Since their formation in 2007, Germany’s Erntegang have released a prolific seven discs worth of material. Zwielicht will be their fourth release (limited to fifty copies) on German label Skull Line Mailorder, home to releases from acts such as Striider, Front Sonore and Argentum. Unlike Erntegang’s last release ‘Raubzug’ (a collection of martial industrial collaborations and tracks culled from compilations) this album has a worldserpent-era neofolk sound, similar to groups like Soil Bleeds Black, Orchis and :Of the Wand and the Moon:. S. Manteuffel’s lush instrumentation and M. Loerwig’s dreamlike vocals combine over thirteen tracks that range from grisly German and English traditional songs to massive neoclassical compositions to represent outrage towards a dark unhealthy world.
The calling crows, thunder caps and coiling synths of the brief ‘Introduction’ turn into the sound of scythes being sharpened in the early morning fog of songbirds and crops rustling in the wind for an especially dark treatment of sixteenth century English folksong ‘John Barleycorn.’ Loerwig sweetly sings the tortuous life and death of John Barleycorn accompanied by the chimes of a skeletal guitar, slow field drums and vibraslap over a ground of deep bass ambiance. As the lyrics become more graphic and brutal, the music gains complexity with the addition of a flute and dark embellishments in the guitar and percussion. For the final verses, Loerwig is joined Manteuffel on vocals to represent how the death of the crops brings people together to eat, drink and be merry.
In the next track, turbulent piano and layered voices appeal to the ‘Sword of Reason’ to use its crushing versatility to destroy negative qualities like lies, superstition and ignorance that are holding human kind back from their potential greatness. An analogous repetitive structure in the music and lyrics is found in ‘Muspell’s Sons’ as the sparks of passion, beauty and love are evoked to the tune of an expansive organ, jubilant choir and shimmering percussion. The song begins as monophonic chant and by the end becomes a triumphant gloriana to the fire of life.
‘Koenigskinder’ is a tragic medieval German ballad detailing the doomed love between two children of different lands. When a fisherman trawls up the dead body of a prince who was lost trying to cross the water to his young princess, her anguish causes her to throw herself to the watery depths as well. Erntegang create a beautiful dark atmosphere of pendulum percussion, electronics and field recordings to back up Loerwig’s impressive folksinging in what is one of the best interpretations of this much recorded example of early Germanic balladwerk. The timeless romance of ill fated love is drowned by the incongruous metallic burbling that opens the next song ‘Plastic Society.’ Maracas, bass drum, vibraslap, woodblock, angular violin and Mediterranean guitar detail the sickness and waste of our modern civilization and ends looking towards its destruction. Continuing in the same direction, ‘Salvation’ is an eschatological anti-hymn, praying towards the deaths of the corrupt multitude with dark droning organ chords, choral orisons and a scathing spoken word sample at the end.
Death In June is recalled by the martial romance between the melancholic guitar and drill line percussion as well as the misanthropic image of harmful metal flowers risen from a frosty ground in ‘Valentine.’ The sparkling synths and rainstorm recordings from the ‘Introduction’ rise again in the ‘Intermezzo’ forming a bridge to the macabre ‘Die Zwei Raben’ a German setting of ‘The Twa Corbies’ itself a negative mirror of old Scots-English song ‘The Three Ravens.’ In this version, pensive drumming over darkly textured drones and a quiet strummed guitar accompany the musings of two ravens as they discuss their plans to use the remains of a slain soldier left to rot in a clearing by all his comrades (his dog, his hawk and his mistress), they plan to fill their scavenger’s bellies with his flesh and thatch their nests with his hair. Even when the trappings of life have left, death still welcomes all.
‘Nach auf dem kahlen Berge’ is a beautiful and rhythmic tribal ambient piece with bird sounds, didjeridoo, enchanting woman’s choir and whispered lyrics drawn from the Witches Sabbath scene in Goethe’s ‘Faust.’ The choral lines are loosely based on Moussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bare Mountain’, which in the animated film ‘Fantasia’ is the piece directly before Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ which has been wonderfully corrupted into ‘Ave Satanas’ for the final track of this excellent album. Loerwig gives a standup performance on the treacherous soprano line and Manteuffel plays the organ with grace and elegance. The song ends with nine solemn bells tolls.
This is a great album filled with wonderful performances and illuminated by an uncompromising view of the grim hopeless world around us. Erntegang show well their dedication to artistry and self mastery by putting out a fine disc of dark folk that would please fans of groups like Sol Invictus, Blood Axis, In Gowan Ring or Sieben. I highly recommended Erntegang’s Zweilicht as one of the most exciting neofolk releases I have come across so far this year!
Review from HEATHEN HARVESTRating: [5 of 5 Stars!]