Whatever the view is outside your window it’s time to cast it off and dream of the snow-capped mountains of The Pyrenees. We are about to venture into the world of Stille Volk and it is an olden one without the trappings of the modern world. There are no cars and office blocks here, no pollution, no clamour of modern life and all the mania that goes with it. This is a traditional pilgrimage and one that historically ventures back to “Milharis, one of the most important characters in Pyrenean mythology” we are told. Shepherds, frugality and pastoral thoughts are to be invoked with all the traditional trimmings that go with them back to the origins of Christianity and the supposed fall of paganism. Stille Volk always tell an intriguing and interesting tale. The last one that I personally found myself captivated by was the decade old Nueit de sabbat. At the time the band were exploring their medieval metal phase and it was a jaunty and compelling one. We last heard of them taking to the seas of ‘La pèira negra’ in 2014 where the music changed substantially and here they continue the journey back towards folkloric and traditional music, call it neo-folk if you will. Prepare for enchantment.
As per usual the variety of voices we hear are in French and Occitan and translation tells us descriptively via the song titles of where we are venturing as we arrive ‘under the skin of the mountain.’ Immediately a subtle beguilement is cast with what sounds like the clack of a castanet like percussion instrument and gorgeous lilting melody. Is that a bird calling, maybe it’s in the imagination, the crooning rich vocals are not. We have been transported to another world, exactly as predicted. The songs are sprinkled with a layer of ice and snow, there are no avalanches here, it is all gentle and compact, easy on the ears and music to drift and dream to rather than be challenged. There is at times a touch of darkness within the harmonies but the babbling voices roll off the tongue with natural grace involving you in the tales they tell despite lack of language understanding. The twang of a jaw harp and the acoustic guitar work adds to the naturalism of the journey and the ‘mystical incantations’ are a delight to behold. Hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa are utilised into the score and you can imagine these minstrels travelling to and fro down mountain paths entertaining each village they come to with their music. At times the sound does have trappings of modernism and evolves into what is not a million miles from world-music. Perhaps you are travelling in your modern automobile on roads around these places and you tune the radio catching an ethnic feel of the sounds we are hearing.
There’s plenty of variety on the trek and it freely flows never harrying you back to pagan times and as the song itself says ‘The Cave Of The Past.’ It is not really left to me to dissect each individual piece, I too am like you will be, going with the flow and drifting along amidst the simple joy of it all. A segment of baritone vocals are particularly expressive and what sounds like a mandolin type instrument (I am assuming the nyckleharp) takes things back with a distinctive calming tone removed from expected guitar riffs whilst a backing chorus sound like they are engaged in a tug of war whilst entertaining the villagers. Upbeat harmonic croons are rousing and the music twists and turns as our adventurers traverse windy plateaus trilling pipes along the way. Even when the snow pours from the black sky it is romanticised and the glory of nature is looked upon in wonderment. It may take lives, some may not make it to spring but it is all part of the timelessness of nature itself.
I think my job is done here, yours is simply to listen which is exactly what I am going to do whilst these sweet songs play out. Venturing out once it finishes is going to be a bit of a slap in the face but then again that can be easily delayed with another play of the album. The silent people have spoken!
(8/10 Pete Woods)