Thursday, May 24, 2018

Prophecy Productions: Volur, The Dark Red Seed, Hekate

Although new to me, Prophecy Productions, the German label that released the Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices album I reviewed last month -- has been around since 1996. Originally intended for a single release by the band Empyrium, the label has enjoyed huge success in Europe with a catalog of dark metal and neofolk acts including Dornenreich, The Vision Bleak, Alcest, and Sol Invictus. The label's hallmarks include long relationships with artists, lavishly packaged editions, and a close connection with fans. In 2003, Prophecy initiated sub-labels Lupus Lounge and Auerbach Tontrager to release extreme metal and contemporary folk, respectively. Three of their new releases arrived on my doorstep this week.

On Ancestors, the second in a planned four-album sequence, Toronto-based trio Volur plays a darkly ruminative brand of doom music ("not necessarily metal," their Bandcamp page emphasizes), with lyrics steeped in old Germanic myths and spirituality. Laura C. Bates' violin fulfills the melodic role of a guitar here, lending the music a lighter, pastoral quality at times (as on the opening "Breaker of Silence," one of four side-long pieces on the double LP), balanced by the driving force of Lucas Gadke's bass and Jimmy Payment's drums. On "Breaker of Skulls," the ensemble's stately melodic grandeur is offset by Gadke's growled invocation of blood feasts, making Led Zep's "Immigrant Song" sound like the Monkees.

The Dark Red Seed (a "metaphor for the heart") is the collaborative project of guitarist Tosten Larsen and drummer-engineer Shawn Fleming, both of whom also work with Seattle dark folk muso King Dude. On Becomes Awake, their first full-length, they've crafted a richly textured, acoustic-based rock music, replete with horn and string arrangements, that draws on Roma, Indian, and Persian musical traditions for source material. The net effect is like a more somber version of Love's Forever Changes, and the music takes some interesting turns, as in the horn-driven instrumental "The Void," or "The Awakening," which features guitar tones that show the linkage between Link Wray and Syd Barrett.

On their sixth album, Totentanz ("Dance of Death"), the venerable German neofolk outfit Hekate (originally formed by non-musician goth kids in Koblenz back in 1993) combines electronic and percussion elements with classical dynamics and lyrics sung in either English or German -- the latter including their setting of Prussian poet Joseph von Eichendorff's "Mondnacht" (which shares a title with the Franz Stassen painting that graces the cover; the art book edition of the album also includes unpublished ink drawings by the reclusive magic realist Hermann Wohler). As ruminations on mortality go, it's not Mahler, but at its best (as on the Sandy Denny-ish "Spring of Light" or the world music-evocative "Am Meere"), Totentanz can be a haunting, intriguing listen.

These records are just a tiny sample from a big, diverse catalog. Little known in the US, Prophecy Productions represents something like a darker, heavier ECM -- a quality label for listeners of certain taste. Music's a deep well; how fortunate are we.


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