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“I have seen the blood of my Lady In small droplets throughout the forest deep In tracks of hooves the earth and blood are made one And she comes home to me...”
Following a very successful 2006 European Tour opening for Germany’s darkwave / neo-Medieval gods Qntal, two former members of Unto Ashes emigrated to Germany, where they are now recording with members of Estampie and Helium Vola.
Thus, The Blood of My Lady was painfully conceived and wrought in considerable upheaval (emotional and otherwise). In late 2007, Laird moved from New York City to a large Victorian house in the countryside. In long durations of silence, punctuated by the sounds of birds and wind, the songs formed and began to grow on their own accord.
As would befit the rustic environment of Laird’s new home, The Blood of My Lady was recorded entirely with acoustic instruments; its neo-medieval enchantments will be favorably compared with Unto Ashes’ debut album Moon Oppose Moon (Projekt, 2000). The thirteen songs abound with cellos, French horns, hurdy-gurdy, dulcimers, mandolin, piano, and military drums. The album explores themes of love and loss; of awakening; and of homecoming… But does this homecoming actually occur? Perhaps it cannot be:
“I have seen the blood of my Lady Falling in a fine mist in the heat of the day It covers the leaves of the Mourning Tree And she comes home to me...”
This song - entitled “The Blood of My Lady” - appears as two completely different musical compositions: Part 1 was written and recorded by Laird; Part 2 was created by Kim Larsen, with Laird’s words and vocal harmonies.
Easily the most boisterous song on the album is the infectious and powerful anthem “Echos in den Wald,” a German “military pop song” which involves relentless hurdy-gurdy, snare drums, and a towering men’s choir. Following close behind is an outrageous neo-folk version of “Fly on the Windscreen” which is as menacing – and romantic – as the Depeche Mode original. Long admired by Laird, “Fly on the Windscreen” perfectly captures the exquisite tension between sex and death. Further excursions into warped romance is realized in the stunning “I Will Lead You Down” which invites comparison to early Leonard Cohen.
A foreboding analogue synthesizer on “Our Palace of Ice” beckons arctic birds with tragical eyes. Another stirring instrumental piece is “The Tomb of Your Remains” which was performed entirely on cello; this song was written in the ninth century (!) by Kassia, of Constantinople, who is the earliest known female composer whose name has come down to us. Kassia died ca. 867 AD; she therefore preceded Hildegard von Bingen by almost 200 years.
Two outstanding neo-folk songs were contributed by Germany’s Sonne Hagal: “Who Has Seen the Wind,” with words by Christina Rossetti, and “Vengeance,” which has an almost Elizabethan quality. Originally these songs were submitted as simple guitar & vocal tracks; from these Laird created a spectacular display of male and female vocal harmonies, French horn, mandolin, and hurdy-gurdy.
“A Cold Wind (February),” sung by Kim Larsen, is an entrancing, diamond of a song, worthy of early Popul Vuh, which follows the heart outside its icy isolation. “For All My Broken Promises” presents the heart as it emerges from shadow into raw sunlight. “The River and the Hawk” offers the heart’s realization of what it has lost, and what it longs to regain:
“She is everywhere and nowhere…”
I’ve only heard a passing mention of so-called “Dark Folk” music, and until now I never really considered the entertainment value of earthy melodies about death, ghosts, pagan gods and occult mysteries… but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed a natural fit. After all, the concept of horror and the unknown is as old as human creativity itself, and probably dates back to the first cave paintings and eerie chants around the firelight… and there’s something about the primal rhythms, vintage instrumentation and timeless vocals of so-called “Neoclassical Darkwave” groups like Arcana (one of my all-time favorites), Dead Can Dance, Estampie, Qntal, Dark Sanctuary and Mirabilis that puts you in the mind of chilling moonlit rituals in the deepest, darkest woods.
Now that I’ve heard Unto Ashes’ new CD The Blood of My Lady – which is set for release next Tuesday from Projekt Records – I’d definitely add them to this list. Read on, and learn what ethereal strains may echo through thee waiting earbuds!
