Waldsonne - Wanderer
Veronika - vocal
Iliya - guitar, mandolin
Peter - guitar
Anna-Noel - violin
Three years after their self-released EP Stahl, Neutral spin-off band Waldsonne return with their debut offering. The band consists of four members of Neutral, the main difference here being the inclusion of female vocals fronting the ensemble. As is standard fare for neofolk a lot of the songs are about trees, nature and the usual Mother Earth themes, the artwork confirming this with lots of pictures of twigs and bracken to make sure you’ve got the message.
Actually it’s the same picture used three times: slightly unusual since you’d hardly think there was a shortage of bleak and dismal scenery in Russia. The Russian bands have been utilising this concept for years, it seems to sell well over on the more verdant areas of the urbane world.
It’s not like Waldsonne are enjoying the barrenness of the perpetual Winters though. Much of the subject matter of the album rotates around the need for bright weather and lush nature in stark contrast to the photography in the booklet. Maybe they’ve had enough of the whole place and rather than upping sticks and trekking West have decided to stay in Russia and plays songs about it instead. And I can’t say I don’t sympathise. As much as I love the romanticism of desolate climes it must get slightly depressing, especially when the rouble’s sinking along with the rest of the world economy and vodka indulgence is getting more expensive. Time to stock up on potatoes and get back to the home gin brewing - and you can even power clocks with the leftovers. Ingenious.
Wanderer is therefore quite a cathartic work. Its music and melodies, though not wildly original, will certainly appeal to many fans of neofolk, being traditional and accomplished for the most part. The guitar and mandolin passages are well-written and excellently played, so instrumentally at least, Waldsonne get off to a good start. The vocals are introduced in the second track Pain of Senses, provided by Veronika Martynova, but though they’re certainly not bad they lack a particular sheen and lustre. Monika is note perfect most of the time but there’s little conviction in her voice as she seems to sing a lot of the songs by numbers, vocally connecting the dots rather than feeling the music. Her lyrics are mostly in English and they’re often quite basic [calling the sun/where are you/come, come, come] but it’s the German numbers which she seems to go out of tune in, presumably because she’s having to concentrate more on the language.
Where the album generally shines is therefore the pure instrumental passages and some of these are quite strong such as the captivating Sand and Longing for Mistery[sic]. But though the harp, guitars and mandolins are all played with distinction, the violin suffers in the quieter sections. Anna-Noel Buzuk is capable of producing channelled, strong cadences in the louder segments but her violin screeches painfully through the softer parts. What’s worse still is the pipe-playing which is sometimes dreadfully off-key. This, in particular, really lets the album down and more than once an emotional musical fragment is spoiled by an out-of-place or flat instrument.
When Wanderer succeeds – which is more often than not – it’s a pleasurable and elevating experience. However, shoddy playing in some parts doesn’t make the listener feel relaxed in the hands of neofolk masters and by halfway through the album you’re left wandering whether the beauteous section you’re currently listening to is going to be ruined by an erratic bow or overenthusiastic piper. As a whole, listening to the album feels like completing a rally in an r-reg Vauxhall Astra: you’d still make it round the circuit but it could be done a lot better. What Wanderer shows more positively is a serious band with the competence to go much further with the second record. If the creases can be ironed out they could put out an excellent offering, though their debut suffers from one too many flaws to hold such an accolade.
01 Eternal Motion
02 Pain of Senses
03 Over the Earth
05 Leiben eines Mannes (Life of a Man)
06 Longing for Mistery [sic]
07 Call for the Sun
08 Village Revelry
09 Durch den Nebel (Through the Mist)
10 Autumn Fair
11 песнaя песня (Woodland Song)