Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 - Year in Review and Best Of


The time has come to call 2014 to a close. It may not seem like a lot, but 2014 was my first year really diving into writing and I do have quite a bit to show for it. For my blog here – this was its first full year online - I wrote three really great essays. The TSIDMZ album Ungern von Sternberg Khan essay kicked the year off really strong and I got to meet a lot of new people because of it. Afterwards came my Allerseelen Pedra CD essay which I am very proud of, seeing as how many of the songs on it are now getting re-releases and more attention as they rightly deserve. I’d like to think that just maybe, I played a tiny role in that. And finally my Changes portion of the Changes / Andrew King split album, as my on going Terra Fria retrospective tries to take shape. Like the Allerseelen essay, I like to think I really spotlighted a forgotten album.

I’ll confess to have bitten off more than I can chew, and I am writing three essays simultaneously for publications here: Ex Libris by Verney 1826, Blood is the Food of the Gods by MARS and Ride the Tiger by Changes. My hope is to complete these as early as possible in 2015. The bibliography I am consulting for these CDs is vast, so writing them will be challenging, but in the end I think very academic. I am hoping to learn a lot from these essays too.

Outside of my Heilige Tod blog, I just got published in a true academic anthology. I wrote an essay called “Permission to Kill: Exploring Italy’s 1960s Eurospy Phenomenon, Impact and Legacy” that was included in the book James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy published by McFarland. I have now experienced the feeling of getting published and I am bloodthirsty for more. I also had an academic review published in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics about the book Drawn of Dangerous: Italian Comics of the 1970s and 1980s. More information about my essay can be found at my official website at https://sites.google.com/site/vnvdiak/italian-eurospy-films and my review can be previewed here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21504857.2014.984875#.VJOaXlLkMA .

So to end this blog for 2014, I’ll take a cue from many other pop culture webzines and blogs by highlighting this past year. Many music-oriented websites offer a “best of
 for a year, which can most certainly be fun, so I’ll follow suit with this article, but I’m going to do things slightly differently for this….

Heilige Tod – 2014 Music In Review


In 2014, no different than any other year, I bought a lot of music. I’d like to homage all the releases that were actually released in 2014 in this review and highlight something positive for each one. In the end I’ll spotlight what I feel were the best three releases of 2014.

However, there are some things that need to be illuminated. As stated, I bought (or in some cases was gifted) a lot of music in 2014, and many of them were albums released years prior. Although I can’t include them as part of this line up, I do want to give praise to them since they were truly amazing albums and I discovered new bands and new friends with them:

Andrew King – Deus Ignotus (2011)
AWEN – The Bells Before Dawn (2010)
Changes – A Ripple in Time (2013)
Changes – Ride the Tiger (2013)
David E. Williams – Trust No Scaffold Built of This Bone (2013)
Har Belex – Time Does not Forgive (2013)
Honey Ltd. – The Complete LHI Recordings (2013)
Verney 1826 – Ex Libris (2013)


These by far are my favourite acquisitions from prior years procured this year and I want to acknowledge their greatness. I also must note I just ordered AWEN’s Grim King of the Ghosts, which will not make it in time for this article, but if The Bells Before Dawn is any indication, I know it will be amazing.

For albums, vinyls, EPs, etc. actually released in 2014, I have twenty one. This includes releases outside the genre this blog focuses on – including technical death metal, adult pop, EBM, etc. If I excluded such releases, I’d probably only have 10 releases and that simply isn’t substantial enough for an article here.

All of my CDs/Records/Cassettes from 2014

For the twenty one releases, I’ll group into broad genre categories. Within each category, I’ll name the release and highlight positives aspects or particular songs from each I like. Finally, I’ll end the article with my top three favourite releases of 2014 from that pool of 21. I know Heilgie Tod is still really new, lacking a real body of work and ergo it hasn’t quite established itself as a credible resource for music quite yet, but I do hope this recap does its duty to highlight and give some accolades to the releases of 2014.

Black Ambient, Black Metal, Dungeon Synth, Tech Metal

Guardians of the Rings, autographed by Alex (Uruk-Hai), Jaron (Ringbearer) and Elliott (Onyx)

Guardians of the Rings is an ambitious 2 disc set showcasing 4 bands from the black ambient, black metal, and dungeon-synth genres: Uruk-Hai, Onyx, Ringbearer, and Black Jade, united under a Tolkien theme.

Uruk-Hai is the veteran band of the four, bringing some marquee value to this 4-way split album. Uruk-Hai has perfected the Tolkien black ambient/black metal sound for years, and their 4 songs on this split showcase the formula perfectly. “Ring of Water” is one of the standout tracks, with a nice magical, crystalline feel to it, but “Gothmog” brings up the more cavernous and adventurous sound. Great music to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to.

Black Jade is a band I was not familiar with, so the songs here where my first exposure to the project. The male vocals are not 100% my thing, being the growling vocals common in black metal, but the presence of some bit-pop/chiptune elements and female vocals on “Awake!” are an expected but awesome surprise. The music itself is really nice, bordering on adventure metal, but the black metal vocals will definitely win that crowd over.

The Canadian Ringbearer project, headed by Jaron Evil of Archspire and Funeral Fornication, is present and continues to evolve their Tolkien sound that they began to showcase on their album The Way is Shut. Ringbearer also brings four tracks to the album, with some great production values, with “The People of Numenor” being the best of the lot with a grandiose sound with “Shards of Narsil” being their second best track.

Onyx is the newcomer band to the scene, having just started in 2013, flirting with a dungeon-synth sound. The songs a bit more minimal than the other three bands, emulating some of classic video game soundtracks of which the project draws much inspiration from. For example, I’m really drawn to “Leaves on the Forest Floor”, it has a hypnotic quality to it that sounds like temple music from a JRPG (I am thinking Raja’s Temple from Phantasy Star IV). Legend of the Master Ring also sounds like epic fantasy music with a hint of video game RPG touches to it, and comes off sounding well executed.

Onyx - III and Warcraft

Aside from appearing on Guardians of the Rings, Onyx also had two other albums released on Cassette, III and Warcraft. Warcraft I want to underscore because, not only does it overtly contain the video game themes I eluded to above, but it also has photography on the cassette sleeve done by my girlfriend Michele, and both Jaron Evil and I appear on the song “Kalimdor”. I was a nice opportunity to write some Warcraft inspired lyrics and do them spoken word style for this release, and the end result sounds really cool. I’m really proud and grateful to be asked to contribute and keep hoping Onyx finds more and more success.

Archspire - The Lucid Collective
Jaron Evil from Ringbear is actually involved in a more mainstream project, the technical death metal band Archspire. I had never dove into the world of technical death metal, but after listening to this album and a few others of a similar ilk (listening to Suffocation’s Effigy of the Forgotten off YouTube), the genre is intense! The vocals are of the growling variety, much like black metal, so not 100% my thing, but the music proper of The Lucid Collective, is insane. The music is very fast and almost video game sounding. The drums sound like machine guns going off. Vocal non-withstanding, I really dig the music, and the song “Join Us Beyond” being my favourite track off the album. The album definitely makes me want to check out even more technical death metal bands.

Neofolk and Dark Folk

Backsaddling, autographed by Lloyd James

Lloyd James’ Naevus project was strong this year, with a few concert appearances and released, including this beautiful 7” vinyl, Backsaddling. Naevus releases always stand out due to their artwork, done by Lloyd himself in an abstract and fun style. The 7” gatefold sleave with lyrics and pictures, this was a well to do effort. The vinyl has 4 tracks, and fans of Lloyd’s spoken word pieces on Kirlian Camera’s Black Summer Choirs will love the opening track “Up a Hill”. However the two best tracks are “Aria/Acqua” and “Ego” which highlight Lloyd’s trademark serious voice but with accompanying neofolk-pop music that Naevus has perfected over the years.

Blood is the Food of the Gods, autographed by Marcus S.

Blood is the Food of the Gods is one of the MARS releases in 2014 and it’s epic. Think of the sounds of the American act Lux Interna, but make the words more repetitive/ritualistic and way less etheral and a more darker edge, and you’ll have Blood is the Food of the Gods. Effort was put into packaging for this release – a nice digipack with custom artwork from the artist Nadine and plenty of lyrics to follow along. This album will be covered more extensively in a future article on this blog, but I wanted to highlight my favourite song off of it, “The Cyclic Law”. This song is dark, brooding and epic – it recalls “Electricity” by Blood Axis in its powerful delivery.

