by Oliver Sheppard
There aren’t a lot of American neofolk bands, let alone many that are very good. Wisconsin’s Wreathes, however, are both American and very good. Unlike recent US neofolk acts like Cult of Youth and King Dude, who have put a new and uniquely American spin on the genre, Wreathes sound like they’re more in the company of European bands like Karma Marata from Germany or the Dutch group Osewoudt. Wreathes’ new self-titled 6-song 12″ record is out on Pesanta Urfolk and is a must for fans of well-made, occultic, dark folk music.
Containing members of Kinit Her and Burial Hex, Wreathes are a duo whose melodies rely on deep, Nordic-sounding vocalizations that see the two singers employing their voices in a mutually complementary, if darkly melodic, way. The first track, “Odes,” is sung in English, but it doesn’t sound like it; it’s reminiscent of something ancient, cold, and mournful, punctuated by sparing but nonetheless martial percussion that lends the track a feeling of stern militancy. (Think of the ancient Icelandic folk song “Krummavisur.”) The second track, “Bones of Love,” features prominent stringed instruments and a metronomic, trudging, dirge-like beat – and again the deep, wonderful vocals of Nathaniel Ritter and Troy Schafer, the two principal members.
The entire mini-LP in fact feels like a mysterious journey back into a dim Hyperborean world rife with loss, war, elder gods, distant sea voyage — a time when the natural world was young and the fear of death omnipresent. The first half of the Wreathes self-titled LP has a martial feel that I especially like to hear in neofolk bands. Here, comparisons to Dutch acts like Volksweerbaarheid and Strydwolf seem appropriate. The second half has a more mystical feel and evinces a reverence for the shadowy mysteries of nature and its cycles of death and rebirth. Songs like “Speech of the Tides” and “The Great Gate” are evidence of this.
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Something should be said about the lyrics, which are thankfully provided along with the songs themselves at Wreathes’ Bandcamp website. Again, the vocals do not sound English — when sung, they sound proud and Germanic, actually — but the lyrics, which indeed are in English, are a real delight to read. A lot of time has been put into them; you can imagine that they come from the pen of folks who have old volumes of William Blake and the Metaphysical Poets on their shelves: “Lifted toward the apex of man, / love-twins embody the life-stream’s span. / Bringing them down, / upon the crosses. / A cobra’s voyance of the cruxes.” I don’t know what it means, but it’s a delight to read. Maybe a consultation to Carl G. Jung’s works on ancient archetypal symbolism is in order. The lyrics help imbue the Wreathes’ music with a primeval feel. The martial tones of the first two tracks should sate the cravings of anyone who likes their neofolk to have a more militaristic ambiance.