Review Summary: A fragment of a much larger stone still buried beneath the earth
Neofolk can sometimes be a pretty tough genre, due in large part to the fact that it is quite easy to tread into the realm of cliché with a sound that can be quite cut and dry. However, there is also room for the flourishing of creativity, and it is in this space we find Ainulindalë’s latest record Nevrast
, a Tolkien-inspired trip through the whimsical landscapes of Middle-Earth that saunters around from the light and airy to the sad and mournful. This French band gained relatively major exposure in the genre when their track “A Year of Silence” was slotted alongside many venerable neofolk acts on the compilation Whom the Moon a Nightsong Sings
. While that song brought along a surprising injection of truly deep melancholy in an album not exactly bereft of sorrowful tunes, Nevrast
wants to stride on another path.
The mellow tones in tracks like “By The Shore” prove to kick a trend in many recent neofolk albums to be perpetually dark, and it is indeed quite a refreshing dash through territory that is typically left abandoned. That’s not to say that the album is emotionally flat and unwilling to bend its simple acoustic guitars in another direction, because beneath the overt hopefulness there is a slicing undercurrent of sadness. It’s a perfect partner, and in the generally downtrodden cleans of vocalist/mastermind Thomas Reybard (aka Engwar) the music develops a bit of a two-tone feel, with a depth of emotion that runs deeper than your typical collection of acoustic neofolk tracks. The music is generally crawling along as the guitars lay out a foundation that is built up by both male and female vocals, as well as a welcome display of strings and horns that dance between the simplistic riffing, accentuating and differentiating one mood from the next.
It needs to be said that this pace does tend to take away a lot of the atmosphere that the instruments work so hard to build, because during many songs things fall flat as exhausted instrumental licks grow tired and in need of reinforcements that never come. This is sadly more common than just one or two instances, and reveals perhaps the single reason why Nevrast
does not fully achieve what it set out to do: the album has a pervading feeling of restraint. It is as if Ainulindalë are trapped in their own shell, unable to write their way out, instead restricting us to slight visions of what would happen if they were to do so. Nevrast
shines, though, when these visions do come forth; when things are constantly changing, whether it be the heightened pace amidst dancing nylon guitar strings on “Vinyamar” or “Distant Land”, or during the dueling vocals of “Namarië” and “Nevrast”. Indeed, in the title track the band manages to stretch their wings fully, with perhaps their best song to date, due in no small part to the fact that it is by far their most daring. The pace begins to soar; the sorrowful vocals steadily build into several crescendos that seep atmosphere and emotion like nothing else on the record.
That may be it then: the band seems to restrain themselves when they should go out and reach for the stars and capture the essence of a given mood rather than attempt to replicate it with occasionally amateurish results. The music is true, the emotion is real, but the composition has a tendency to keep it all from bursting out and letting the listener know just how talented Ainulindalë can be. There is no doubt of Nevrast’s
success, although there is also no doubt of its shortcomings. They are duly noted, though, so instead it should be said what they have to offer a blossoming neofolk scene, and what they do have is ambition. It is clear that there is an openness and eagerness to improve – the fact that Nevrast
is far and away better than The Lay of Leithian
is proof of this – so there is no reason not to believe that this album is another step towards an identity separate from that of any of the other neofolk bands out there, and Nevrast
is a canvas upon which that identity can be built.