they are vehicles for our old friend Cz (Vinterriket) as the interview last month confirmed. The playlist on the album is done alphabetically by band name, which is an elegant was of getting around any ego-problems concerning running order.

"Oak Folk" is described as 'the definite follower of the famous compilation 'Wir rufen deine Wölfe' and you can see why: Gerhard Hallstatt also created that compilation based upon one sole premise wherein the seventeen contributing artists were asked to compose a song based upon the lyrics of a Friedrich Hielscher poem titled 'Wir Rufen Deine Wolfe'. Friedrich Hielscher is an obscure German poet and philosopher whose writing and poetry is being rediscovered and embraced by radical traditionalists and heathens alike. The reviewer at respected Heathen Harvest website called this compilation "is possibly the most innovative Neofolk compilation I have ever listened to", so to be named in the same breath clearly means "Oak Folk" has much to live up to.

It's surprising then that few online reviews of this compilation are to be found. There are a couple out there, the most detailed of which is on the intriguingly named www.whiskey-soda.de site (mine's a large one, fnarrr fnarrr), which notes:

"There are record companies that regularly throw any label-sampler onto the market. Senselessly assembled compilations of already published songs, that are bought by people who need a gift for the sister of the friend of the brother-in-law. After that these CDs find their way to bargain bins where they become available for 99 cents. But sometimes there is a Label that elevates the idea of such samplers, usually at the same time as rather brilliant, cult and highly fascinating releases come out. That applies to Steinklang in the special, remember only the fantastic "We call your wolves" sampler. New songs, with a connection, so different from what is usual in the musical circus.

Now Steinklang have published a worthy successor with 'Oak Folk'. This time the oak is the central subject, and stylistically the respective songs remain faithful to this theme. The oblique acoustics and Alpine Folk of Sturmpercht & Splinterskin offer beautifully influenced folk music. The Hrefnesholt mix is ambient in a vein to tracks already on the magnificent 'Uraungst' album featuring both metal and acoustic work, Fräkmündt are this time especially traditional, and their carrying accordions are one of the absolute highlights of the sampler. Also Dannagoischd remain itself and faithful, also one of the highlights to its dialect Folk with 'Ôichâbleddr Onnd Ôichâsâmâ'.

Changes perfect their idea to voice poems against a background of acoustic guitar - 'The Oak Trees' in spite of the short 2'26 duration transfers one immediately into an intoxicated and beautiful mood. Arnica, Allerseelen and Agalloch are represented also. A fantastic release and not only because the songs are previously unreleased. 'Oak Folk' is unconditionally recommended for everyone!"

Shorter, but more pertinent to Hugin's project, is the review at www.necroweb.de which offers the following on Hrefnesholt's 'Winter Eiche' track - "Hrefnesholt appear with a strong concept, similar to those on the recently released album ("Uraungst") and is a very attractive symbiosis of both Folk and Metal." It is this track that Nazgul is particularly interested in, of course, so what is his view of it?

Well, it starts out with a short crackling fire except - so far, so Uraungst - but then rips into some black metal-style riffing and deeply spoken vocals, to be followed with some strumming acoustic guitar which in turn is overlain by some excellent guitar work. It's a real mixture of elements this song, with the next section retaining the acoustic guitar but throwing in some chanted vocals with the odd scream in the background! The feel of the song is very different from most of the others on this compilation. It's somewhat ironic when in a recent post on a Hexenreich sampler disc Nazgul was noting how much lighter the Uruk Hai track was compared to the other songs present, and here on this sampler the reverse is true as Hrefnersholt kick ass over some of the more 'hey-nonny-ne' style contributors without losing that sense of folk and metal being fused. The song ends with a brief acoustic respite, quickly supported with some electric guitar soloing (!) and with more of that excellent jangling and spiteful guitar: Hrefnesholt have managed to out-Agalloch the mighty Agalloch with this one!

Now basing an entire album around a tribute to a type of tree may sound like a project from the glory days of 1970's Progressive Rock, but of course the oak tree is tremendously symbolic in folklore, if you'll pardon the pun. Prevalent across all European cultures, the oak is deeply connected in British hearts, for example, as representing the very essence of England, and especially the power of the High King and his ancient and spiritual link to the land. It would be hard not to think of this tree as a masculine energy - mighty, strong, enduring and steadfast. The images we have of the Oak are buried deep in in our national psyche. Indeed, it is one of our longest-living trees, spanning generations upon generations. For this reason, old oaks were venerated and used by the Druids, Ovates and Bards, and later by the Kings and the Church, for important meetings and ceremonies.

Wands were made from oakwood from trees which had been struck by lightning in the belief that lightning would not strike twice in the same place, and were used as talismans of protection. Very often, an acorn was carved at the end of a Druid's wand and oak leaves were worn or carried for protection, especially from disaster. A spray of oak leaves was carved on the old shilling and 6d coins, and many family crests and emblems carried the symbol of oak leaves, showing allegiance to the Oak tree and its magickal properties.

The Norse God Thor and all thunder Gods are connected to the Oak, which is often struck by lightning. The force of the blast bursts the trunk apart, often leaving a hollow bole and gnarled and withered trunks. Here lies a warning about stubborn rigid strength which resists and breaks in the storm. Flexibility can be a strength in itself, which can balance the forcefulness of rigid thinking and actions. During the 7th lunar month the Druids carved a circle, divided into 4 equal parts, on the Oak for protection against lightning. This practice is said to be found even today amongst some old foresters in Britain, who continue to carve this symbol onto the Oak to avert disaster for the tree.

For generations upon generations, people have gone to sit beneath the mighty Oak to gain strength and spiritual renewal. The outside world can be forgotten and the inner world can slip back into perspective. The Oak can allegedly help to find new understanding and vision, gained from life experiences. This in turn will bring strength and courage to fact whatever life has to offer you.

Reverie about oak trees duly finished, it's time to conclude this post!

A fascinating mixture of songs to be sure, and although some have surfaced through YouTube clips and via MySpace pages they are essentially unique to this compilation. This alone makes it something of a collector's item for a fan of any of the bands featured. I did think the Agalloch track was excellent, as was the novel approach offered by Changes and the wistful sorrow offered through the Splinterskin track. There's also that Fräkmündt with its rousing accordions, which is a real toe-tapper and beer stein-swinger! The Hrefnesholt track is certainly a tour-de-force in the band's recorded history though, and proudly promotes the band on this particular compilation.

If you're a fan of the folk-tinged rock genre then there's a fair chance you'll love this album, and anyone with an ear for a good tune and thoughtful lyrics will also find much to enjoy as there isn't one bad song amongst them.

One final thought though - what a golden opportunity missed for a folk-reworking of the old allegorical Rush standard 'The Trees', complete with the salutary tale of those mischevious oaks and repressed maples. Ah well....

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