Review Summary: A captivating, emotional, and masterfully-crafted achievement of not only neofolk music, but of music in general.
Never in recent memory has instrumental folk music seemed more epic and grand-scale than on Musk Ox’s Woodfall
. Due to the genre’s tendency to be relatively relaxing and atmospheric, I often find myself being drawn to instrumental folk in times of stress or when I simply need to calm down after a long day’s proceedings. Vali’s Skogslandskap
, for instance, encapsulates my favorite elements of the neofolk genre; boasting serene arrangements that focus on the subtle elegance of nature. Woodfall
, however, is an entirely different venture from most well-known neofolk; so much so that it defies any sort of genre-labeling. A mere two albums into their career, and Musk Ox have already perfected their sound and released one of the most extraordinarily emotional albums of the past few years.
There was no surprise upon learning that Woodfall
was six years in the making. With five tracks spanning an hour in length all together, the album is massive both in size and scope. Woodfall
is ambitious from start to finish, with each expansive track covering a slew of different emotions while never succumbing to stagnancy. The album’s tone changes frequently, but never feels forced or disjointed, continually serving to entice the listener with each passing second. Although no song remains the same throughout, each track has an entirely different focus and conveys its own unique imagery. Beginning with the soft, ambient sounds of nature, opening track “Part 1 - Earthrise” has an extremely lighthearted feeling to it, with the violin painting a gorgeous picture of a colorful garden alive with all sorts of life. Yet, as the song progresses and the instruments begin to crescendo, an oncoming sense of fear becomes all the more present. “Part 4 - Above the Clouds” on the other hand, despite remaining true to the album’s overall sound, has an entirely different agenda. The harmonies between the violins and cello creates a wonderful dichotomy that seems to tell the epic tale of an adventure that pits forces of good against evil. Perhaps most notable of all is “Part 5 - Serenade the Constellations.” Opening with ethereal guitar picking played over an ambient-like backdrop, the song wraps up Woodfall
perfectly by encompassing each of the album’s different emotional themes. In fact, throughout its seventeen-minutes, “Part 5 - Serenade the Constellations” creates an atmosphere so mournful and contemplative that it is difficult not to be brought to tears as the song, and album likewise, decrescendos to its end with the same ambience in which the album began.
The ingenious way in which Woodfall
is crafted sets it apart from other contemporary neofolk releases more than anything else. By incorporating elements of classical music, post-rock, and even metal into their sound to convey an entire assortment of emotions, Musk Ox’s sound is one that is both unique and intriguing. Every song is built by layers of harmonious melodies that range from calm and ambient to jaw-droppingly intense. There are so many intricacies to each layer of Musk Ox’s music that the listener is always kept completely immersed. Although the album’s ambition is overreaching at times, dragging slightly during “Part 3 - Arcanum,” there is no moment in which Woodfall
becomes repetitive; a remarkable feat for an hour-long instrumental release that relies heavily on atmosphere. Another element of the album that is bound to further the keep the listener engaged is Musk Ox’s absolutely top-notch instrumentation. Band members Nathanael Larochette, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, and Evan Runge are masterful musicians, each one displaying his individual skill on certain parts of every song. Powerful, soaring melodies by the violin, incredibly passionate classical guitar and dark, often heavy cello playing create a sound so grandiose that it is easily comparable to a full orchestra.
is a step beyond what one would mostly identify as excellent instrumental folk music. Sure, the album is full of beauty and serenity, but to call it merely a “beautiful” or “serene” album does Musk Ox a great disservice. Woodfall
is a captivating experience; one that encompasses a large variety of emotions from sadness, to jubilly, to fear, while never losing its focus. Like most neofolk, this album is easy to get lost in, but at the same time challenges the listener to explore the depths of their subconscious with extravagant arrangements that tell fascinating stories. If anything, Woodfall
is an indication that, despite them being around for ten years now, the story of Musk Ox has just begun.