Beta-lactam Ring

the horn calls out desirously, clenched firm and tilted toward the sun; bawling sentry cut from bone, from cattle slain, the tool of death pressed to the lips and, covering a ruffled smirk, echoes through amber streaks of dawn. Upright figures move inside its curling song, bodies cased in fur, behind masks totem-like, stamping sounds of wooly slaughter, woodland drums which summon hunter, rogue and shaman, ornate myths carried leeward, led by torchlight, dragging death toward the inn. Then to feast, laugh and sing for a new and brighter day.

The second full length to date from Markus Wolff's Waldteufel (translated loosely in English as "Forest Devil"), Sanguis converses eloquently between moods of suspenseful, dreary presence and rowdy celebrations of sun and soul. A patchwork hymnal never sung so much as lived out loud. A life in various moments of flux and transformation—a life well lived—which Wolff—German expatriate and full-time artisan woodcarver, translator, author, painter and mustachioed heathen—has now unified under one roof, a hermitage of devious sounds located somewhere afar in the American Northwest.

To this end, Wolff and supporting musician Tyrsson Sinclair, incorporate traits from Germany's native Krautrock movement, the more localized and aggressive influence of US black metal group L'Acephale (of which he is an active member) and a return to the original beast riot of Crash Worship, the all-percussion performance troupe formed by Wolff and Simon Cheffins in 1987, into an already pliant composite of various folk music from around the globe.

Wolff also draws a link between this strange gathering of sounds and the pre-Putsch European romanticism of figures like Stefan George, the 19th century German poet and author (Pronounced "gayorga"), Alfred Schuler, Geogre's associate and founder of the Munich "Blood Lamp" cult of which Allerseelen's Gerhard "Kadmon" Petak writes, "…glorified the spiritual quality of blood. Blood was for them a symbol of the pagan antiquity as opposed to the pale modern world." Both Schuler and George are new selections of Wolff's period fascination (stemming from a co-natured interest in pagan mysticism and stories of "the wild hunt"), which includes previous translations of obscure poets such as Friedrich Hielscher, Hugo Kaeker, Leopold Weber, and Karl Wolfskehl for 2006's Raunchant EP. But for Sanguis, the two are newly paired with the equally mysterious and enigmatic conflations of bodies above and below the firmament in select excerpts from hymns of India's Rig Veda.

The texts are printed in both English and German (the title is Latin), but are rendered aloud entirely in the latter for personal as well as poetic reasons, affording Wolff the opportunity to appear comfortably to us as frightening and wholly endearing throughout the album's eight separate, but intimately connected tracks. A bravura performance that steadies and realigns settings in tones of enchantment and awe, with tingling, chest-heaving delight taken in such theatrical delivery, vacillating between ominous moans and concise spoken-word. A voice as animated and agile as David Tibet but from the entirely opposite end of the spectrum; voices bellowed, huffed and drawled, not with the flaccid, slinky glamour of a wishful castrato; not even human. If oak trees had lungs they might sound like this, in roaring to whispering incantations rushing out like phantoms through the dark and dusty wood; susserate, sweeping argot through auriferous Autumn's bounty, by the dozen.

Markuss Wolff, the mask-maker, springs from the bush as actor and instrumentalist, dwelling between the realms of myth and realty, weaving threads between flora and fauna; a storyteller, and perhaps a story in himself. May he live twice as long as the ancient Brahmins for the ways in which he brings such accumulated estorica like:
We hurl fire into the night and copper rage…
As if it leapt as a drunken spark into all our hearts
In order to spring forth from the eyes and lips of all
A shining, jubilant solar joy,
While its vessel bursts in sacrificial death.
Into right and vivid form from off the page. Not with dull austerity but with rich excitement and tension befitting such fiery exultations.

Julian Cope has previously likened Wolff (based on Waldteufel's first outing, Heimliches Deutschland) as a kindred spirit of Walter Wegmuller and Sergius Golowin as well as Nico and her tenaciously Teutonic Marble Index. Those remarks were written more to the effects of the music itself rather than specific approach of Wolff's hirsute aesthetics, but on Sanguis the appearance of blushing Moog synthesizers and electric guitar push the three a bit closer together. Elsewhere, the rousing march and raw, scratching chords of the title track together with "Kupferwut" evoke more of Bathory or Graveland's Rob Darken than the floating idylls of Lord Krishna Von Goloka.

It takes a strong performer to keep up with Waldteufel's audacious utterances but Tyrsson Sinclair, working here with both strings and the accordion, proves to be the perfect replacement for Wolff's former collaborator, violinist Annabel Lee. The interactions between the two play out like feeling of sinking in and out of daydreams inside an old and dimly lit Bavarian brewhaus. The musical approximation of a long, brooding stare out of warped-glass window pains, a shelter from the storm of purple night skies, thunder rolling across rooftops. And what might it have to say?

Outside there is war; martial beats and bugle gather forces against unseen enemies. Cymbals seem to practically urge us to sit quietly in observance, "sshhhsh-ing" for our safety at the approach of monstrous, tectonic footsteps, imprinted stealthily not like machines of iron and steel but as fairy-tale giants amid subordinate beats of wood and skin touching down in light raindrop patterns, falling back to the fugged atmosphere of Tyrsson's accordion, which seems afterward to have been playing on for untold hours in the background.

Setting aside the clearer ambiance by way of native tongue, the music of Waldteufel roams freely about the world, building off fragments from lost or largely undesirable folk traditions scattered throughout Europe and sometimes Asia. For the "Suryam Cakram," "Andachtsjodler" and "The Follower of Flame" none but Wolfe and his assorted tools are on display, evoking the aura of a trance via steady hits of the Celtic bodhran, or else in deep-riveting growls that point to Turva; later taken to ponderous yodeling or mixed together in a macabre caroling of the dead at Yule while the delicate to explosive intervals between drum beat sound almost like something out of Japanese Noh drama.

Such apparent contrasts and conflicts within the music are merely the reflection of Sanguis' seizing of George's enigmatic, Gnostic verses:
I am the one and I am the Twain
I am the womb and I am the Sire
I am the bow and I am the slain
I am the wood and I am the fire
I am the sire and I am the sight
I am the sheath and I am the haft
I am the shadow and the right
I am the bow I am the shaft
I am the rich I am the needer
I am the semblance and the heart
I am the altar and the pleader
I am a finish and a start
Thus are these voices enshrined between foggy breath and other more hardened implements, a magic circle formed of memories, made whole by flesh, blood and bones—the pagan mass par excellence, howl ad hep. Praise to Agni! And to Waldteufel! If the horns don't catch you then the hooves surely will.

Reviewed by: Todd DePalma
Reviewed on: 2007-08-29
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