Tag Archives: Folk

Songs From The Fyrgen

Winterfylleth

I have written in the past about Manchester black metal band Winterfylleth – looking at their 2016 “The Dark Hereafter” album as well as a 2014 live show in Birmingham supporting Polish act Behemoth. Artist Dan Capp has been involved with the creation of Winterfylleth’s artwork for a number of years and joined the band as lead guitarist in early 2015.

Dan Capp

Wolcensmen is Capp’s solo project that has been in the works for several years, and was inspired by the acoustic parts of music by the likes of Ulver, Opeth and Empyrium and also by Capp witnessing an Irish folk band playing in a Dublin pub, leading him to reflect that he felt an English version – local pubs etc. with acts regularly performing English folk music – was lacking. Wolcensmen is his answer to that void though, as he says, “…as it happens, the music I’d go on to record had none of the happy, merry-making appeal I’d first envisioned, but anyhow…” I’d venture that Wolcensmen are the English equivalent to the rather super Norwegian act Wardruna who aim to create musical representations of Norse traditions.

Children Of The Stones

“Songs From The Fyrgen” is the debut album from Wolcensmen. The “fyrgen” in the album title refers to mountain woods or a wooded hilltop, so it’s natural that the music contained within should evoke such surroundings. I suppose that the closest his day-job band come to the music found on the record would be something like “Children Of The Stones” (also the title of a super TV series originally broadcast back in 1977) or perhaps “Æfterield-fréon” – both excellent, delicate and atmospheric acoustic pieces.

Jake Rogers

So it is with this album. Beginning with one of the shortest numbers “Withershins” this is full of acoustic guitars and very natural vocals by the main man, augmented by percussion by Dan & Mark Capp, flute (by American Jake Rogers), some synthesizer (by Grimrik from Germany), piano (by Dries Gaerdelen from Belgium), cello (by Canadian Raphael Weinroth-Browne) and some ritualistic vocals from Norwegian Nash Rothanburg. Despite the multi-national support cast I feel that this record is a very English sounding one.

Grimrik

And that was certainly Capp’s intention. He stated in an interview that Wolcensmen is “…specifically a celebration of old England…”. It is also definitely thematically heathen – “…the Heathen aspect is vital, because I am a Heathen and Wolcensmen is essentially a cultural statement. It is meant to be romantic, and I simply can’t see that there’s anything to romanticise about post-Christian England. It was the beginning of our decline. The stories are mine, except for ‘The Mon o’ Micht’, which is lyrically traditional, and ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ whose lyrics are based on the names of the horses belonging to the Asa (Aesir) gods, on which they ride across Bifrost, ‘the shimmering path’, to Asgard. My other lyrics are inspired by folk tales, natural phenomena and esoteric concepts…”

Dries Gaerdelen

“The Fyre-Bough” is up next and is one of the high points of the album for me. Capp’s voice is almost acapella at points here and there are no rock star histrionics, just an understated delivery that sits perfectly with the theme of the music. The cello and flute parts really shine though on this track too. “Sunne”, the album’s briefest track at 2:42, follows and leads into the excellent “Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path” which has the aforementioned Rothanburg intoning ancient Norse poetry in the background.

Raphael Weinroth-Browne

The ten-minute plus Heathen epic “‘Neath A Wreath Of Furs” contains all that’s good about the album and just about knocks the later “The Bekens Are Aliht” into second place in terms of my favourite numbers here. In truth there really isn’t a bad track here and the album as a whole is, in my opinion, up there with Skuggsjá’s “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” and “Mausoleum” by Murkur – in fact, had I discovered “Songs From The Fyrgen” last year when it was released, rather than recently, it would likely have elbowed its way onto my top ten albums of the year.

