2CD, The Eastern Front, 2008
Einar Jónsson (1874 – 1954) is one of Iceland’s most celebrated sculptors. He spent much of the first half of the twentieth century creating great public monuments to national heroes and deeply evocative private works of Nordic folklore and mythology. Unsurprisingly he is a very popular subject for the post-industrial music scene, however this compilation is curiously from just outside Europe, on the Israeli label The Eastern Front. Despite this, a host of up-and-coming names from around the continent are gathered to pay tribute to the artist.
The first disc, “Grief,” named after a piece finished in 1927, contains mostly neo-folk and martial industrial tunes, and the standard is pleasingly high. Belborn open tentatively with a melancholic guitar piece entitled “Der Morgen,” followed by Cold Fusion’s deft, um, fusion of syncopated dance beats with threatening sirens and triumphant cheers. Storm Of Capricorn deliver a stirring march, “Come From Far And Wide,” albeit with a slightly more archaic feel to the horns and drums, while Larrnakh strengthens its mystical feel with spoken Hungarian vocals in the background to solemn English singing. Westwind and Weihan offer up a dramatic pairing of heavily rhythmic, martial tracks before Zebaoth slows things down with a more ominous feel in “Drought Now.”
Another Hungarian act, Cawatana, colour their nostalgic folk music effectively with more of their deep native tongue, while a collaboration of big names, H.E.R.R and Von Thronstahl, unfortunately favour less well with a slightly awkward blend of slow heavy metal guitars, uplifting orchestral synths and some sampled German shouting. This seems to be the point at which quality diminishes, as Aeldaborn and Kammer Sieben fail to display the skills needed to overcome neo-folk clichés. Horologium’s “Fate” is more pleasing, brooding slowly and sinisterly, before setting off on a march decorated with rather demented vocal samples. The Russian/Israeli artist Agnivolok delivers a more experimental piece of watery ambiences, leading to a tragic Russian folk song, before the Polish act Rukkanor closes the disc softly with its sentimental “Epitaph.”
The second disc is named after a sculpture finished in 1918, entitled “Birth Of Psyche,” and features mainly dark ambient artists, unfortunately not of the most memorable variety. Artefactum have a suitably haunting atmosphere but are rather repetitive, while Hoarfrost performs a similar task with some meandering classical guitar work. Rose Rovine E Amanti indulges itself with a four-minute violin practice, so it is a relief when Wach’s oppressive “March Of The Sleepless” supersedes it. Simulacra is barely trying, Shining Vril’s piece is irritating, with a lot of tinkling and high-pitched droning, and Gregorio Bardini’s “Cobra” sounds more like a kitten. Sitra Ahra and Bisclavaret are both rather fond of strange and annoying whispered voices, and Objekt4 has twice as much time as the other bands to amuse itself, but luckily minimal electro experts Echo West are at hand to improve things with some cold, snappy beats and rich synth tones.
Certainly this compilation is worth listening to for anyone interested in neo-folk and dark ambient, but the Einar Jónsson connection could have been developed further and there are plenty of higher quality compilations available for those new to the scene.
— Nathan Clemence