A review from Synthesis magazine
GIVEN that a fair proportion of what passes for Neo-Folk is often little more than a variation on the recurrent DEATH IN JUNE theme, this release from WHILE ANGELS WATCH is a real breath of fresh air.
Originally conceived in 1986 by Dev who played in the first line-up of SIXTH COMM and then placed to one side for over a decade, WAW has re-emerged from the shadows with a musical extravaganza. On reflection, however, this seemingly inexplicable period of gestation seems to have vastly contributed to the CD's deep and compelling nature, and each track has been immaculately polished since the days when WAW was releasing its music in cassette form.
Acoustic, electric and bass guitars; percussion and drums; flute and French horn; piano, trumpet, violin and viola; each combine to give this recording an incredibly full-bodied and complex flavour. Indeed there are no repetitive three-chord offerings here and the first time I listened to this album I ended up playing it four times in a row.
Anyone familiar with the talented violinist, Matt Howden (SIEBEN, SOL INVICTUS), will appreciate his role in the production process. Meanwhile Dev's voice steadfastly refuses to remain part of a singularly definitive style and his vocal range is quite impressive.
The opening track, "Our Last Fanfare", is about the coming demise of humanity and the inevitable transition between the old world and that of a new Golden Age. Here the music drifts gently like a melancholic Celtic air, before a deep bass rhythm and clattering drumroll add a more upbeat modality to Jane Howden's flute-assisted harmonies.
'Sister of the Sea' is a nautical ode to the catastrophic and deadly lure of the siren, confirming the similarities between Dev's characteristic barritone delivery and that of Nick Cave. The delivery itself is rather unusual, too.
'Burn Like Ice' is etched upon sweeping waves of Classical guitar and the lyrics totally refuse to adhere to the typical dictates of modern formulaic verse. Again we have the Nick Cave influence, but this time the singing is truly wonderful and accelerates with a frenzied emotion before mellowing out altogether. This allows Jane Howden's poetic recital to act as an intermittent perlude to a choral duet: "Two crashing waves / One master one slave".
Next we have a guest appearance in the shape of none other than Ian Read of FIRE + ICE. 'Medusa' rumbles along menacingly and bears a refreshingly nationalistic quality in its refusal to bend in the face of adversity: "And here we are as pillars of stone / We cannot move our roots from our home / Here we were born and here we shall die / Defending land with blood and with pride." This time it is Ian's job to assume a lowered vocal undercurrent, whilst Dev's rising harmonies further demonstrate his great range and versatility.
'Death In Avalon' is less than three minutes in length and slightly reminiscent of OSTARA and STRENGTH THROUGH JOY. Matt Howden's engrossing bow can be heard scything in the background above Jane's bewitching vocals. These delicate harmonies continue into the next track, 'The Warmth of Being', as a repetitive and plodding keyboard intro gives the recording a carnivalistic quality; its fluttering flutes and dark incantations ("Virgin / Mother / Crone") weaving a timeless epitaph to the endless cycle of female power and entrapment.
Meanwhile,'The Waiting Ground' is a fitting testimony to just how different and original this album is when compared to many of its neo-folk contemporaries. It is at once both endogenous and exoteric. Lyrically it almost verges on R&B and the inclusion of a wailing guitar solo conjures up memories of CURRENT 93's psychedelic conclusion to 'Hitler as Kalki'.
I mentioned earlier the penchant for history and homeland which pervades 'Medusa', and this theme is continued in 'Behind the Mists'. The song is a lament for the ancient and now dwindling ways of our forefathers, echoes of a forgotten world in which songs were sung and battles were raged in Englands green and pleasant land; a country which is now entering its final death-throes.
'Eye for Eye' bears the sadness of CURRENT 93's 'Soft Black Stars', but is none so forgiving in its sentiments: "You servants of false power / You who go nowhere / Just to a bottomless pit / Of dreamless sleep / Drowning us and ours / In your filth." This is a warning to the faceless automatons of the Establishment, whose materialistic wiles bring to mind G.K. Chesterton's new unhappy lords ('The Secret People'). Somehow the track seems to fuse the vocal style of Tony Hadley (SPANDAU BALLET) with 'The House of the Rising Sun' (THE ANIMALS), although WAW will probably think I'm mad for suggesting as much.
The album's final offering - 'Silence' - is a torrid gale of high winds, screeching crows, peeling church bells and explosions. Its sustained and crowded atmosphere is a stereophonic pendulum. Don't be put off by the lime green packaging, this CD is fantastic. "The rest", according to Dev, "is silence".