Nash Rothanburg

Another quote from Capp is that “…Wolcensmen exists for a specific purpose – to inspire people to reconnect with their ancestors and the old ways of their people. It is Romanticism – not in an unrealistic sense but in an idealistic… don’t settle for what is, strive for what could be… I’d like Wolcensmen to be a small beacon of light in an age of darkness; a small reminder to those not yet dead inside to maintain their inner-spark whilst many of those around them have let it die, wanting for nothing more than to consume and follow…” This really is a fantastic record that transports you to an arguably better time and place. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Wolcensmen. Highly recommended to anyone with a love of good folk music, nature, mythology etc…15192708_1298269950233600_1833899633855275345_n

“Songs From The Fyrgen” tracklist:

1. Withershins / 2. The Fyre-Bough / 3. Sunne / 4. Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path / 5. ‘Neath A Wreath Of Firs / 6. The Mon O’ Micht / 7. Snowfall / 8. The Bekens Are Aliht / 9. Yerninge

Dust On The Nettles

DOTN

Last Sunday, whilst my head was recovering from the previous night’s Slayer concert, I was in need of something a little more gentle to listen to. Being partial to a bit of folk music, I decided that it was the perfect time to check out an album that I’d been meaning to get around to – “Dust On The Nettles : A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72” – a three disc compilation which was released earlier this year.

The Pentangle
The Pentangle

It turned out to be nearly perfect. Mood wise the bulk of the material contained here is laid back and mellow, with early highlights including The Pentangle’s “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” and the wonderful “Willow’s Song” by Magnet, the latter being from the soundtrack album to the film “The Wicker Man” which is a wonderful record in its own right.

Comus
Comus

Other highlights come from contributions from the fair few names that I was already familiar with including the likes of Spirogyra, Comus, Dando Shaft, Trees, Heron, C.O.B., Marc Brierley, Anne Briggs and Bristol group Folkal Point – all of whom already featured in my collection, as well as the more well-known acts like The Incredible String Band, Steeleye Span, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Fairport Convention.

Chrissie Quayle
Chrissie Quayle

Alongside these, however, are a treasure trove of new artists to discover. Chrissie Quayle’s “The Seagulls Scream”, complete with seagulls in the background, is delicate and haunting.

Oberon
Oberon

Oberon are akin to Jethro Tull with the eight minute “Minas Tirith”, which features not just Tull-like flute and progressive leanings but also a drum solo which comes from nowhere at just under the four-minute mark and gives way to the gentle acoustic guitars etc. again after two minutes of rattling around the kit. Bizarre but oddly brilliant!

Shelagh McDonald
Shelagh McDonald

Elsewhere, Moonkyte adorn “Way Out Hermit” with sitar and a real psychedelic edge, Shelagh McDonald’s “Stargazer” is a beautiful piano and strings accompanied vocal performance, and “The Mutant” by Trader Horne another highlight of this set.

Trader Horne
Trader Horne

Less successful to my ear are Clive Palmer’s “Stories Of Jesus” and Gerald Moore’s “Pilgrim”. This may be because they are essentially retreads of gospel songs and thus reminiscent of a church group, or may be simply a personal reaction to the subject matter. In truth, I feel it’s more likely to be the former as there are plenty of pro-Christian songs that I can happily listen to regardless of my religious views.

Fairport Convention
Fairport Convention

The sound quality varies throughout the three discs, as is only to be expected given that some of these tracks were either unavailable before or only in very small quantities, suggesting that sourcing decent quality copies may have been difficult well over four decades later. That said, the sound is very good for the vast majority of the songs presented.

The Incredible String Band
The Incredible String Band

With sixty-three songs and a running time of just under four hours there is an awful lot to digest in this comprehensive look around at the various differing strands of folk music being made in these fair islands in the late Sixties and early Seventies, but it’s a musical journey well worth making…

“Dust On The Nettles : A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72” tracklist:

Disc One:

1. Let No Man Steal Your Thyme / 2. Willow’s Song / 3. Come All You Travellers / 4. Love Is A Funny Thing / 5. Images Of Passing Clouds / 6. Peek Strangely And Worried Evening / 7. Glass Of Water / 8. Winter Is Blue / 9. Winter Is A Coloured Bird / 10. The Seagulls Scream / 11. Stories Of Jesus / 12. Amanda / 13. Curious Crystals Of Unusual Purity / 14. Roses For Columbus / 15. Till The Morning Comes / 16. Black Girl / 17. The Garden Of Jane Trelawney / 18. Weirdsong Of Breaking Through At Last / 19. Minas Tirith / 20. Prisoners, Victims, Strangers, Friends

1. The Pentangle / 2. Magnet / 3. Wight / 4. Spirogyra / 5. Gary Farr / 6. Synthanesia / 7. Bob & Carole Pegg / 8. Vashti Bunyan / 9. Comus / 10. Chrissie Quayle / 11. Clive Palmer / 12. Steve Peregrin Took’s Shagrat / 13. Bridget St. John / 14. Mark Fry / 15. Dando Shaft / 16. Mary-Anne / 17. Trees / 18. Principle Edwards Magic Theatre / 19. Oberon / 20. Paper Bubble