Novemthree's Renewing

Novemthree’s Renewing is a curio of a release, as this is a re-release from 2012 and the project was taken monies for it years ago to have it come out – a Kickstarter without the Kickstarter. I had nearly forgotten about this release until it randomly arrived in the mail. The packing is unique, a thick paperstock with pockets to hold the CD, a cool patch and an insert. The music is of the forest-folk variety, along the In Gowan Ring style, with natural noises present, such as chirping birds. “Autumn Procession” is a good song that recalls the original Wicker Man and has a ritualistic feeling to it. The best song though is “Sing of Beauty” which has the best vocal delivery and a good folk sound.

Neoclassical and Military Pop


Ordo Fratrum Minorum - signed by Lionel to both my girlfriend and I

Hot on the heels of Verney 1826’s elegant album Ex Libris last year, (stay tuned to this blog for a write up on its literary tropes), comes a single, Ordo Fratrum Minorum – The Remixes, probably the most humbling and serious CD I received this year. The song, “Ordo Fratrum Minorum” is about the Polish friar Maximilian Kolbe, who while imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp, volunteered to take the place of a prisoner that was being sent to be starved. This song is Verney 1826’s tribute to the self sacrificing priest, and this single has many remixes of the song from such popular acts as MARS, Schattenspiel, and The Victim’s Ball. The “Dave Foreman Remix” gives the song a dancy quality, while the female vocals on the “Starchasm Version” give it a new age, almost Enigma-like sound.


The Lupi Gladius album, also autographed to me

Lupi Gladius, a side project of many members of the Italian electro-band Hidden Place, releases their official debut album proper with Veritas, and showcases a much better sound than they presented on their prior EP, Lucania. The album is less “minimal-military” pop and instead has a higher production value and more complex sounds and more instruments, such as accordions and violins. This has parallels to that of Derniere Volonte, which went from a minimal-military pop to the more robust outfit it is now. One of my favourite tracks is “Nel Vento”, which trades the martial sounds for a neofolk sound, and adds the lush vocals of Sara Lux in a guest appearance.

Eurasian Artists Association

Barbarossa Umtrunk and Sonnenkind

While I do not agree with the politics, philosophies or the various anti-Western/Zionism/globalism/democracy/etc-etc. of the Eurasian Artists Association, the movement has generated some talented and noteworthy artists and releases. For 2014 I got copies of La Fosse De Babel by the French martial project Barbarossa Umtrunk and Eulenspiegels Wiederkehr by the German folk project Sonnenkind. Umtrunk brings their heavy martial might combined with their trademark usage of political speeches and rallies. The haunting rhythm and beautiful female vocals of “In Bashar We Trust” makes this the best song on this album, with “Syria” and its samples of protesters a close second. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Sonnenkind brings a more romantic approach to the neofolk scene. The majority of the songs on their album sound both serene and wistful, with “Goldener Herbst” and “Der Wunsch Des Alten” being my favourites off the album.

Die Neue Runde

The limited edition version of Fahl's The Halls of the Dead

The Eurasian Artists were not the only collective hard at work in 2014, as the German Die Neue Runde collective saw two new releases as well. Scene staple Sagittarius released an extremely limited CD called Fragmente IV: Abraxas. This release was to commemorate a rare live performance of Sagittarius on August 30th in Leipzig this past summer. The other DNR project, Fahl, released their second album The Halls of the Dead in both limited and unlimited version on Lichterklang. Fahl unfortunately went the Der Blutharsch route, and didn’t give any of their tracks titles. The album is a well done in the spoken word style, with ominious, dark and brooding ambient soundscapes in the background. However, the greatest event to happen with the relation to the DNR circle is the return of Marcel P. to music making. Marcel, who has been somewhat out of commission for a while now, has been making a triumphant comeback with his presence on both of these albums.


Electronic, EBM, Pop


Lost Inside a Dream dedicated to me by Miss Kitty

There are two newcomers to the music scene within these genres, Shaena Stabler with her Stay EP and Miss Kitty with her Lost Inside a Dream EP.

For Miss Kitty, this EP is not only her debut release, but also the debut release of the new S.P.Q.R. MMXIV label ran by Lionel Verney of Verney 1826 and Sven Phalanx of Schattenspiel. Lost Inside a Dream highlights prior released material that Miss Kitty had appeared on, tracks for both Schattenspiel and Verney 1826, such as the masterfully composed dark-pop song “Good Morning Sick World” which had originally appeared on the Schattenspiel album Aus Dem Dunkel… However for new and exclusive tracks, “Seelenschmerz” takes the prize as a great club-friendly track that is good for boot stomping and butt shaking. It wish my wish that both Miss Kitty and this new label find even more success in 2015.

Tourdeforce is a project by Chris R. from the Italian duo Porta Vittoria. While PV focuses on their particular brand of Mediterranean-pop, Tourdeforce takes a more electronic approach, with forays into synthpop and futurepop. Their album, Jedem Das Seine, has some incredible catchy and dancy numbers, such as “History is Written by the Winners”. On “Adolf Hitler Platz”, Lisa P., also from Porta Vittoria, makes an appearance and adds an emotive, feminine charm to the song. The best song on the album is “Human Geometries”, which has a great BPM and is a frequent song I listen to while jogging. Of special note for this album, I am listed as a music consultant in the credits (I only did spelling and grammar checking!), but I am very humbled to be included and it is a personal highlight for sure.

Tourdeforce and Perturbator

The French dark-synth project Perturbator has really taken off and I totally caught that train. Their album Dangerous Days is nearly perfect. The cover artwork captures perfectly what many horror films of the 80s that flirted with occult-computers (Evilspeak anyone?) tried to do. The imagery is both techno-denomic and sexy, but it pales in comparison to the music which is superb, which is a great blend of dark-synth and 80ies inspired underground techno. Another way to put it, this is the album that synth musicians in the 80s, if given today’s technology and know-how, would’ve have aspired to make.

Noise and Sounds

Orlandini's Annullamento

Valerio Orlandini is an Italian music composer that flirts with noise, industrial and ambient noises. I had first come across his music via his appearance on the TSIDMZ album Ungern von Sternberg Khan, which he allowed me to ask him questions for. He released a limited number of physical copies of his Annullamento album in the spring time which I plucked up. The songs are very much in the vein harsh-ambient vein, and there are rhythmic charms on tracks such as “Rituale Della Nascite” and my favourite track which sounds like the backgound of a spooky video game, “Crasi Di Corpi”

Nylon Crimes surrounded by artifacts from my personal collection

Another Italian act is Macelleria Mobile Di Mezzanotte (aka MMM), who released the vinyl album Nylon Crimes this year. Nylon Crimes is their homage to various Italian noise acts of the 1990s, with covers of bands such as Atrax Morgue and Sado Vision. The sexy stocking clad legs on the cover drew me to the release, but the presence of Lisa P. from Porta Vittoria on the track “High Heels Inside my Throat” solidified my desire to procure the album. The success of this album surely must have promoted Dwight Holly of MMM to start his own label, Signora Ward records, which focuses on hard and brutal noise combined with the imagery of stockings and nylons – an endeavor I whole heartily support!

Lacrimae Mundi, autographed by Miljenko Rajakovic. 

The best release of this genre in 2014, hands down, is Lacrimae Mundi by the Croatian band Tehôm. I had heard of this album from my friend Thor who had written the linear notes to the album’s digipack. Because of his involvement, I decided to get a copy of the album directly from Miljenko himself, and I am glad I did. The cover art is spooky and ominious and matches the music well. This is dark and atompshereic ambient at its finest – the linear notes, the sounds, and the imagery all go hand in hand for a surreal aurual experience. The music is unnerving, and songs like “Modality of Cosmic Matter” gives one goosebumps just listening to it.


Top Three Albums of 2014

Those were the twenty one albums of 2014, so of that lot, what do I consider my top three picks of this past year? This is hard, since each album (as shown above) is meritable in their own right, but also over the past year(s) I’ve made friends with many of these folks, so I must make sure not to let that affect my judgment. With that in consideration, what follows is my top 3 releases of this past year, three releases I want to underscore and give praise and accolades to.


#3 – Sagittarius – Fragment IV: Abraxas

Fragment IV: Abraxas

Cornelius Walder’s Sagittarius project is one of the hardest working projects in the neofolk/neoclassical scene and Fragment IV: Abraxas is testament to the project’s longevity. The CD may not contain an album’s worth of material, but it’s a welcome release to bridge the gap between Sagittarius’ last album The Kingdom Come in 2012, and their upcoming spoken word album Diaspora in 2015.