Formed over a decade ago in New York City by multi-instrumentalist Michael Laird, Unto Ashes has featured a revolving group of collaborators over the years, blending traditional folk instruments like hammered dulcimer, violin & cello, hurdy-gurdy, the Persian saz (a kind of long-necked lute) and various indigenous percussion with electronic elements like synthesizers and electric guitars. For this album, the group scaled back most of the modern aspects to put more emphasis on old-school instrumentation.
Laird reportedly composed all the tracks from The Blood of My Lady alone, while sequestered within a Victorian house in rural New York during a period of emotional turmoil. But that didn’t stop him from seeking musical contributors from several countries – including legendary Danish rocker Kim Larsen, German experimental outfit Sonne Hagal and acclaimed soprano Josie Smith.
The result is what Laird and company describe as “an album of thirteen spells conjured for The Lady,” which comes across like a ritualized meditation on the dark and chaotic forces of man and nature, love and death. It’s a simpler, more elemental work that calls back to the group’s earliest recordings, particularly their first full-length release Moon Oppose Moon.
The title track is divided into two separate movements – the first performed primarily by Laird, the other by Larsen – which serve to bookend the album with a tragic theme of lost love. Interestingly, Laird’s rendition bears a striking similarity to some of the quieter songs from early Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, while Larsen brings more than a hint of Lou Reed to the table. The tracks framed between these two songs represent a wide assortment of moods and styles – from the somber ballad “Who Has Seen the Wind,” the Michael Nyman-like “For All My Broken Promises” and the quietly regal “The River and the Hawk,” to the deceptively gentle-sounding anthem “Vengeance.” Pastoral instrumentals like cello solo “The Tomb of Your Remains” and warm piano piece “She is Everywhere and Nowhere” add some midnight-meditation moments.
The haunting ambient swells, swirls and distant bell-tones that accompany the beautiful but unsettling “I Will Lead You Down” move to front-and-center in the warm synth pulses of “Our Palace of Ice,” which transitions into the goosebump-inducing spoken-word piece “A Cold Wind (February).” This middle trio of tracks to me represents the full realization of the haunted mood I believe Laird was striving for here, and prove that a perfectly Gothic tone can be achieved without a lot of glammy posturing.
It’s not all hushed, melancholy tones, however; the vigorous jingling bells, horns and odd vocals of German-language march “Echos in den Wald” manage to be eccentrically upbeat and sort of creepy at the same time, and there’s even an inventive acoustic-guitar cover of Depeche Mode’s “Fly on the Windscreen” that fits nicely with the band’s sex & death themes (“Death is everywhere/There are lambs for the slaughter… Come here, kiss me now”).
There’s a haunting vibe to these thirteen “spells” that transports you to another time and place… and not necessarily a safe place, either. As you listen, you get a sense of shadows being cast by fading firelight, imagery that works its way into your mind over the album’s 43 minutes, and for me it results in a more lights-out, incense-burning experience than, say, casual dinnertime background music (although those are usually one and the same at my house). It doesn’t aim to unsettle you immediately, but you can feel the darkness creeping in around the edges of your perception.
It goes to show that the right artist can pull off subtle but very real chills with a touch of class – think of it as the sonic equivalent of Carl Dreyer’s surreal, dreamlike 1932 film Vampyr. If low-key vintage chills are not your poison, then this probably won’t win you over… but if you’re craving a sense of quiet, elusive dread, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.
New York City-based darkwavers Unto Ashes usher in their sixth full-length with the title track, and it’s a good one with its gently picked acoustic guitar and sweet little melody, both of which belie the artsy darkness of the lyrics. This sets the formula for The Blood of my Lady, and it’s a simple one.