Disc Two:

1. Pilgrim / 2. River Lane / 3. Way Our Hermit / 4. All Things Are Quite Silent / 5. Upon Reflection / 6. Love Is Come Again / 7. Stargazer / 8. There Are No Greater Heroes / 9. Visionary Mountains / 10. Glow Of The Firelight / 11. Searching For Lambs / 12. Samantha Carol Fragments / 13. Fotheringay / 14. You Know What Has To Be / 15. Meanwhile Back In The Forest / 16. First Girl I Loved / 17. Halfdan’s Daughter / 18. The Mutant / 19. Meeting By Moonlight Mill / 20. Highways (Misty Mist) / 21. Gabilan / 22. Sand All Yellow

1. Gerald Moore / 2. Melton Constable / 3. Moonkyte / 4. Steeleye Span / 5. Heron / 6. Parchment / 7. Shelagh McDonald / 8. Tony Caro & John / 9. Joan Armatrading / 10. Tuesday / 11. Warm Gold / 12. Benjamin Delaney Lion / 13. Fairport Convention / 14. Frozen Tear / 15. Hunt Lunt & Cunningham / 16. The Incredible String Band / 17. The Moths / 18. Trader Horne / 19. Dry Heart / 20. Tyrannosaurus Rex / 21. Duncan Browne / 22. Keyin Coyne

Disc Three:

1. Garden Song / 2. Music Of The Ages / 3. A Song For The System / 4. The Colour Is Blue / 5. Silent Village / 6. Welcome To The Citadel / 7. The Evil Venus Tree / 8. Standing On The Shore / 9. Kind Sir / 10. Eagle / 11. Rosemary Hill / 12. The Happy King / 13. Me And My Kite / 14. Wizard Shep / 15. Scarborough Fair / 16. Prisoner / 17. Patrice / 18. Girl Of The Cosmos / 19. Elegy To A Dead King / 20. Silence Returns / 21. Orange Days And Purple Nights

1. Bill Fay / 2. C.O.B. / 3. Everyone Involved / 4. Country Sun / 5. Wild Country / 6. Marc Brierley / 7. The Occasional Word / 8. Anne Briggs / 9. Agincourt / 10. Mick Softly / 11. Fresh Maggots / 12. Music Box / 13. Fuchsia / 14. The Sun Also Rises / 15. Folkal Point / 16. Marie Celeste / 17. Simon Finn / 18. Shide & Acorn / 19. Chimera / 20. Beau / 21. Mother Nature

Ashes & Dust

warren-haynes-ashes-and-dust-album-cover-art

Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes

New out today is the latest recording to feature American guitarist / vocalist / songwriter Warren Haynes.

I first discovered Haynes through “Bad Little Doggie” – a brilliant track with funky syncopation and earthy bluesy guitar playing – from the third Gov’t Mule studio album “Life Before Insanity” back in 2000.

The Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band

Haynes was a member of the Allman Brothers Band from 1989 – 1997 and 2000 – 2014.

Govt Mule
Gov’t Mule

In addition he has been founder member of Gov’t Mule since 1994 and appeared with numerous other acts including The Dead.

Despite a heavy recording and touring schedule Haynes has still managed to find time to record three solo albums. The latest of these, “Ashes & Dust”, is a collaboration with American bluegrass band Railroad Earth.

Warren Haynes Railroad Earth
Warren Haynes & Railroad Earth

This marks something of a musical homecoming for Haynes, as he was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina – a state known for its acoustic-based roots and mountain music. On this record Haynes has recorded some new songs as well as some that have been written for some time but didn’t fit into the more muscular sound of either Gov’t Mule or the Allman Brothers Band.

Haynes has said that he consciously altered his approach on this record, wanting to focus less on his amazing guitar playing (though there is some tasteful slide playing and some wonderful soloing) and more on the singing and storytelling of each song – “I was intentionally catering my sound to Railroad Earth’s sound. I tried to pick guitar tones that I felt would work with the fiddle and the banjo, the mandolin, the upright bass and stuff, so I wasn’t relying on any of my go-to sounds. It kind of forced me to play differently.” – and I think it’s worked out perfectly. His guitars really do blend very well with the acoustic instrumentation of the band to produce a very real and authentic sounding album.