The EP starts off with an intro track, piano keys played by Cornelius’ cat Satako. It’s an amusing track, giving smiles to cat lovers like myself. The rest of the EP however is pure piano-driven bliss, the neoclassical sound that Sagittarius has honed and perfected. The piano-cello combination on “Im Morgen-taun” is a slower, sombre piece while the following track, “Runde Wolke Treibt Im Blauen”, picks up speed with a more lush sounding piano. It’s easily the best track on the EP.

“Invticus” is a reading of imfamous William Ernest Henley poem, with precise, powerful spoken words that still flows with a rhythm with the music. It’s a great interpreation of the poem, and my hope deep down is that Sagittarius someday will do a reading of a different William Ernest Henley poem (and my favourite of his), “Villon’s Straight Tip to All Cross Coves”. The EP finishes off with an excellent piano instrumental called “Rites of Love”.

This EP, not only is a testament of Sagittaruis, but also (as stated above), to the resolve of Marcel P., one of the biggest, but rarely awknowledged, pillars of the neofolk scene. I hope this EP is a triumph to both.

#2 – Shaena Stabler – Stay

Stay autographed by Shaena

Catching me completely off guard as this EP is way outside my genre, Stay by Shaena Stabler is an extremely guilty pleasure that I happened upon this year. I had discovered Shaena quite by accident on Facebook, as a mutual friend had liked her music (a note to all the folks out there who need more proof that social media is a good way to get your music out). I took a random chance to watch/listen to her music video for “Run Away” and was immediately smitten. Her debut was just released in September this year, which I plucked up immediately. I was hooked on the adult-pop sounds of her EP, which were both emotive and catchy, with my favourite song being “Children of the Night”, but “Stay” and “Run Away” being contenders for my second favourite track.

I would go on to see Shaena perform twice over the next few months at the Hotel Café in LA and at the Mozambique in Laguna, and it was refreshing to be able to go to a concert without some negative foible happening, as my last concert had been to see ROME perform in Riverside in the boiling basement under a Yoga studio. The production values of the EP are no doubt due to the presence of Ken Caillat, known for his work with Fleedwood Mac, an important note since Stevie Nicks has an influence on Shaena.

It may not be neofolk or industrial, but it’s a damn fine release and I am looking forward to Shaena’s sophomore release. We all have guilty pleasures, and I am not ashamed to say this one is mine.

#1 – MARS – MARS Presents the Trail

The Trail, autographed by Marcus S. 

2014 was a prolific year for MARS, with the release of their Blood is the Food of the Gods album, numerous concert appearances, their remix on the Verney 1826 Ordo Fratrum Minorum single, and finally this concept album, MARS Presents: The Trail.

The Trail is quite simply phenomenal. The packaging is a hardcover digipack with original artwork from the artist Nadine and photos of Marcus and Oli. The lyrical songs are decent, with the best vocal track being their rendition of the traditional song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. However the true powerhouse of this album are the numerous instrumental, non-vocal tracks: “Salt Lake”, “the Scavengers”, “Redemption”, “Sand Creek”, The Plains”, “Canyon Passage”, “One Knot of Grass” and “Blood Meridian III”.

The presence of all the instrumentals is elaborated in the linear notes for the album, that The Trail was born out of the idea of creating a soundtrack to the Cormac McCarthy book Blood Meridian, with numerous influences from spaghetti westerns, in particular the music of Ennio Morricone. If capturing these sounds was the intent, it was not only succeeded in spades, but went above in beyond. To me, the album recalls the many, many nights I spent playing the video game Red Dead Redemption, and the many hours spent ingame on horse back wandering the countryside. The full night sky, the coyotes, the Joshua Trees; the game was extremely submersive, and in a true videogame fashion, I as the player am submerged. The Trail, though it draws its cinema tropes, actually succeeds in this endeavor as well. Alone with my headphones on listening to The Trail, I am just as submerged in the created western world. Both Read Dead Redemption and The Trail succeed at making the player/listener their own protagonist in a neo-noir-western setting.

Neo-noir-western is an apt term to describe the sounds of The Trail. The ritual sounds from MARS’ previous album, Blood is the Food of the Gods, is present, but subdued. The western sounds here are not the classic cowboys and Indians of the John Wayne era, but of a darker, brooding variety. These are the feelings one would get watching the noir-western Unforgiven or the more contemporary neo-noir-western No Country For Old Men, also by McCarthy.

This isn’t just an album. It’s also a collector’s item, a journey and an experience.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Terra Fria Retrospective - Changes - Changes/Andrew King Split CD


Good day everyone!

Welcome to part two of the Terra Fria Retrospective. Previously on X-files we had a deep look at the first Terra Fria release, an in-depth analysis of the Allerseelen release Pedra. For this installment we venture into the Changes portion of the Changes / Andrew King split CD. This is, of course, an important CD to me because it was the first Changes CD I ever bought and listened to, which in turn turned me into a long time Changes fan.

This particular essay was going to encompass both Changes and Andrew King, however the more and more I was writing starting the with Changes portion, the more it made sense to partition the analysis into two parts (this essay was getting HUGE). Also I must add that in retrospect, my analysis of the Changes songs are actually quite minimal. While for the Allerseelen and TSIDMZ albums, and the Porta Vittoria videos I was able to deep dive in on my own and try to unearth some new knowledge, this was harder to do on this release because both Tesluk and Taylor pretty much spell out verbatim what they intended to convey. Tesluk, being the affable person he is, went into incredible detail on the production aspect of this album. Taylor, who has already been interviewed countless times with dozens and dozens of other publications, and who leaves a trail of footnotes in his chapbooks, also makes his intended meanings or tropes he draws from transparent.

In essence, both Tesluk and Taylor have done all the dirty work!

So while there is a plethora of interviews and reviews on and about Changes, reconsideration of the Changes / Andrew King split album remains elusive. This essay will attempt to rectify this gap.

Sincere and humbled thanks go out to Nicholas Tesluk and Robert Taylor. Without their contributions this essay would not have been possible. Preemptive thanks to Andrew King – his portion of the album will be analyzed in a separate essay, but I did cite a document he provided me in this essay and I want to thank him for it.

Biasness

My biasness toward the Changes’ portion of this album is extremely high, and in fact, I concede the risk of it being at the most risk of bias in my writings so far. I have been penpals with Nicholas Tesluk since 2006, and I have met him for wonderful dinners nearly every year since 2009 when my girlfriend and I have traveled to present at the yearly SW PCA/ACA conference in Albuquerque. I consider him a great friend and a mentor full of great advice and stories he bestows upon me. For Robert Taylor, I don’t have the same rapport with as I do with Tesluk on the account that I’ve only recently started engaging in dialogs with him. But he’s still a musician and poet I hold in high regards. So because of this, I may totally be biased toward the Changes portion of this essay.

General Overview and Packaging

Although on this blog, the Changes/Andrew King split CD is the second release being profiled, chronologically it was actually the final release by Terra Fria. For the most part, the packaging, layout, and design of this album follows the Terra Fria canon as was illustrated in the Pedra essay: the use of a CD Caddi style case instead of a standardized jewel case or digipack, prominence of grayscale on the cover, artwork in the center with the band’s names in their trademark typeface aligned in the middle, and a limited run of 500 copies.

Changes / Andrew King CD - from my private collection

However, the Changes/Andrew King release stands out from the other Terra Fria releases in that it breaks away from the grey tones and instead embraces purple predominately in the linear notes. Tesluk actually had to approach label owner Rui Carvalheira and obtain permission to use purple and specific graphics. In turn, Andrew King’s graphic artist also used a different shade of purple on their portion of the booklet too.1

Prominence of the colour purple

The colour purple is important to Changes though, and having the colour present on the predominately grey releases of Terra Fria makes artistic sense. Per Tesluk:

From the beginning, both Robert and I had the color purple in mind as the chosen color of Changes. We both liked the color a lot, thinking of it as rather sensual. We have several songs that purple is mentioned in Robert’s lyrics; “Angel of Love”, “Autumn Day”, etc. .2

“Purple” is also mentioned in the Tesluk penned Werkraum song “The Dream” off their seminal Early Love Music album. The jovial lyrics go “I dreamed we were flying an iceberg under a pink and purple sky”.3 Aside from the Changes/Andrew King split CD, purple plays a visual prominence on many Changes releases: the outer ring on the CD proper of Lament; the background of the Legends album inserts, disc and back sleeve; and the typeface of the title on the cover of A Ripple in Time.

Outside the physical releases, Tesluk and Taylor both had matching purple long sleeve shirts that they wore on stage in the beginning of their career in the late 60s.4 Per Tesluk, “In recent years the color purple has taken on a variety of different connotations, but Robert and I used and loved the color from the late 60s.”5 Their adoration to the colour still shows.