Musically, this is a minor-key folk record; guitar-and-voice stuff with sparingly applied strings and percussion. It’s lyrically that Unto Ashes mastermind Michael Laird ups the gloom stakes. Mortality and Desire are predominant themes, intertwining in a headily macabre concoction that veers often into pretentiousness, but is none the worse for doing so.
Laird wears his influences on his sleeve: the cases in point an eerie transposition of Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Who has seen the wind’ and a cover of Depeche Mode b-side ‘Fly on the Windscreen’, the latter an album highlight and a triumph of tasteful interpretation; Laird’s stripped-down arrangement brings the vocals to the fore and the mortality-preoccupied lyrics fit right in with the vibe of the self-penned material.
But it’s not about stand-out tracks; The Blood of my Lady is a concept album (‘thirteen spells conjured for the lady...’ says the press release) and plays accordingly—as a cohesive piece of art, occasional instrumentals blurring the gaps between songs, the reprise of the opening track used for the album’s coda giving the whole thing a cyclical feel. This is a solid piece of work and one worthy of finding admirers outside Unto Ashes’ usual fanbase.
Drei Jahre sind seit dem letzten UNTO ASHES-Album "Songs For A Window" (ebenfalls bei Projekt) vergangen. Das seit Ende der 1990er aktive Projekt ist mittlerweile auf seinen Kern Michael Laird zusammengeschrumpft, der bei "The Blood Of My Lady" von einer ordentlichen Packung Gastmusiker (u.a. Sonne Hagal) unterstützt wurde. Gerade diese musikalische Schützenhilfe zahlt sich aus und steht "The Bloody Of My Lady" außerordentlich zu Gesicht.
Überhaupt ist man mittlerweile eher im angedunkelten (Weird-)Folk(nicht Neofolk!)-Sound angelangt, bei dem man musikalische Bezüge zu Künstlern wie And Also The Trees oder Backworld hören kann. Zum Schießen lustig wird es mit "Echos In Den Wald", eine mittelalterliche Spielmannsnummer, bei der man alles kann außer deutsch. Fast wie in Baden-Württemberg. Wunderschön melancholisch: "I Will Lead You Down" und "The Blood Of My Lady (Part 2)". Stücke wie "Vengeance" oder "For All My Broken Promises" bringen trotz der Texte eine gewisse Leichtigkeit in das Album und garantieren die Hörbarkeit auch bei gutem Wetter. Gerade auch in Sachen Stimmung ist "The Blood Of My Lady" gelungen.
Ein starkes neues UNTO ASHES-Album. "The Blood Of My Lady" kann es gar nicht erwarten alle Geschichten zu erzählen, die es zu erzählen hat. Da ruckelt was im Regal. - Andy
Michael Laird keeps going strong with this latest album, marking over a decade of music and six solid full-length albums. This latest work drifts away from some of the previous albums in that it settles more into a single genre rather than such a broad range as before, concentrating on the dark folk sound. We're presented with a simple package and thirteen outstanding pieces.
From the beginning of the album we're taken right into the all acoustic approach to this album in it's dark folk style with the first version of the title track. This piece is very simple with acoustic guitar and Michael's vocals. A second version of this piece appears later with Kim Larsen taking on the task of the vocals and a little different rhythm and overall mood. These two piece show the simple and minimal style on this album, but shows how sometimes less can be more in terms of style and quality. There are many other very simple, yet stunning pieces such as "The Tomb of Your Remains" which is all performed by cello and is absolutely captivating.
Breaking out of the simple minimalistic mold are many other pieces though they still remain equally captivating and in that dark folk realm. "Who Has Seen The Wind" start out very simple but gradually builds with various levels of vocal harmonies, the addition of hurdy gurdy and other instruments that make the repetitive vocals come alive. This builds to a haunting mix that continues on in other pieces, such as the haunting "Vengeance" with it's harmonized male and female vocals (which has just the right touch without taking the pieces into an ethereal realm). But growing darker and more haunting is "I Will Lead You Down" with everything from the vocals to the music all making the mood and intent clear. While this is probably the darkest of pieces on the album, there are many more that are no less haunting.