Warren Haynes Grace Potter
Warren Haynes & Grace Potter

The superb Grace Potter crops up to duet with Haynes on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” which is so good that it rivals the original in my mind – just as atmospheric but with a folksy twist t the sound. Brilliant.

Elsewhere, former Allman Brothers Band colleagues Oteil Burbridge (bass) and Marc Quinones (percussion) add their talents to the eight and a half minute “Spots Of Time”, a song that the band had played live regularly during their last few years but never recorded.

Other songs of particular note are “Hallelujah Boulevard”, a psychedelically tinged number dealing with organised religion and traditional views that influence people’s lives, the relatively up-tempo “Beat Down The Dust” and the delicate “Blue Maiden’s Tale”.

This may not be a concept album that needs to be played from start to finish to make any sense, but it most definitely is a cohesive record that deserves to be listened to – and heard – from beginning to end to appreciate its beauty…

warren-haynes-railroad-earth-ashes-and-dust-tour-2015-photo

“Ashes & Dust” tracklist:

1. Is It Me Or You / 2. Coal Tattoo / 3. Blue Maiden’s Tale / 4. Company Man / 5. New Year’s Eve / 6. Stranded In Self-Pity / 7. Glory Road / 8. Gold Dust Woman / 9. Beat Down The Dust / 10. Wanderlust / 11. Spots Of Time / 12. Hallelujah Boulevard / 13. Word On The Wind

The Ghost In Our House And Other Stories…

CCEJpDf

Andrew Kettle
Andrew Kettle

Today I discovered a new (to me, at least) band. Formed in Wigan from the ashes of 1990s folk rock band The Tansads. In 2010 former members of The Tansads got together for a series of reunion concerts, following which some of those involved decided to continue as a band with some new members, and named themselves Merry Hell.

Bob Kettle
Bob Kettle

The new band is formed around five former Tansads – brothers Andrew Kettle (vocals), Bob Kettle (mandolin / harmonica) and John Kettle (guitar) plus drummer Andy Jones and keyboardist Lee Goulding.

John Kettle
John Kettle

Joining those five are John Kettle’s wife Virginia (vocals / guitar) as well as bassist Nick Davies and violinist Neil McCartney.

In the wake of 2011’s debut album “Blink… And You’ll Miss It” and 2012’s follow up “Head Full Of Magic, Shoes Full Of Rain” comes the group’s third album “The Ghost In Our House And Other Stories…”, which is out now.

Andy Jones
Andy Jones

Opening track “There’s A Ghost In Our House” gets you going with an upbeat tempo despite the downbeat lyrical content. The production crystal clear and full, each voice and instrument easy to zero in on. Brilliant.

Lee Goulding
Lee Goulding

“Leave A Light On” is a beautiful and sad ballad tackling the subject of separation that steadily grows in intensity and is surely one of the highlights of this record.

Virginia Kettle
Virginia Kettle

“The Baker’s Daughter” is another fabulous folk singalong which takes a wry look at a relationship between the hardworking baker’s daughter of the title and her rather lazy man.

Nick Davies
Nick Davies

In fact, I could easily list every song on this album as a highlight, because I don’t think there’s a duff track amongst them.

As well as having plenty of cleverly told tales of human relationships – check out “Love Is A Game” for example – this record also contains plenty of political comment, such as the timely “No Money” and “The Old Soldier”. The political leanings of the group members apparently run “from red to green and back again” and that’s clearly reflected in the lyrics.

Neil McCartney
Neil McCartney

Simply put, this is a fantastic modern folk album, brilliantly performed by a band that clearly love what they do, and stuffed full of excellent songs to make you sing and make you dance – even as it makes you think. Very highly recommended!…

Tour Ad“The Ghost In Our House And Other Stories…” tracklist:

1. The Ghost In Our House / 2. Leave A Light On / 3. Summer Is A-Comin’ / 4. The Baker’s Daughter / 5. Human Communion / 6. The Old Soldier / 7. Rage Like Thunder / 8. Love Is A Game / 9. Pillar Of Society / 10. No Money / 11. Hey, Scotty! / 12. Reason To Be / 13. Out Of My Mind / 14. Feed Your Soul / 15. No Place Like Tomorrow

Sabbat

artworks-000110183079-92rz9n-t500x500Living in the Forest of Dean has definitely helped me have a greater appreciation of, and feel closer to, nature. In such a seemingly hectic, disposable, instant gratification world, and with organised religion continuing to cause great suffering to many – whatever religion may be the cause, I find myself increasingly drawn to ancient and pre-Christian ideas.