Cover wraparound, with dedications from Nicholas Tesluk, R. N. Taylor, and David E. Williams

Unlike the other bands that have appeared on the Terra Fria roster, Changes and Waldteufel are the only bands that were not at the time based in Europe and instead based here in the States. Changes also has a strong relationship with the Albin Julius hemmed Hau Ruck! label, a fairly prominent and noteworthy label in the scene. So how did Changes manage to become involved with Terra Fria? Tesluk regales the formation of the partnership:

Actually, it all came as a surprise. We had first gone to Europe in 2003 for a whopping four days (my first visit to Europe) to perform at the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig, East Germany. They flew us in on Thursday, we performed on Saturday and we flew home on Sunday. At least we got to see a lot of Leipzig in that time. In the following year (2004) we performed in a castle at the Flammenzauber Festival in Heldrungen (near Leipzig), then took a train to Vienna and performed in that beautiful city before returning home. It was a wonderful trip as it was the first time both Robert and I (his lady and later wife, Christina was also with us for her first visit to Europe) had visited Vienna, which became one of our favorite cities in the world.

So in the following year, 2005, I hadn’t thought we would be, once again, returning to Europe. I was in communication with a friend of mine, Pedro, in Portugal, and he mentioned that he was in touch with concert organizers and promoters there. He said he’d talk to them about the possibility of a Changes performance. I was guardedly optimistic as one can never tell in early planning stages if the organizers would actually be willing to make something like this, with performers traveling overseas, happen. Well, I was delighted when he wrote back and said that the organizers would be in touch about bringing us there for a performance!

And, of course, it all came to pass. We had discussed different groups that would be backup for us and finally decided on Andrew King. I hadn’t yet been introduced to Andrew’s music but knew that he was, at that time, an English music historian who worked in the British Folk section of the British library. I later found that his folk roots, his music and dynamic voice were absolutely wonderful and I was so happy that he was chosen to perform with us. Plus, he and his group were delightful to be with and I can’t think of a band that would have been better for this opening date of our tour. We were, once again, delighted to perform with him in London in our 2013 Ride the Tiger tour.

In two stops along the 2005 tour, Portugal and Moscow, in order to compensate the organizers for their considerable upfront travel expense for us, we needed to provide previously unreleased music, so that promotional albums could be produced and sold to help defray their costs. Thus, the eponymous Changes/Andrew King album was produced for the Sintra, Portugal performance and later the Changes/Allerseelen Men Among the Ruins split CD was produced in Moscow.6


Production Notes

Much like the Allerseelen Pedra CD, the purpose of the Changes / Andrew King split CD was to commemorate (and as Tesluk eluded above, help with the costs) a Terra Fria concert, this one held November 12th, 2005 at the Associação Os Aliados in Sintra, Portugal.7 This meant that both acts needed to have exclusive tracks for the event composed, produced, and recorded well in advance with time to be manufactured and distributed at the concert. Unfortunately, both acts were beset with a multitude of complications and problems.

Nicholas Tesluk talks of the difficulties he faced getting the Changes’ portion put together:


Actually, the whole process became a horror story. We needed to record the songs for Lament and our future album, entitled Psychonautika, and since Robert doesn’t have a home recording studio from which we could share tracks by long distance, we needed to commission a studio, and we chose Third Street Studio in Ohio, which was about a 90 minute drive from Robert’s home. We had only recently composed “Mahabharata of the Soul” and knew we wanted it for the Terra Fria CD, for at that time, the Sintra, Portugal performance and accompanying CD were in the planning stages.

We spent several hours in the studio and basically got only “Mahabharata of the Soul” and the Lament songs recorded. We returned a year later to record various other songs and the songs for the Psychonautika album.

The recording engineer at Third St. wasn’t real easy to get along with, but he did a decent job in the long run. Concerning "Mahabharata...", he used a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software that wasn't compatible with Pro Tools that I use, so instead of being able to create Pro Tools files or even WAV tracks of each of the separately recorded tracks which I could have easily used, he created universal OMF files. In new versions of Pro Tools, OMF files can be automatically converted to Pro Tools files, but in 2005 that wasn't the case. However I had a software package of Pro Tools effects and with it, a free trial of a translating program that would be able to convert the files. As a sidenote, later when balancing and mastering the Lament album, I no longer had the free conversion trial, so had to bring the files to a recording studio here in Albuquerque that used Pro Tools and for about $100 they converted the files for me but there were a few there that also had missing segments (as I describe below).

For a little background on digital recording tracks: Whenever we set up to record separate tracks on a music recording software program, they each start out as one long recorded track from the beginning of the song to the end. In the marvelous world of digital music production, any time an edit is made, for example, if the timing is off and a segment of the song is selected and moved a half a beat, or if a mistake was made on a vocal portion and a new vocal is punched in to replace the bad one, this edit becomes a separate segment in the recording track. It is basically an independent smaller track within the total track. All of these segments are non- destructive edits, meaning that we can step backward at any time all the way to the state of the original track if we’re not happy with any of the edits. When the song is saved and closed, once reopened, the stepping backward process is no longer available. When I, personally, am happy with the edits I've made during a session, before saving and quitting, I select the entire track and merge the segments so it becomes one complete track again. I also do something called "compacting" the entire song so that the tracks are all close to each other on the hard drive.

Well, the Third Street recording engineer didn't merge or compact the files. So what can and did happen with the converted files he sent is that often some of the edit segments can't be found in the audio files and recovered. In "Mahabharata...", several of Robert's vocal parts went missing and were unrecoverable. I communicated with the engineer by email several times to have him send me a replacement set of tracks, to no avail.

I did have all of the songs we recorded on a sampler disc that he had put together, but they were just two channel, stereo rough mixes. The only thing I could do in a pinch was to use the WAV track of the entire stereo song. Robert had his son perform on the chorus of "Mahabharata" in the studio, and I wanted to also have my daughter, Kristen, perform on it, so I recorded Kristen's vocal track here at my home and merged it with the WAV track of the rough composite of the song, but again I couldn't actually balance the volume of the general track and just had to balance the volume of Kristen’s track with the rest of it. Thus, I was disappointed with the possibilities of that song and with the mix.

Needless to say, trying to get the recording engineer to cooperate was a lengthy process and much time was wasted that should have been used in getting the song ready for the Terra Fria release.

Of course, now that I do have the capabilities of automatically converting those old OMF files (and after our second session at the studio the following year, I received a better file of the song), I was able to do the song justice for the 2013 Ride the Tiger picture disc, and I am now very happy with the results.8


Issues with an uncooperative studio engineer and recording/soft technical issues were not the only pratfalls Tesluk encountered. He had one more serious hurdle, and that was getting the actual tracks from the US over to Portugal: 

After recording “Anthem to Freedom” at my home studio, I then had a working set of the five song files for the music that we had planned to use on the CD. The deadline was approaching for the latest possible date to get the files to Rui in order to have the CD ready for our performance. At the time, I only had a dial- up modem...I know it sounds like something from the era of the Flintstones, and trying to send full WAV files (as opposed to abbreviated mp3 files), which are used as standard files on CDs, the file size was certainly beyond the capabilities of a dial- up modem. It could take days to upload one file, and that was providing someone in the house didn’t pick up the telephone and break the connection. I believe I tried to send them that way, but it just simply didn’t work.

Rui would call from Portugal on a VOIP connection and he and I discussed another option, and that was to go to my workplace as they had a network connection. Well, it turned out that, though the network connection at my office was faster than dial-up, it wasn’t much faster, plus it would often lose connection, which was disastrous and I would have to start the upload again.

So my next choice was to send a CD of the recorded tracks to Portugal, which I did, but overseas mail is also slow. I finally had an idea, which I should have thought of from the very beginning and went to Airborne (the international shipping company that later became DHL) and asked how much it would cost to send a package to Portugal overnight. It was a whopping $75, but I paid it and sent another CD that way.

Thus, when I arrived in Portugal on November 9, 2005, I was dismayed to find that, though the case and liner had been printed, the CD wasn’t ready. So unfortunately, though each of the ticket-holders for our performance should have received the CD as part of their package, they, instead, received the CD packaging and would receive the CD at a later date. An embarrassing ending to a run-on nightmare. Also we were to receive a quantity of the CDs to sell on our Men Among the Ruins tour, but that couldn’t happen since the discs weren’t ready yet. We did receive them at a later date and they finally sold out completely at the beginning of our 2013 tour.9

This is an interesting snap-shot of how globalized the neofolk/martial scene is. The bands and labels are highly collaborative, and hail from many countries, some separated by the vast oceans. While the themes, mentalities, and motifs of these bands appear to be a return to more baroque or historical times, they must paradoxically rely on the advent of globalized technology to be able to complete and coordinate their productions. In the years since the Changes / Andrew King split CD was created, there has been the rise and fall of many social media (myspace, Facebook, etc.), the proliferation of “the cloud” and cloud storage services like Drop Box and WeTransfer.  Simply put, the old must exist with the new.