Pieces that stand out against the standard dark folk style include the up-beat German march similar to what you might hear from Qntal, Deine Lakaien or Helium Vola, is "Echos In Den Wald". They also put together a medieval dirge version of "Fly on the Windscreen" which comes out remarkably well and something I can appreciate even as a Depeche Mode fan. "Our Palace of Ice" is one of the few (or only) pieces that a synthesizer is used on this album amidst all of the acoustic instruments and still remains equally haunting as the other instrumental pieces or otherwise. And to finalize the album after the second version of the title track is the dark yet beautiful piano solo "She Is Everywhere And Nowhere". As a classically trained pianist, pieces like these stand out in their simple classic ageless beauty and provide the perfect ending for this stunning album. Rating: 4.5/5
From the isolationist mind of Michael Laird we are enchanted by the subtle susurrations of pure love, and all of it’s manifestations, from the depths to the heights and also the highest love, the love of the blood of the lady as it courses amidst our being. Many are called, but few are chosen to partake of this sacrosanct libation and exalted celebration. Michael Laird recorded this album in complete isolation from the teeming masses of the world, free from constant bombardment of humanity to receive the purest essence, that of our lady, our goddess extended through thirteen glimpses of her many faceted jewel as Michael Laird himself states “These thirteen spells were conjured for silk and bone”… A very curious statement, giving a great key to the ideas and feelings represented here… The blood of our goddess and the blood of our lady is indeed everywhere and nowhere….
We begin our journey into her sacred gardens with “The Blood of my Lady (Part I.) a creation evoking deep feelings of nostalgic wonderment and imparting us to seek out the true voice of our lady within all of existence, within pools of sand and blood, within the dew that gracefully forms and falls from the trees to spring anew within her everlasting caress. From this iteration, we are drawn into the streams of the eternal goddess, from “Who has seen the Wind” the wind in her invitation of wild abandon, to the deeply nostalgic, obscure potencies of “I will lead you down”, which by reading the lyrics, one may mistake to be a statement of misogyny, but this is just a mask of a sequence of events of the highest alchemical gnosis and the primordial and unfettered love, which exalts and glorifies the lady of our blood in all and in nothing. Following this and other shards of her essence in musical form, we arrive through the eyes of the “Fly on the Windscreen.” At first glance, I did not feel this song to belong to this paean of our beloved goddess and her unknown fascinations. Performed originally by Depeche Mode, Unto Ashes recreates this song of depth concerning the mysteries of Sex and Death… Thanateros… Thereby, bringing it to perfection. This golden offering then ends with “The Blood of our Lady (Part 1)” and the equally haunting “She is everywhere and nowhere” Exhorting all who may experience the hidden gestures within to seek our lady everywhere and nowhere, for she is indeed, everything and nothing and the hidden formula that excites these two opposites.
In recent years the Projekt label has grown from releasing Darkwave to producing some amazing neo/ambient folk music, the inherent essence of which is on a higher level of understanding and wisdom, than many may associate with the offerings of Projekt. I myself was quite surprised to experience such an opus of this magnitude and I am equally surprised this release had not beckoned to me before now, I will now have an attentive eye upon the Projekt label and all of you should as well. Michael laird has bequeathed us with a journey of hidden libations, to be drank in, as every moment stirs and passes, for it is surely her movements which arouse the passions of life and death within us all… Michael Laird has also a wide array of guest musicians to complete his divine vision, including Sonne hagal, Kim Larsen,, Josie Smith and William Wiegard, amongst others enfleshing his vision in stone, bones and the blood of our lady which resonates with those of the blood. In summation to this album, as Michael Laird has received and uttered “ Now that the Blackbird took my eyes, I can see. I am no one, I am no one, I am no one. Unless I fly into the Winter Night….”