One way in which this manifests itself, I suppose, would be in terms of some of the art that I now enjoy. I thoroughly enjoy the lyrical, visual and sonic experience of anti-Christian black metal acts such as Behemoth, and on some level I can identify with satanism, particularly after reading Gavin Baddeley‘s excellent “Lucifer Rising” book. However, there is also a part of me that loves folk music with it’s tales of times past and feels strongly drawn to paganism.

Damh The Bard
Damh The Bard

It is this that brings me to the new album release, “Sabbat”, from Damh The Bard, a leading light in the Order Of Bards, Ovates & Driuds. Damh’s seventh album, and about eighteen months in the making, this follows the very good “Antlered Crown & Standing Stone” from 2012.

The record starts with the up-tempo title track, “Sabbat”. Although the title conjures up images of witches dancing in praise of Satan, this actually refers to the eight festivals that make up the Wheel Of The Year, which include Beltane and Samhain.

Damh The Bard
Damh The Bard “The Wicker Man”

The gentler “The Wicker Man” follows. This is a more trance-like track addressing the practice of burning wicker men at modern pagan gatherings.

A wonderful version of “Scarborough Faire” follows, and is far more affecting than versions such as Simon & Garfunkel’s. Damh covers Uriah Heep’s “Lady In Black” which gives the song a nice rustic flavour without losing any of it’s majesty.

“Forgotten, Never Be” is a celebration of various living traditions, such as the Green Man and Morris dancing.

Thundersbarrow Hill
Thundersbarrow Hill

Whilst much of Damh’s music celebrates the history of England, the final song here, “Thundersbarrow Hill” is a song about his Viking ancestry and was inspired by a trip to Thundersbarrow on the South Downs. Loved the thunder storm at the end too!

Lyrically I really enjoyed this album, and I have to mention the humour involved in retelling a dream in “Time Machine” with the lines “I saw Stonehenge and what it’s for, but I don’t think I should say much more”! There is a link on Damh’s website with track by track lyrics and “making of” video clips that is well worth a look, as well.

The instrumentation throughout is simple, based around acoustic guitar and percussion. Whilst Damh’s voice may not be the strongest, when put together with the music and his lyrics the end result really is quite special. Recommended listening.

Damh The Bard
Damh The Bard

“Sabbat” tracklist:

1. Sabbat / 2. The Wicker Man / 3. Scarborough Faire / 4. On The Shoulders Of Giants / 5. Iron From Stone / 6. Lady In Black / 7. When You Were Born / 8. Forgotten, Never Be / 9. Time Machine / 10. Thundersbarrow Hill

Mount The Air

27237-mount-the-air“Mount The Air” is the latest album by Tyneside folk act, The Unthanks.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset
Rachel Unthank & The Winterset

Founded in 2004, as Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, the heart of The Unthanks comprises sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank. Seven years younger than her sister, Becky’s name was omitted from the group’s original name as she was, at 17, unsure if she wanted to pursue music full time. The group changed their name to The Unthanks in 2009, prior to the release of the third album.

Following their fourth album, “Last”, in 2011 came a series of three albums under the heading “Diversions”. The first volume was a live showcase solely for material penned by Robert Wyatt of Soft Machine and by Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons.

Rachel & Becky Unthank
Rachel Unthank & Becky Unthank

Volume two saw the group teaming up with the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band for new arrangements of existing and new Unthanks material, recorded in concert, and the third instalment was “Songs From The Shipyards”, recorded to soundtrack a documentary about the history of shipbuilding in the North East.

The group have gradually moved from their more traditional folk sounds to more experimental waters. Taking folk as their starting point, they now often utilise strings and brass instruments, resulting in a unique and quite haunting sound. The sisters’ voices really do compliment each other beautifully.

Adrian McNally
Adrian McNally

The opening track on this new record, the title track, takes a traditional tune and with some jazzy trumpet echoing Miles Davis and “Sketches From Spain” is transformed into a ten minute masterpiece by multi-instrumentalist and musical director Adrian McNally, who is also Rachel’s husband.