Track Analysis

Much like the layout of the Pedra essay, the Changes’ portion of the Changes / Andrew King split CD will be analyzed as follows: first a simple and personal review from my perspective on the aesthetics of the song. Second, permission has been given to publish the lyrics of each song, so they follow next so the textual so they can be easily referenced during the analysis proper, which is the third part. Here I will cite quotations directly from Tesluk and Robert on their song, drawing out their intended purposes while inferring cultural context whenever I can.

Mahabharata of the Soul

Review

The first Changes song on the Changes / Andrew King split CD is probably not only the best Changes song on this CD, but a contender of one of their best songs in their repertoire. The guitars are fluid and have an energy that propels the song, giving it a sense of adventure and of movement. This is important since it compliments some of the adventurous lyrics such as “through the maelstrom’s mighty twist” and “swimming through the quicksand”.

Tesluk and Taylor sing in unison for the song’s duration, and their aged voices give the song a weight of wisdom while sounding aurally pleasing. Tesluk’s daughter Kristen and Taylor’s son Randy join in for the chorus, building on the already great vocals. 

This song is basically quintessential Changes and does a perfect job of showcasing the band, their subject matter, and their sound. One of the reasons this song – and many other songs in their catalog – is so successful, aside from the technical and artistic acumen at executing it, is because it is so visual. Taylor, being a master poet, must rely on really conveying something “more” with words, something that enters the visual realm. This strongly contradicts many of the neofolk and martial songs out there that are more abstract and mostly convey feelings, moods, and atmosphere. These are usually songs with 1 or 2 lines, repeated over and over with their soundscape in the background. Emotive – yes, but not necessarily visual. This Changes song provides the best of all worlds, and it is something the band excels at in spades. Being sung in the English language also makes it more accessible to us Americans as well, so we can be more emerged into the lyrics, something that is harder for us to do for the European bands.

Despite the problems during production, creating an inferior version of this song, it is still wonderfully realized, and the technical issues easily overlooked.


Youtube link to the original version of the song

Verdict – Amazing, best Song on the Changes’ portion of this CD

Lyrics

Riding the back of the tiger,
On a rope stretched across the abyss,
Kshatria of the shadows,
Warrior of the mist.

Into the heart of darkness,
Through the maelstrom’s mighty twist,
Dorjees grasp securely,
In the firm grip of my fists.

And I see the black sun rising.
And the rains that fall are red.
Kalki comes a-calling,
As the days grow dark with dread.

‘Mid the center of the cyclone
Through the agile flames that soar.
Survivor of the culling,
Kali Yuga of the fall.

Swimming through the quicksand.
Slipping through the jaws of death.
Kundalini rising,
Knight of the Grail Quest.

And I see the black sun rising.
And the rains that fall are red.
Kalki comes a-calling,
As the days grow dark with dread.10


Analysis

In an interview with Neofolk! Blogspot in 2013, Tesluk described that Changes’ songs follow three configurations: “the love/love lost songs, the songs of heroes/legendary figures and the apocalyptic songs.”11 “Mahabharata of the Soul” actually straddles the line between the “heroic” and the “apocalyptic” song.

As noted above, the quick movement along with the many adventurous verbs in the song give it a “quest” quality. While the song is not heroic in the sense of many of the other songs in Changes’ canon, such as “Eldorado”, “We Went to Find the Sun”, “Don Quixote”, and the entirety of the Legends album, the protagonist of the song, and through his actions, certainly embodies the concept of the hero. He is overcoming various perils (quicksand, tempests, deep ravines) but also witnessing various mystical and fantastical events on his journey (the rising black sun, red rain, possibly various deities). The line “Knight of the Grail Quest” could be hinting that the song’s protagonist is searching for, thought Taylor hints that “All questers of a spiritual nature can be ascribed as grail knights”12 leaving this particular line even more multifaceted.

However, despite the presence of heroic elements, they are overshadowed by apocalyptic motif. For Tesluk, “The apocalyptic songs tell of the decay of civilization and of a bleak and dying world.”13 “Mahabharata of the Soul” is brimming with allusions and references; from Evola to Nietzsche, from Jünger to Hindu lore that are being used to support what Changes foresees. Per Taylor, “I try to employ these cultural icons and myths with some message that applies to the present world and situations that confront us now or will in the near future. Another recurring theme in our songs is the rapid decline and quality of life in this civilization.”14

Around the time “Mahabharata of the Soul” was composed, Taylor was reading Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul by Julius Evola and The Mahabharata by the Hindu sage Vyasa, both each contributed greatly to the song.15 Evola is overtly alluded to with the opening line “riding the back of the tiger.”16 The Hindi references are more dominant in the song, which Taylor graciously highlights: the dorjee is a metaphor for a lightning bolt, carried by the Hindi God of Thunder Indra,17 Kalki is an Hindi avatar who rides a white horse and wields a sword to put an end to the Kali Yuga stage, which is the fall of civilization,18 and Kundalini rising being “The serpent power of Kundali rising up the spinal column, the object of the tantric left hand path.”19

A few literary references pepper “Mahabharata of the Soul”, such as the line “into the heart of darkness” being a reference to the book of the same name by Joseph Conrad,20 “through the maelstrom’s mighty twist” being reference to the Edgar Allen Poe short story, and “Warrior of the mist” being reappropriated from Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage.21 Both the Conrad book and Poe play an important influence on Changes, and not just in “Mahabharata of the Soul”. Heart of Darkness is important in the song “…And Finally” which will be explored later in this essay, while Poe’s influence can be seen on the cover of the Orphan in the Storm album, of which the titular song also is an ode to.

Black Sun - from Wikipedia

The black sun (also known as the schwarze sonne) referenced in the song is an extremely important icon, not just to Changes, but the whole neofolk and military pop scene at large. Its meaning is verbose and multifaceted, and probably deserves analysis in a subsequent essay. But to illustrate its prominence in the genre, a few examples should suffice. Lyrically and textually, the black sun is alluded to in the Death in June song “Little Blue Butterfly” from Take Care & Control and “Black Sun Rising” from Alarm Agents, the title of the NON album Children of the Black Sun which also has a song simply called “Black Sun”. Allerseelen has a song titled “Schwarze Sonne” on their very old cassette release Auslese.

Visually, the symbol of the black sun appears in many band logos: The Von Thronstahl logo is a modified black sun as is the Barbarossa Umtrunk logo. The logo for the band Waffenruhe is a blacksun combined with a gear. The symbol also appears on the Allerseelen releases Alle Lust Will Ewigkeit / Traumlied, and Gotos=Kalanda. The TSIDMZ album Ungern von Sternberg Khan and the Von Liebenfels album Herren Der Schwarzen Sonne feature the symbol pressed on the actual CDs. While on tour in the autumn of 2013, Death in June even sold patches of the Schwarze Sonne with a rainbow background.

All of these references showcase that “Mahabharata of the Soul” is an intricate and multi-textual song. It is the versatility that will also appear in many more Changes songs, and is extremely evident in the song “…And Finally” which will be analyzed further on.

After the song’s lyrical composition, Taylor turned to Tesluk to give the song an eastern feel. Tesluk writes at the Changes website on his process of creating the music:

When I sat down with the lyrics for the first time I wasn't sure what type of melody would capture the feeling we were trying to convey. Subconsciously or magically, I hit upon a few dissonant notes based around the C-minor chord that I had started playing (actually A-minor with a capo on the third fret), that fit the concept perfectly. Then by using straight chords in the two chorus sections, the discords are essentially resolved. Of course, the discordant verse is repeated at the end of the song but it does end on the regular C-minor chord for final resolution.22

Flame

Review

“Flame” is the first of two quick interlude-esque tracks in the Changes’ portion of the CD. The song, rounding up, almost clocks in at a minute and a half and features the same two verses sang in succession. The song is good, if not a little awkward. The poetry is vivid and romantic, the music is sounds great, and Taylor’s vocals come off with a touch of flirtation and wooing while being catchy. However, the repetition of the lines a few times through the song’s already short length makes it seem more like a filler song, which is uncharacteristic of most Changes’ songs. Perhaps on a longer album as a proper interlude, this song would have been better utilized.

