The debut album from Wolcensmen, ‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ is a truly unique collection of historically thematic English folk steeped in a heathen magic and submerged in a time of mythological folklore from the dark to later middle ages. While it is predominantly an acoustic album made of traditional instruments to validate its hearkening sense of national romanticism, it becomes much more progressive and transcends the English folk to a more wider cinematic neo-classicism using natural sound samples awashed with dungeon synth. Combined with simple, yet powerfully memorable melodies against a backdrop of velveted cello and ethereal flute, it fulfills the yearning for something epic and outstanding. It could easily be the soundtrack for potential historical films such as Gawain and The Green Knight, Layamon’s Brut and Piers Plowman if they were twice-immersed in a pagan mysticism.
The lyrics are crafted in middle English verse although sung as modern English mostly (easier for both rhyme and metre). The whole project is written and composed by Dan Capp with the help of guest musicians Raphael Weinroth-Browne (known for his classical cello with Musk Ox), keyboards and synthesisers from dungeon synthmaster Grimrik, Jake Rogers (from Gallowbraid and Visigoth) who plays such beautifully haunting flute melodies against Dan’s melancholic acoustic guitar, Nash Rothanburg from the highly-rated Nordic spiritual folk band Byrdi (a firm favourite of Otherworld) chanting.
The album is introduced with ‘Withershins’ which sets the neo-classical tone with an acoustic classical guitar sequence evoking a sense of an earlier Europe with a melancholic melody, almost Hispanic or Moorish but not quite, but without question moving back in time to an historical setting of romanticism and mysticism. It is overlaid with dreamlike chanting and followed by the sudden chill of a nordic wind where a classical piano emulates both beautifully and hauntingly the melody of the guitar.
We arrive at the first song ‘The Fyre-Bough’ with lyrics steeped in pagan imagery and symbolism bringing immediately in the concept of ‘wyrd’ and setting a very Anglo-Saxon/Germanic backdrop to the rest of the album in a way that can only be described as epic. The interplay between the cello and the flute is fantastic and takes what would be a folk song into a potential filmscore ensuring goosebumps when it reaches its climax with the penny whistle instantly conjuring our genetic memory from ancient battles like Brunanburh with the English against a Nordic/Scots alliance. Having said that, it is a very warming piece and should be best played in a candlelit cabin with wine or mead as the winter draws in.
The second song ‘Sunne’ is almost like a heathen prayer celebrating the sun perhaps rising in the morning or at Yuletide to follow through on the wintry theme where the sun is reborn for a new year ahead to steer us ahead into prosperity and sustain us. It’s almost anthemic with its highly catchy, simplistic melody. They should teach this at school.
Next follows ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ where we behold Woden himself upon his steed (Sleipnir?) leading the gods over Bifrost to Asgard. The guitar powerfully yet delicately weaves its spell as the tale is told in poetic form in Edda tradition. To authenticate its Nordic quality, Nash Rothanburg chants his ‘galdr’ spell amid what is probably one of the highlights of the album. The composition is exquisite and made magical with the duelling between Grimrik’s fantastical synthesisers and Dan’s ethereal melody weaving.
‘Neath a Wreath of Firs’ comes next with dungeonesque synths creating a sense of brooding in an introduction to a ten-minute track which starts with a Tolkienesque or Brothers Grimm riddle-like poetic verse where the meaning is ambiguous but perhaps is about the earth itself in slumber or a mountain giant (jotun) whose single daily movement equates to the passage of many kingships in time. Musically it is reminiscent of the early releases from Ulver or the forest folk of Vali or Forseti albeit much more progressive than neofolk. It is like a journey to the previous millennium and made much more psychedelic with a whole appended addition of Grimrik’s synthesisers taking us through the vast cavernous spaces under the earth to the roots of the mountain and out soaring over the tops of the fir trees to the apex and beyond time to another dimension.
‘The Mon o’Micht’ is the next song which is a singular verse of what is described in the sleevenotes as a ‘North Country charm dating to at least the 14th century’ and believed to be dedicated to Woden. Linguistically it looks like Gallowegian/Strathclyde or far Northumbrian in dialect. It is said to be a charm or spell to be recited nine times before sleep to prevent nightmares where Woden/Odin is the protector against the mare. The melody is powerfully simple and is accentuated greatly with the supporting brass-like clarions that march almost into battle against the forces of darkness. It has to be applauded to resurrect such ancient verse and bring it alive with a musical composition with such reverence.
‘Snowfall’ is an instrumental which follows and takes us to a more tranquil dreamscape with such hauntingly beautiful weaving between the guitar and flute. The flautist is given free space to colour in the vast shadows yet somehow with a melancholic light – almost like a yearning for yesterday. The musicianship is on par with the best of sixties pagan band The Moody Blues at their most psychedelic (In Search of the Lost Chord/Days of Future Passed era).
‘The Bekens are Aliht’ returns back to the epic with anthemic brass-driven melodies that echo Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s progressive rock but with an Anglo-Saxon/Germanic flavour as we ride through the wintry cold in yearning to return to the warmth of our loved ones at home, perhaps returning from war. It evokes visions of the riding of the fellowship in Lord of the Rings where the beacons are lit from Rohan down to Gondor.
The concluding epilogue ‘Yerninge’ encapsulates the whole essence and underlying theme of the album – the yearning for a time long passed to come back again. It evokes an overwhelming sense of national romanticism to return to the old ways where the forests and the mountains were sacred.
‘Songs from the Fyrgen’ is an essential album of outstanding beauty and detailed craftsmanship. It rekindles our ancestral fire within to fuel us spiritually against the frozen, wintry isolation of the modern world.