384,400 KM to be precise and yes that is far away. Getting that out the way, here we have some gorgeous folk music from Arkhangelsk Russia to contemplate but it is one where we are told East meets West so expect some marriage of traditions on this journey. Having started out playing interpretations of traditional songs and incorporating them with modern recording techniques the band have been around since the mid 90’s and gradually evolved from studio work to a live project. Led by Alexey Sheptunov my first stop was an insight into their ideas via an illuminating introductory video. The one thing that appears to be missing is further information on who else is involved in the band and there is a sense of mystery about that unless I guess you really do go delving for the information. This could be helpful especially when we hear the songs with a gorgeous female vocalist that take up a large section of the album. I suspect these could be provided by Alexey’s wife Elena and are partly responsible to the group having drawn comparisons to Dead Can Dance. One thing is for sure if you are looking for a sense of charm, beguilement and beauty you will certainly hear plenty of that on Moon Far Away’s debut album for Prophecy Productions where they fit in like a velvet glove.
The Song Of The Five Lakes Watermill is descriptive enough in title without words being necessary. Imagine if you will the famous Mapledurham one classically imposed on that Black Sabbath album and cast your mind’s eye to its sister in North Russia as it turns and toils away through the centuries of the past. It’s calm and reflective acoustic music with what could even be field recordings of the steady clank of the mill in motion in the background. The Blank Flag Of Europe is the track for breaking the boundaries of East and West. With the flute leading the way a rich and calming voice expresses things in English telling us a traditional tale. It’s not credited to him, a later song is, but it is certainly reminiscent of Tony Wakeford and very much in the mould of Sol Invictus and their story-telling neo-folk. From there though it is very much off to Mother Russia where ‘Napadi, Rosa’ takes us into the arms of the female vocalist and warmly embraces us. Not wanting to sound politically incorrect in the slightest but one can easily imagine Russian peasants working the land and singing songs like this in the fields. It is rooted in the traditionalism it comes from and takes you straight to a far off place and time. There are some more baritone vocals accompanying from male counterpart and things flow in a simple yet enthralling way. Of these numbers Polia Vy, Polia is a sound that seems somewhat familiar but that could simply be due to the fact that once touched by its gorgeous melody it can never be shrugged off; this is an absolutely beautiful piece of music, warm and lush, sending shiver down the spine on every listen. Check it out below. Lubila Menja Mat, Obozhala is no less sublime and heart-warming and again sounds like a song handed down through the ages from mother to daughter; there really is some magic within these numbers.
After a quartet of songs in this nature the classical guitar’s acoustic strum brings fruit to the table with ‘The Blueberry Song.’ This is a golden sounding singer / song-writing number which is like a ghost of the past the bass tones of the male and higher pitched feminine side working as perfect contrast together. Intersymbolism sounds like Laibach song title that got away and my basic grasp of linguistics suggests that this one is in German, it’s also subtly jazzy with the slow rhythm of the drums and fits in perfectly whatever language. Glockenspiel and childlike vocals have the delightful Ostavaisja Bely, Knjaz providing a short sweet lullaby before we close with Celebrate, Wakeford and a choral accompaniment taking us out with joy in heart and a song that will hook you in and have you singing along on the very first listen.
For me this was a fantastic and very welcome discovery and if it sounds like your thing there is no better time to discover Moon Far Away. Not only does a special edition of the album come with a bonus 30 minute disc featuring single versions, Wakeford covers and more (not included on my review copy) but Prophecy are also releasing Zhito Zhala: The Early Harvest 1997-2010, a large format artbook with songs compiled from earlier works. Perhaps the moon is not so far away after all!
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)