One of the best tracks, vocally, is the sublime “Magpie” which features wonderful harmony singing over a drone-like backing.

The Unthanks
The Unthanks

A second ten minute track is present, in the shape of “Foundling”, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital, a refuge set up by Thomas Coram in the 1740s for children whose family poverty and circumstances would otherwise have seen them end up on the streets. Moving and beautiful indeed, a sentiment that could easily apply to this whole record.

There are a couple of instrumental numbers, “For Dad” and the closing “Waiting”. Both are very good, but I did miss the vocals which are so delicate and expressive throughout the rest of the album. That, though, is a minor reservation.

As a whole, listening to the record from start to finish is to be taken on a wonderful musical journey. It’s hard to convey in words what The Unthanks sound like – so it’s probably best to listen and quite literally let the music do the talking…

Rachel & Becky Unthank
Rachel Unthank, Becky Unthank & Adrian McNally

“Mount The Air” tracklist:

1. Mount The Air / 2. Madam / 3. Died For Love / 4. Flutter / 5. Magpie / 6. Foundling / 7. Last Lullaby / 8. Hawthorn / 9. For Dad / 10. The Poor Stranger / 11. Waiting

Does The Devil Have All The Best Tunes?

“Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?” – this question has been attributed to a number of people, including General William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army; preacher Roland Hill (1744-1833); John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodist movement; his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788), a leader in the Methodist movement; as well as to preacher George Whitefield (1714-1770). It does seem most widely connected to Booth, however, in terms of popularising the phrase.

The question is – does the Devil have all the good tunes?

When I was growing up, my family were members of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is a Christian church, founded by the aforementioned William Booth in 1865 in the East End of London as the Christian Revival Society. This was renamed the Christian Mission, before finally becoming the Salvation Army in 1878. The Army is not only a church, it is also well known for the social and charitable work that it does – something that has been central to its aims from the start.

Salvation Army Band
Salvation Army Band

Something else that the Army is widely known for is its music. Particularly its brass bands. These are regularly seen both on the streets, and on TV programmes during the Christmas season each year, amongst other times. I became a member of one such band, playing drums and percussion for a number of years, and it was exposure to the music of the Salvation Army, both the bands and the choirs, that gave me an appreciation for brass instruments and vocal harmonies that I still enjoy in music today. Whether it be the brass section found in the music of groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire, or the rockier stuff like the “horn mix” of Extreme’s “Cupid’s Dead” (from the 1992 album “III Sides To Every Story”); the vocal harmonies of Irish group The Corrs or hard rock giants Def Leppard.

I have what can only be described as a large and eclectic music collection. This takes in many differing genres. Although I do not identify myself with the Christian church now – and haven’t for some years – I do still have fond affection for some of the music that I discovered during my Salvation Army years. Brass band numbers “Variations On Laudate Dominum” (composed by Edward Gregson) and “Resurgam” (composed by Eric Ball), to name but two, remain superbly complex and interesting pieces to me.

Cliff Richard "Now You See Me..."
Cliff Richard – Now You See Me… Now You Don’t

Cliff Richard’s “Little Town” – complete with brass section- (from his 1982 gospel album “Now You See Me… Now You Don’t”) never fails to stir me, and American singer Amy Grant made some wonderful Christian pop music, such as “Angels” (from her 1984 album “Straight Ahead”) that can still lodge itself in my head, seemingly for days on end, even thirty years after I first got the album! There were many other songs / albums that could be classified as “Christian” music too that I can still enjoy today – including U.S. metal band Stryper, Petra, Resurrection Band, Larry Norman, Steve Taylor, Whitecross and King’s X.

Maud Adams - Bond Girl
Maud Adams – Bond Girl

Even back in my Salvation Army days I was developing an interest in the secular things in life. Whether it be the fairer sex (Charlie’s Angels, Bond girls, Page 3 girls, girls in the sixth form at school) or music – initially the likes of Status Quo, Rainbow, Adam & The Ants.

It wasn’t long before I found that I had a fascination with the “dark side” despite, or perhaps as a reaction to, being brought up in a Christian environment.