Verdict – Good song (especially when viewed as an interlude)

Lyrics

In the golden ocean of your eyes,
Be it hell or be it paradise.
I dream I drown and then I die.
In the golden ocean of your eyes.

Like a moth circling a candle flame.
Beyond being into nothingness.
Your sweet smiles beckons to my soul.
And my heart spreads wings in rapid flight.23

Analysis

“Flame” is the first of two “love/love lost” style of songs that Changes composed for this split CD. The lyrics were written by Taylor and are about a red haired woman that he had a brief love affair with in his past. Specifically, the lyrics pertain to her eyes. In Taylor’s words, “She had the sort of brown eyes that are almost orange that red heads sometimes have. They always reminded me of flames, or fire in her eyes.”24

The song’s brevity, combined with Taylor’s penchant for composing poetry leads one to suspect that this track is simply one of his poems put to music. Over the years, Taylor has written many poems about women of which he has had exploits with, and by his own confession, some of these poems had found their way into Changes’ music.25 But per Taylor, “Flame” was always intended to become a song and did not have its genesis as a poem.26

While Taylor had the idea of what music should accompany the lyrics when he first wrote the song, Tesluk is the actual performer of the guitars for it. While this song may not be the best example to highlight Tesluk’s guitar playing acumen, never the less, he is known as a guitar virtuoso, proficient in many styles, from the baroque to the romantic. It certainly is because of this classicalism that Tesluk does not compose his music in tablature. An insight into his process, Tesluk explains:

I compose all of my music in recorded form or in a pinch, by writing down the chords and the letters of the notes on a notecard to remember it. With my iPad and an app called QuickVoice Pro, when I have a song idea and my iPad handy, I start the App, hit record and get a bare-bones concept of it down quickly. When notating it for use by other people, I do notate it in classic notation.27

But Tesluk is not above creating tablature for other musicians to try their hand at some of Changes’ songs, which sometimes ends in humorous results:

I see nothing wrong with Tablature and think it is a great way for someone to learn the exact technique of another guitarist’s fingering.  With any of my songs that have “TAB worthy” guitar work (“Fire of Life”, “Twilight”, my instrumental pieces, etc.), I’ve created Tablature for them.  I have to first notate all of the guitar notes and chords in regular notation. Then by selecting it all and requesting it to convert to TAB, it creates the TAB staff. I have to be careful when creating the tablature as I have to check it carefully to make sure the fingering is humanly possible.  Sometimes, due to the fact that the software is rather robotic in the creation, it will place the tabbed note something like seven frets away, instead of placing it on the next string closer to the instrumentalist’s hand.  I sent a TAB to someone once without checking it and heard back from that person after he realized that he would need to have a gorilla’s hand with a ten inch finger to reach the note.28

Anthem to Freedom

Review

The second song proper on the Changes / Andrew King split CD, and this particular song is all Tesluk: his poetry and music. The song starts off with some militant drumming, giving it a nice military-pop flare. It’s not quite military-drone like Derniere Volonte, and it’s definitely not sheet metal martial like In Slaughter Natives, it’s simply a nice simple drum, sort of a-kin one would hear as a wave of soldiers from the Revolutionary War advance forth. The drumming however is second fiddle to the song’s guitar work which is Tesluk showcasing his guitar playing skills. While “Mahabharata of the Soul” had an eastern feel to it, “Anthem to Freedom” goes the opposite. It’s neither baroque or modern, but it’s rhythmic and definitely the best aspect of the song.

The songs conjure up images of soldiers – which is not unheard of in the neofolk and military pop scene. However with Changes being an American band, the images associated with the poetry seemed to be more fitting to the Revolutionary War and Civil War. In a way, portions of this song could’ve been composed in those eras.

Verdict – Great song

Lyrics

Here’s to the men who’ve fought and died to keep our country free.
For if they’d waved the flag of truce, we’d fall to tyranny.
History’s been plagued by wars since the world began.
They gained the right for us to stay free in our native land.

Heroes who have fought these wars, in Valhalla they’ll reside.
For from their flaming funeral pyre their souls sail with the tide.
The world will always be plagued by wars ‘til the end of time.
To lose a battle without a fight would be our greatest crime.29

Analysis

“Anthem to Freedom” is an excellent example of the “heroes/legendary figures” in Changes’ repertoire. Instead of concentrating on legendary and historic concepts, such as those founds in the songs in the Legends album, or instrumentals like “Don Quixote” and “Eldorado”, “Anthem to Freedom” is more multifaceted, being homage to the various soldiers and warriors who take up the metaphorical sword and shield to protect their respective nations or states. While the song may have a hint of American-nationalism to it, per Tesluk the song can be:


..not only applied to any country but to any time period of the world’s history.  The marching rhythm certainly gives the song an American patriotic feel and I am certainly patriotic to the America as our forefathers created it and for the two hundred years that it remained that way, but again the song is much more global.  And it surely can be dedicated to the brave and outstanding American men and women that we have fighting and dying in wars of our country’s whim all over the globe today, using this leadership’s inimitable no-win strategies to desperately try and save people who despise us.30

While many of Change’s songs are jointly written between Taylor (mostly doing the lyrics) and Tesluk (mostly doing the music), “Anthem to Freedom” is one of the few songs that is purely the genesis from only Tesluk. The song is important to him and he explains its genesis with additional rationale as follows:

I had been thinking about the fact that there have only been a few hundred years of total peace, ever, in the history of the world.  As much as people would love to “give peace a chance”, history has proven the undeniable truth that human beings are warriors.  When, say, the ‘60s generation all chanted about peace, love and understanding, observe how that horribly turbulent era evolved with those same, peace-loving people becoming protestors, taking over colleges, rebelling against all authority and causing general disorder among the populace.  If that isn’t a form of war, then nothing is.  That was the antithesis of the peace they were summoning, and that’s only one small example. 

For my concept when developing the song was that we have to face the fact that there, most likely, will never be total peace for any long period of time.  Possibly a long term peace, anyway, would look something like the distant future in H. G. Wells The Time Machine, which would render men and women as pacifistic mindless robots who had lost their spirit and wouldn’t lift a finger to help someone who was drowning.  For we must face the fact that it is our inherent spirit and strong will that make us the feisty beings we are and also what makes us battle-worthy.

Since one segment of Changes’ oeuvre consists of songs about gallantry and heroism, I brought the hero together with a topic of the never-ending struggle of humankind.  We can never honor history’s heroes and warriors enough, so that was my thinking with the song.31

The intentions of “Anthem of Freedom” were further expanded upon when it was re-released in an updated version four years later on the Enemies: A Collection of Wartime Lyrics Tunes compilation. Aside from an update to the music (see below), Tesluk notes in the linear notes for the song “Dedicated to my father and all American Soldiers of WWII.”32 Tesluk explains how the new version is certainly dedicated to his father while at the same time remaining multifaceted:

The Enemies album, being that it consisted of war and battle songs, made me reminisce about family members who had fought in WW2.  My father, and my mother’s two brothers were all part of that conflict.  My father served mostly in Italy, his job was that of baker, but he was involved in some skirmishes.  I believe that at least one of my uncles fought in Japan and maybe they both did.  Thus, it seemed fitting to dedicate the song that way.  Surely the Terra Fria version can also be deemed dedicated to soldiers of the twentieth century, but the song is, I feel, timeless and actually written about heroes and warriors throughout the history of the world.33

The version of “Anthem to Freedom” that appears on the Enemies compilation will be explored even more below.


Shenandoah

Review

The second of two shorter interlude songs on the Changes /Andrew King split CD. This song does suffer from the same issues as “Flame”, with its short length and repetition feeling like padding and maybe better serviced as an interlude proper on longer album.

Much like “Flame”, “Shenandoah” is also romantic in nature. The music is slower and more wistful than on “Flame”, while Taylor’s voice carries the moods of longing and yearning. It’s a simple song in composition and execution, while still being visually effective at expressing adore of the Shenandoah River.


Youtube link to the song

Verdict – Good song (especially if viewed as an interlude)

Lyrics

I watch you flowin’ on, ever changing,
From a source that never dies.
And see the sunset on your waters there.
Diamonds to my eyes.

Flow ever on Shenandoah,
Through those mountains blue and high.
And may the moon and stars be with you there
Diamonds to my eyes.34

Analysis

Although the song is not about a woman, the vivid and affectionate lyrics about the Shenandoah River carry the hint of romantic hallmarks, making this the second of two “love/love lost” tracks on this album.

