Review Summary: Beautiful dark folk from Germany with some creepy undertones. A wonderful musical journey through lonesome woods, inspired by Nordic mythology and nature itself.
Untrodden woods in the fall. Snowy landscapes, glittering with frost. Malicious creatures lurking silently in their holes. Careful animals cautiously weaselling around, constantly on their guard. Those are the mental pictures “Vergessene Pfade” arouses in one’s mind.
Neun Welten is a five-piece neofolk or dark folk (whatever the difference is) band from Leipzig, Germany that was formed in 2002, and after the demo CD “... auf ewig Wald ...” and the “Valg EP”, this is their first full length studio album.
The name Neun Welten means “nine worlds” and is a reference to Nordic mythology, which has the world divided into nine worlds, unified by Yggdrasil the World Tree. To those familiar with black metal that cosmology won’t be new because it’s an inspiration for many bands of that genre. However, I think no band has personated those ideas better than Neun Welten. Apart from mythology the music is also inspired by “beauteousness of nature”, as can be read on their Myspace page.
As musical influences they list post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Isis, but also metal acts like Agalloch or Ulver. Actually the band originally started out by trying to transfer black metal to acoustic arrangements. But the more new musicians joined the band, the more the sound turned towards folk music. Still there is a creepy feeling attached to the beautiful melodies that must be a relict from the metal origins. No matter how calm the music is, there’s always something dangerous lurking under it and the fact that it never breaks free only enhances the spooky atmosphere. The creation of this sensation starts with the song titles, all referring in one way or another to nature or mythology. Examples are Nebelland
meaning “mistland”, Auf kargem Fels
meaning “on meager rock” and titles like Svartalfheim
that refer to mythological places. The album title is best translated with “forsaken paths”.
The leading instruments are violin, flute and clarinet. All three are played with great passion and emotion, but the star is Aline Deinert on violin who is a master on her instrument: the violin is impulsive, beautiful, melancholic and dangerous. The two acoustic guitars offer a nice backup, mainly picking or strumming chords, and are taking the lead only a few times. As a replacement for the missing bass a cello is used - which works much nicer with the music than a bass could have ever done. The drums are decently in the background for most of the time, only when the music gains momentum they are what drive it forward. I was surprised at how well the drums were integrated in the music because they could have been distracting easily, being the only instrument that doesn’t really fit in the mystical and fantastic image of the band. But the instrument I was most curious about actually was the Jew’s Harp and I was somehow disappointed that it’s only to be heard shortly in Tamtrollbach
. To enhance the mystical feeling some sparingly sound effects are used between the songs, from howling wind and purling water to singing birds.
The album is almost completely instrumental. Sometimes there are some beautiful, nonlyrical background vocals added, but only Svartalfheim
offer German lyrics that are presented in proper style. On Svartalfheim
deep male whispers and a little female choir alternate and complement one another. The theme is the creation account of Norse Mythology and the fact that I only understand fractions of the lyrics due to the singing style strengthens the uncanniness even more. The lyrics of Heidenacht
are almost completely unintelligible to me, they are sung very hushed, almost whispered, but still have a frightening tone to them. This last song is claimed to be played live, but there’s no crowd heard. Instead there are some cracking noises throughout the song that sound like a campfire.
But now to the cons: within the 45 minutes of music there is not much variation, many people will call this repetitive, and even I have to admit that towards the end the musical ideas seem somehow stretched. The first three songs are all purely amazing, being the three longest and most varied on the album. Auf kargem Fels
are on the same level as the start. All the other songs are beautiful too, but the album begins to drag after the first half - not because the second half is worse, but because there’s nothing new added to it. Still it is enjoyable music I like listening to.
All in all “Vergessene Pfade” is beautiful and relaxing on the surface, but uncomfortable and creepy on some deeper level. It won’t please everybody, but if you like atmospheric music or folk (also folk-metal like Agalloch) you will like it.