Review Summary: A slow-burning excursion into the deepest thickets.
Airy, layered melodies hover with weightless anticipation in the opening moments of Nebelung’s 2014 release Palingenesis
, like a bird of prey before the deep woods’ brambly facade. Before long, the sonorous strike of a drum triggers a headlong hurtle toward the heart of the forest and the listener rides on falcon wings, careening through dense fog and gnarled branches.
The affecting music of this German trio’s latest work is a veritable encapsulation of the natural world. Sinewed by melancholy and hopefulness, the slight instrumentation and mantra-like structures of these 6 songs practically emit the fertile aromas of rain-soaked timbers and moss. Winding, mist-clad passages of melismatic cello, droning harmonium, hammered dulcimer and arpeggiated guitar conjure images of morning’s arrival over a landscape ravaged by winter.
The album’s true splendor stems from Nebelung’s willingness to allow the music to breathe. The band employs minimalism to dazzling effect, using basic progressions to usher in this enveloping mystical aura. The result is magical and eerie all at once. Rhythms and melodies wander freely and evolve at their own organic pace, never forcefully. Tracks mature like grass chutes emerging from soil or vines ascending tree trunks in slow pursuit of the sun (eg, ‘Nachtgewalt’, ‘Aufgang’). Others surge and recede like rivulets that build or break their banks by night (eg, ‘Polaris’).
For all its lifelike depictions of alfresco sojourns, however, the journey offered here is also acutely internal. Centering on the concepts of rebirth and recreation, the album’s delicate core is fully-informed by the knowledge of inevitable death and the desire for eventual refinement and transformation. Not all death is to be feared for not all death is permanent. This notion is certainly characteristic of the physical world, but it is also very human.
The theme of introspection and renewal is further realized by Palingenesis
’ role in Nebelung’s discography. The record shows the band making a few radical alterations to their musical approach. Here, vocals are relegated to subdued whispers or distant chants, a stark contrast to previous efforts. The occasional voice’s seeming sole purpose is to serve as the inner thoughts of a traveler wandering into a realm where words are no longer needed. To say anything would be to impede unnecessarily on this place of unmolested beauty and darkness being evoked by the instruments. The ostensible paradox of grace and gloom, best evidenced by the powerful closer ‘Innerlichkeit’, lends the album a degree of rigidity that not only intensifies the music, but benefits it.
While slow-paced and remarkably simple, Palingenesis
is a transporting and indefinably beautiful dark folk album that examines tenants of the inner and outer worlds, while using rich detail to blur the boundaries between the two. The record is a subtle highlight of 2014 that does not deserve to be overlooked.