The song is simply constructed, but translates quite well to the listener. The mountains Taylor speaks of are the Blue Ridge Mountains35 that are part of the Appalachian Mountains on the Eastern side of the states. There is some metaphoric work here, for Taylor, beholding the beauty of the river as it winds its way through the mountains, during all times day or night, is such a beautiful sight, and conveys the same beauty that one might be privy to as if looking at a diamond.

Taylor recalls the song was composed sometime in the early 1980s when he lived just outside of Charles Town West Virginia. With guitar in hand, he composed both the lyrics and the music while sitting in a park at Harper’s Ferry.36

Aside from being homage to the Shenandoah River, this song provides a window into Taylor’s past while living in West Virginia during this time, such as traversing the Sky-line drive, a 110 mile road on the ridge of Shenandoah Valley, a beautiful but dangerous feat considering an electrical storm was going on at the same time [cite taylor 25].

However, one adventure Taylor had that can be equated to this song was a dangerous canoeing trip:

Another adventure was to take my friend Dan who was one of the two people who helped for a canoe ride on the Shenandoah River. It was about 5 miles from where we lived.. I had a 16 foot Coleman canoe. We put in the river about 12 miles or so above Harper's Ferry. Most of the river is safe to canoe on except the last 12 miles above Harper’s Ferry. It all started off well. We were just cruising along watching ravens gyring above in the blue sky. After about a mile or so we rounded a bend and lo and behold it was raging white water rapids. Worst of all there were sheer cliffs on both sides of the river so there was no heading for the shore. We were trapped in this ride. My friend exclaimed what are we going to do? I aid keep your fingers inside the boat so they don't get cut off when we hit rocks. And so we got sucked down the rapids. It was a real roller coaster ride to be sure. We constantly hit into rocks and began to ride up the rocks from the force of the river current.. It was a real struggle to keep going. Somehow we survived it all and came back to tranquil waters right at the end of the journey where there was a park on the side of the river at Harper’s Ferry. My wife and son and a lady friend Sandra were nervously waiting for us with the Van we had to take us back in. Later we stopped in at the Blue Ridge Mountain canoe center and the proprietor when hearing we had canoed the last 12 miles was surprised. He said no one ever did canoes down that stretch. It was strictly rubber rafts and only at mid summer not in the spring when the snow melt was swelling the river and working up the currents. So we had survived a dangerous situation.37


…And Finally

Review

While Tesluk shines bright in “Anthem to Freedom”, “…And Finally” becomes Taylor’s chance to shine. This dramatic spoken words piece is Taylor in top form with accompanying sound effects and ambience provided by long time Changes collaborator Robert Ferbrache. While Taylor is a proficient singer, he is way more adept at dramatic readings, and this song showcases his ability to storytell in spades.

The song is long and epic. It begins with samples from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which sets the unnerving atmosphere that will be the foundation of this song. Each line is seething with dark enunciation. When Taylor calls and responds to himself “Poet?! Yesssss”, you feel it right in the spine. As the song progresses, the background ambiance, noises, and distortions become more pronounced, adding to the song’s unease, to the song climatic conclusion which both echos and subverts the iconic ending lines T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men.

Simply put, Taylor needs to do more of these songs.

Verdict – Great song, second best on the Changes portion

Lyrics

Col. Kurtz (M. Brando): “We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed men. Leaning together. Headpiece filled with straw. Alas. Our dried voices when we whispered together are quiet and meaningless as wind in dry grass. Or rat’s feet over broken glass…”

Photographer (D. Hopper): “Oooohh, he’s out there.”

Kurtz: “..in our dry cellar..”

Photographer: “He’s really out there.”

Kurtz: “Shape without form. Shade without color. Paralyzed force. Gesture without motion…” 38


Make now, O’ Muse, your crystal voice
Sing strong within my soul
Forge hard the links which join my words
In triumph’s tune and passion’s dirge.
Grant me, O’ Muse, your gifts to gaze
Thy lofty overview;
And to grasp the flowing surge of time
In each moment’s interlude.

Do I dare?
Do I dare disturb the universe?
Do I dare not disturb the universe
As its hour of decision draws near?
Do I, or you, or they dare refrain
As the crucial junctions of the gyres coincide,
Evade the true direction we must take?
For even ‘mid the tranquility
Of one sun swept summer’s day
I have witnessed wisps of white and airy clouds
Whirl into perfect place
And form the image of our age
Across the sky’s blue face.
And there, above the white sand
And diamond sea at dawn,
These very eyes have stared,
Transfixed, in awe
On Kali’s deft and deathly dance
With myriad legs and arms
Which moved with perfect
God-like grace of swiftest
Movement formed.

The day grows old and time - time wears thin,
And ten-thousand years in the balance lies.
The die be cast. Will the curtain fall?
Will twilight spread her cloak
Of raven-night and swallow all?
O’ son of man, whatever be –
Humber worker or king’s descent –
Awake thy eyes! Shake loose thy mind!
Make firm thy heart!
For uncertain fate now beckons forth.
Rumbles of Ragnarok,
Though distant, draw near.
Even now, the order of battle forms,
And still…
The merchant tallies his gain and his loss,
And still…
The priest with rusty nail
Hammers another soul to his cross!
O’ Dragon sleeping in blood of vein,
Awake from out thy pulse-beat cave.
Make manifest the forgotten fury of thy flame;
Quench full thy forked-tongue thirst of flame.

Do I dare to eat a peach?
Yes I dare to eat a peach,
And to spit the pit full-force
In the eye of an Anglican priest.
Do I dare to turn?
Yes! To turn I dare;
To face the facts full front, and to stare!
Nor shall fatalism be my faith,
Nor shall church chapels be my hiding place,
Nor shall starched white collars and tailored suits
Be my public face,
Nor limped resignation be my guiding trait,
Nor bowler hats, or interest rates,
Nor bankers’ hours and flat dry speech.
Yes, indeed.
I’ll eat a peach.
Though April be the cruelest month,
She ushers in the spring.

Toward the future alone
Shall I direct my thoughts,
Leaving memory to rot.
I shall go north in the summer,
There to bury desire
Beneath a drift of snow,
And I shall not sell cheaply
My birthright
For a published book of poems,
Nor sever roots of kinship,
Ties of friendship, or of home.
The failed hero,
The Judas priest,
The timid poet of stuttered speech
All flee the arena
When the shots ring loud,
And wonder lonely as a cloud.
Then enter now the Chosen One –
Son of the Sun and the lightning’s flash –
Who follows the spirit of his genes
And the wisdom of his blood.
Poet?
Yes!
And shaman priest,
Warrior chief or harper king;
Prometheus, fire-thief –
Seeker, bearer of the holy Light
Pinioned high
Beneath the grim and ashen sky;
First and last and sacrificed,
Champion of the endless fight.

Too far ashore am I
To hear the mermaid sea,
But whispers on the wind
Bring their plaintive song to me.
I need not guess, for I can say
Irminsul’s roots clutch fast
The core of time now spent.
Its branches bud and broadly spread
Out toward the future tense.
The fragments fit.
Mandalic images emerge as one.
The ancient gods awake,
Brush off the dust of the past millenniums,
And stride green earth again!
What say the Norms and Council seat?
Shall Ragnarok begin?
Or shall we lull them all to sleep,
And triple on the fun?

And in the end…
The poem which does not speak,
The song which is not sung.
Shackled in printers ink,
The time-worn words,
Verbal ciphers on the book’s thin page;
Fossilized thought-forms,
Frozen in time,
Static in space,
Tinder for the final flame.
And in the end…
The vacant womb,
The narrow mannequin hips,
The empty arms,
The barren breasts,
All victims
To a fruitless intelligence.
And in the end…
A literate mass of men
Incapable of thought,
Unwilling to act,
Whose souls are sold and bought,
Slump lethargic
Before the mesmerizing screen,
Lost, lost in their video dream.
And in the end…
Those hollow men
At fate’s cruel call
Reduced to an ash-smudge
On the asphalt street,
An empty echo of the neutron’s roar.

And finally,
This is the way the world ends;
This is the way the world ends;
This is the way the world ends;
Not with a bang, nor with a whimper,
But with the mystic words thrice whispered:

Rebirth…
Rebirth…
Rebirth… 39


Analysis

“…And Finally”, appropriately named, is the final track of the five Changes songs that make up the first half of the Changes / Andrew King split CD. It is also of the “apocalyptic” category of songs that Changes specializes in. And apocalyptic “..And Finally” the song truly is, with lines talking of the Ragnarok and detailing the way the world ends.