The blood of my lady (part 1) / Who has seen the wind / Echos in den wald / The tomb of your remains / Vengeance / I will lead you down / Our palace of ice / A cold wind (february) / For all my broken promises / The river and the hawk / Fly on the windscreen / The blood of my lady (part 2) / She is everywhere and nowhere
Hablar de un álbum publicado por la compañía discográfica Projekt es siempre sinónimo de calidad. Con una prestigiosa historia musical avalada por años de trabajo y álbumes imborrables en la memoria, el grupo musical Unto Ashes nos presenta su último disco, “The Blood of my Lady”, dentro de un estilo melódico y de influencias musicales medievales. Con Catherine Bent y Jou-an Hou (Cello), Sonne Hagal y Kim Larsem (a la guitarra y como vocalistas), Gregory Palmer (tenor), Josie Smith (soprano), William Wiegard (french horn), Michael Laird (multi-instrumentista y producción) y John French (ingeniero de producción) encargados de dar cuerpo a este álbum, la calidad alcanzada es mucho más que destacable. De esta forma, podemos hablar de “The Blood of my Lady” como su gran trabajo estrella que brillará en nuestra colección discográfica personal de forma intensa y duradera.
Una guitarra nos adentra en la primera toma de contacto con el mundo de “ The Blood of my Lady” hasta que “Who has seen the wind”, mucho más viva y melodiosa, nos acerque a atmósferas más mitológicas. Con un espíritu victorioso y exultante entramos en “Echos in den wald”, mientras la composición instrumental “The tomb of your remains” será oscuramente medieval hasta que la esencia de “Vengeance” nos devuelva a nuestro mágico estado inicial. Lo melancólico retornará con “I will lead your down” mientras, de nuevo, lo instrumental nos deleitará en “Our palace of ice” con su delicadeza ambiental.
Lo gélido se hará dueño de nuestros sentimientos en “A cold wind (february)” y “For all my broken promises” dará continuidad a una línea más introspectiva, pasando a un estado algo más alegre con “The river and the hawk”. Con “Fly on the windscreen”, el grupo Unto Ashes realizan una excelente versión de esta conocida canción compuesta por Martin L. Gore, muy alejada de su versión electrónica original. La segunda entrega de “The Blood of my Lady”, más introvertida, nos llevará directamente a “She is everywhere and nowhere”, un final instrumental de lujo para un álbum de lujo. ¡¡¡Disfrútenlo!!!.
I’m not psychic so I have no way of knowing whether the fact some of his more regular musical partners relocated abroad provided Michael Laird with a central tone of gloomy, romanticized history which aided what is essentially a discreet work, or whether this was always the intention, but it certainly strengthens the secluded air.
Over simple but diverting guitar we get disturbing imagery throughout ‘The Blood Of My Lady’, and this blood is everywhere! ‘Who Has Seen The Wind’ takes on a more muck-ridden historical lament, like a grim take on Celctic themes. ‘Echos In Den Wald’ skips along with some tensely dramatic vocals and sternly delineated percussion and ending quite hypnotically.
Melancholic (well, what else?) cello ushers us into ‘The Tomb Of Your Remains’ and there we stay, charmed by the basic instrumental. ‘Vengeance’ unfolds calmly a plaintive medieval journey, just bisecting Scarborough Fayre, with ‘I Will Lead You Down’ more modern but just as still and linear, almost caught in its own sonic aura, ‘Our Palace Of Ice’ is a deceptive ambient slice followed by the equally interesting acoustic ‘A Cold Wind (February)’, descriptively sighing
The lush and dignified ‘For All My Broken Promises’ jangles with some optimism, but still seems pretty mournful. ‘The River And The Hawk’ is pretty morbid but entrancing, ‘Fly On The Windscreen’ happily welcomes death being everywhere, and ‘The Blood Of My Lady (Part 2)’ returns us to the disturbing imagery, which just gets weirder. ‘She Is Everywhere And Nowhere’ carries on from the preceding lyrics but is a quiet piano instrumental ending a strangely quiet record that actually manages to be lightly brooding.