From those who are familiar with Wapentake from Hampshire, England from the debut cassette A Saxon Pastoral, their expectations of acoustic guitar-driven meditational natural folk compositions will be more than met. Hreodbeorht, the persona behind Wapentake continues to weave his Ænglisc magic with eight tracks of Anglo-Saxon bliss. The compositions are simplistic and quite light overall (and lo-fi) with double-tracked acoustic guitar against natural soundscapes and samples of fire crackling, forest leaves, cold North winds blowing and such providing the compositions with a rustic quality bringing us closer to nature.
This is a cassette-only release but there are plans to launch this in CD format at some point in the near future. Side 1 starts with ‘Firewood’ which lulls us into a soporific trance as we glance at the embers within the fire while the air is enveloped with a sense of mysticism and an ancestral heathen spirituality. It is a slowly-woven melody (that would also sound stunning on a classical piano) on an acoustic guitar reminiscent of contemporary artists such as Wolcensmen and Ulver evoking our sense of national romanticism and ancestral pride. The sense continues through to “Harvest”, the second track which is brooding and powerfully vigorous yet soft also. It could be regarded as more uplifting and as a calling to stand up and be proud of whom we are rather than the title suggests. It is more like an acoustic march to war rather than an end-of-summer celebration of harvesting our gifts from nature.
The third track ‘The Harrowing’ seems incongruous to the rest with its tardy melodic introduction which often stumbles awkwardly out of time against an unmixed electric guitar which disrupts the balance of all that is achieved but once this has faded out it breaks into a heavy lo-fi rock-driven bone-crunching set of riffs with some great melodic parts against all against a tambourine. Imagine Iron Maiden’s ‘Transylvania’ made hybrid with Steeleye Span traditional folk. It is an odd mix but it is effective in parts.
The fourth track ‘A Saxon Pastoral” is one of the most accomplished out of all the pieces and very reminiscent of Wolcensmen and early Ulver with vocal chanting against some beautiful guitar harmonies and melodies.
‘The Hermit’ follows with a solitary and lonely sense of melancholy as the wind blows through the cracks in our window and causes our candle to flicker. There is a deep, musty medieval ambience to this track and it is thoroughly enjoyable. Hreodbeorht has nailed it.
‘Ytene’ is another delightful gem. Ytene is the former name of the New Forest in Hampshire and the spirits of the ancient forest have been captured perfectly with chirping birds, leaves rusting in the boughs and the babbling of the brook. The guitar composition is very pleasant and this is one of the most meditative and enjoyable pieces. This is the level it needs to be at. It brings us closer to nature and restores the soul with light like a shaft of sun piercing the overhanging boughs in the glade.
We follow the babbling brook which becomes louder and faster flowing with ‘Murmurations’ where the noises of the forest are loudest as the hand-drum pounds against a shimmering tambourine and keyboards which give the whole track a dungeon synth feel similar to artists like Murgrind or Grimrik. We can feel the true essence of the woodlands which become alive with the presence of Woden or Cernunnos. The stag and the hart, the wild boar, the horses and hounds that race through the woods in the ecstasy of the hunt are visualised with ease as we watch them disappear as apparitions and return to consciousness at the stream from where we began.
The final concluding track ‘Memorial’ is a dark, brooding almost country-noir Americana elegy which lasts only less than three minutes. Perhaps it is an elegy in mourning for our lost Saxon world of magic and nature-celebration amid the brutally onset of grey modernity and Christianity.
Hreodbeorht has to be praised for his conviction to the cause for evoking our sense of national pride and reviving the dormant ancestral pride that sleeps within us all. Long may Wapentake continue and bring us warmth and magic at our hearth.