During my secondary school years I loved reading books by the likes of James Herbert and Stephen King. Graham Masterton’s “The Devils Of D-Day”, discovered in a dusty second hand bookshop, was an early favourite of mine.

The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man

I also loved horror movies such as Hammer’s “The Devil Rides Out” (1968), the brilliant cult classic “The Wicker Man” (1973) and the original version of “The Omen” (1976), not to mention dozens of other classic Hammer horror movies – plus their television series “Hammer House Of Horror” – and all those old classic Hitchcock movies like “Vertigo” (1958), “Psycho” (1960) and “The Birds” (1963)

So, it’s hardly surprising that when I got into music properly it didn’t take too long before I was discovering bands that seemed to be associated with the dark side in some way. From the late 60s / early 70s came heavy rock bands such as the doomy Black Sabbath and the more psychedelic leaning Black Widow and Coven (whose 1969 album “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls” features a thirteen minute “Satanic Mass”).

Witchfinder General - Friends Of Hell
Witchfinder General – Friends Of Hell

The 80s brought the introduction of the Black Metal genre with Mercyful Fate, Venom (who recorded the 1982 album “Black Metal”) and Witchfinder General. The latter were as infamous for the album covers as for the music contained within!

These, and more recent acts – the likes of Cradle Of Filth, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Meads Of Asphodel, Blood Ceremony, Electric Wizard, Wintefylleth, Akercocke, The Devil’s Blood, Jex Thoth and Watain – are often associated with Black / Occult / Pagan Metal. But, whereas you would expect Christian artists to hold Christian religious views, this is often not the case with music that is explicitly connected to Satanism and the Occult.

Gorgoroth
Gorgoroth

King Diamond, singer from Mercyful Fate, was one of the few artists who aligned themselves with Satanism, along with Watain and a number of Norwegian artists like Euronymous from the band Mayhem. Others, such as Quorthon from the band Bathory, Gaahl from Gorgoroth and Varg Vikernes from Burzum have used Satan and Satanism as an introduction to more indigenous heathen beliefs and as a symbol of their own beliefs in Odin and other anti-Christian / pre-Christian figures.

For many bands, however, it is a case of using lyrics, visual imagery and musical aesthetics as a form of art rather than an expression of belief. And with these factors being so striking it is little wonder that it is so effective.

Away from the visuals, the music of the majority of the above mentioned bands is compellingly effective at painting images and conveying emotion and feeling, just as the great classical music from the past – Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, etc. did so well.

Cradle Of Filth - Dusk... And Her Embrace
Cradle Of Filth – Dusk… And Her Embrace

The music may sometimes be abrasive, bleak, brutal and intense – see Watain’s “Malfeitor” (from 2010’s “Lawless Darkness”), or Cradle Of Filth’s “Funeral In Carpathia” (from 1996’s “Dusk… And Her Embrace”) for example. It can also be evocative, peaceful, meditative and beautiful – such as Winterfylleth’s amazing “Children Of The Stones” (from 2010’s “The Mercian Sphere”) and Blood Ceremony’s “Lord Summerisle” (from 2013’s “The Eldrich Dark”)

There are, of course, many artists whose music is less extreme than the Black / Occult / Pagan metal ones, where there have, over the years, been suggestions that the music or the artists themselves, are in some way “in league with the devil”.

These include Robert Johnson – legendary bluesman who was said to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads; KISS – rockers whose name was alleged to stand for Knights In Satan’s Service; The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil indeed; Marilyn Manson – the Antichrist Superstar; Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page had a deep interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley; The Eagles – “Hotel California” has long been rumoured to be about the Church Of Satan.

Taylor Momsen
Taylor Momsen

At the poppier end of the spectrum Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Kesha, Taylor Momsen from The Pretty Reckless, Jay-Z and more -have all been accused of using Satanic imagery and lyrics in their performances.

Heavy Metal is often portrayed as the Devil’s music. The Blues has sometimes been said to come from Robert Johnson’s Crossroads moment. Folk music probably comes originally, just like folklore, from ancient times. All of these genres have pre-Christian and anti-Christian elements.

Katy Perry
Katy Perry

One thing seems clear to me – although the Christian God has inspired plenty of wonderful music to be written and performed, there is far more excellent and diverse music that isn’t. Some would say that that in itself makes it the Devil’s music – whether it appears to be or not!

 So, does the Devil have all the good tunes? I reckon so!