Review Summary: Evoking the voices of the ancients.
Pablo Ursusson and his bandmates may have roots and repute in the Spanish punk and countercultures of the 1990s, but the music they create under the moniker Sangre de Muerdago exhibits none of the abrasiveness those tags would imply. Instead, the Galician collective repurposes the underground’s creative fires to weave otherworldly folk tales through an earthy lattice of nylon-stringed guitar arpeggios, desolate violas, warbling flutes, and sparse percussion and form delicate laments inspired by the many mysteries of nature. The aid of a few more exotic sonic textures, including the nyckelharpa, hammered dulcimer, and hurdy-gurdy, produces an enchanting, primordial air to complement this stark change of tonality.
The band’s 2015 offering and third long-player O Camiño das Mans Valeiras
finds their neofolk blend at its most potent and pure. Here the compositions, performance, and lyrics coalesce like never before and the mutual heart of the band is fully exposed. The result is a stirring and intimate assortment of dark folk music that dabbles in a bit of black magic to breathe new life into the subtle yet soul-baring stylings of the late-1970s-era Galician folk movement.
The record may have been captured north of the Thuringian Forest on a cold, February weekend, but the disposition of these eight songs is markedly inviting. A heartfelt sincerity and ghostly warmth pervades each track, from the album’s windswept opening moments to its beseeching denouement. These features are best witnessed in moments like the rousing a cappella conclusion of “Xordas” and the elegant verses of the title track.
Aural diversity is another noteworthy quality. In a genre renowned for a homogeneity that can span whole records and some artists’ entire discographies, Sangre de Muerdago breaks the mold by using evolving song structures to fashion a sound world that moves effortlessly from melody to melody and story to story without compromising the ingrained melancholic tone of the whole. Also, no two tracks are alike. “Mensaxeiros do Pasado”, for example, is a haunting account of a chance meeting with phantoms from the next world that relies heavily on chorale arrangements to evoke the voices of ancient spirits, whereas “De Musgo e Pedra” dismisses vocals almost entirely and hinges its eerie strains on a backdrop of droning strings and hurdy-gurdy.
O Camino das Mans Valeiras
is more than just a high water mark in Sangre de Muerdago’s output. The album also proves the much-needed point that there is still room for passion and authenticity in the world of neofolk. For its focus, its integrity, and its beauty, O Camino das Mans Valeiras
deserves mention alongside 2015’s best folk releases.