“…And Finally” is very similar to “Mahabharata of the Soul” in that this song/poem draws heavily from other sources, be it with allusions or drawing passages verbatim. The most overt influence being T.S. Eliot and his poem “The Hollow Men”.

The very beginning of the song contains a sample of Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now reciting the beginning of the poem, making it one of the very few instances that Changes has used sampling in their music (another rare instance is the song “Paradiso Excerpt” from A Ripple in Time). Per Taylor, “Do I Dare? Do I dare disturb the universe?”,40 “Do I dare to each a peach”,41 and “Too far ashore am I”42 are all taken from Eliot’s “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock, “Though April be the cruelest month”43 and “Towards the future alone”44 are both from Eliot’s The Waste Land. The ending of the song, with the repeating of “this is the way the world ends” is probably the most famous and iconic of Eliot’s lines, coming from The Hollow Men.

There are many other inspirations and liftings from other poets in “…And Finally” such as the “hour of decision”45 and “the die be cast”46 both being lifted from Oswald Spengler and “crucial junctures of the gyres coincide” being from W.B. Yeats.47 Taylor identifies each one in the endnotes in his Gothic Trilogy, and to go through each one here would be too repetitious.

However, there is a noticeable textual difference between “…And Finally” and “Mahabharata of the Soul”. While both songs are made up of components and allusions to other works, “Mahabharata of the Soul” looks to stand on its own whil“..And Finally” seems to be firmly anchored to T.S. Eliot. The liftings and usage of Eliot’s lines (and in some cases responding back to them) makes “…And Finally” seem to be more Eliot than Taylor.

The question becomes, is Taylor parodying, homaging, or – to go to the extreme – plagiarizing Eliot? Looking at the text in its entirety, and perhaps without the aid of Taylor’s endnotes, it could almost see that way. However, there is enough subverting and responding to Eliot’s lines that the text is able to rebalance itself as something new with lots of something borrowed. On the other hand “Mahabarta of the Soul”, while also lifting from other authors, does it so fluidity and subversively, it genuinely sounds like  unique text. And perhaps this is a matter of Taylor honing his own skills, since “…And Finally” was composed in the late 70s while “Mahabharata of the Soul” was composed in the early 2000s. Decades of adventuring, writing, re-writing, and experiences have made Taylor and even more superior poet. Another way to put it, “..And Finally” showcases Taylor’s ability to subvert other authors and his influences to create something new. “Mahabharata of the Soul” showcases Taylor’s ability to subvert other authors and influences to create something new and uniquely his own.

Ironically, while both “…And Finally” and “Mahabharata of the Soul” both speak of end times, a rejection Westernism and modernity, both employ pastiche and parody, which are both agents of post-modernism. This is another paradox that echoes the love/hate relationship with globalization.

To borrow from both Taylor and Eliot, in the end what “…And Finally” accomplishes is showcasing the ability to juxtapose different poetic narratives and add original material to be able to tell a new story, the story Taylor wants to tell. “…And Finally” is both original but also homages, it praises past poets while accomplishing something new, it continues Changes exploration into the end of times, while at the same time honouring those who tread their same path.


Other Versions

After assessing the Allerseelen Pedra CD, this CD, and forward looking to the other Terra Fria CDs, one aspect that becomes apparent is the general exclusivity of the tracks. Since these CDs were pressed in limited runs of 500 copies, that means some of the tracks may never be heard by new collectors or fans as procuring these releases becomes harder as they increase in rarity.

However, some of these tracks do make it to other releases, but even then they mostly get re-released in updated or remixed versions to releases that may in turn became even rarer. For example, on the Pedra release, all three tracks are exclusive to that Allerseelen CD (which is now available as a download via Allerseelen’s Bandcamp page), while one of the tracks appeared as a reworked track on an even more limited CD (“Steingeburt” on the extremely limited Pera Ascognüda release). This cross exclusivity can be frustrating for collectors. So to help mitigate these frustrations, and to show the whole picture, highlighting what other releases these tracks appear on becomes paramount.

For the Changes tracks, all five songs are exclusive to this album except for two tracks, which were re-released in different versions on two other releases.

The Enemies compilation, from my private collection

Firstly, an updated version of “Anthem to Freedom” appeared on the compilation Enemies: A Collection of Wartime Lyrics Tunes released in 2009 by the Russian Der Angriff label in a run of 500 copies. The compilation contains a few marquee acts such as Changes, Von Thronstahl and Rose Rovine E Amanti and comes in an unique packaging that folds like an envelope. This is a typical quirk of the Der Angriff label and can be seen on other releases such as the Forthcoming Fire single Siberian Summer and the Von Thronstahl/Days of the Trumpet Call split CD.

Tesluk had been contacted to be part of the compilation, but explained back to the Russian organizer that the logistics between him and Taylor to record a new song wouldn’t be possible, but instead proposed “Anthem of Freedom” as it fit the theme of the compilation.48

However, simply using the Terra Fria version of “Anthem to Freedom” wouldn’t do. Tesluk wanted to take the song to “another level”.49 He did new recordings of the guitars and vocals, created new and more complex drum samples, and created more instrumentation by using a MIDI device and software called Miroslav Philharmonik from IK Media.50 With the updates in mind, Tesluk:

…wanted to give the song a feeling of being sung in time of war.  With the military rhythm, I added the brass sections as though the song was being heard during a march.  Then I incorporated the cannons a-la “1812 Overture” (I love the sound of cannons in music, like in the Bad Religion song, “Sorrow”) and it all then seemed complete.51

The new edits to the song are fairly innocuous: the drums do sound less computer generated, there’s some added horns and brass here and there and when the song has about a minute left, there’s definitely some canon fire. But over all, both versions are fairly comparable to each other.

A new and corrected version of “Mahabharata of the Soul” appeared on the 7” vinyl release Ride the Tiger. This record was released by the French label Autre Que in an edition of 240 copies to be sold during the band’s 2013 “Ride the Tiger” world tour. This release will be explored in greater detail in this blog in the near future as a follow up to this essay. The other tracks, “…And Finally”, “Shenandoah”, and “Flame” remain confined to the Terra Fria album.


Final Thoughts

Despite the troubled production, and being greatly overshadowed by other Changes releases, the Changes portion of the Changes / Andrew King Terra Fria split CD still stands as a quintessential album in the band’s canon. The album may not be as renown as Fire of Life or polished like Lament, it does a great job showcasing the band, in terms of both subject matter and music proper. The album is also important as it shows a transition period of Changes, as they moved from releasing older songs that had composed years ago into composing new and contemporary songs.

The songs still stand important to me – this was the first Changes CD I ever owned and the first songs I’ve ever heard. They hold up very well to their other releases, despite this release being pretty much relegated to the shadows of their catalog. I hope that at this essay’s conclusion that perhaps folks will take a reconsideration of this album, and recognize what it textually accomplishes while at the same time being a great aural experience to listen to.

Official Links

http://www.nmia.com/~thermite/ - Official Changes website
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Changes-Band-Robert-N-Taylor-Nicholas-Tesluk/406236079441033 - The other, not as often updated as the other, official Facebook Page
http://www.nicholastesluk.com - Nicholas Tesluk’s official art/gallery page
http://axismundiartgallery.weebly.com/ - Axis Mundi, the official gallery of Robert N. Taylor

Other Resources


End Notes


1. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, June 2014, 12.
2. Ibid.
3. Werkraum. Early Love Music, (Ahnstern, 2008).
4. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, June 2014, 12.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Andrew King, Changes/Andrew split author’s notes (word document to Nicholas Diak), July 2014 26.
8. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, June 2014, 12.
9. Ibid.
10. Robert Taylor, “Mahabharata of the Soul,” in The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two (West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2014), 44-45.
11. “Changes - Bandinfo, Interview, Video, Links,” Neofolk! Blogspot, accessed June 6, 2014; http://neo-folk.blogspot.com/2013/07/changes-bandinfo-interview-video-links.html
12. Robert Taylor, Facebook message to Nicholas Diak, June 2014, 28.
13. “Changes - Bandinfo, Interview, Video, Links,” Neofolk! Blogspot, accessed June 6, 2014; http://neo-folk.blogspot.com/2013/07/changes-bandinfo-interview-video-links.html
14. “Robert Taylor Interview,” FluxEuropa, accessed July 27, 2014; http://home7.swipnet.se/~w-78038/changes/
15. Changes, “Linear Notes for the Changes/Andrew King Split MCD,” Changes Website, accessed September 13, 2014; http://www.highfiber.com/%7ethermite/changes1.html
16. Robert Taylor, Facebook message to Nicholas Diak, June 2014, 28.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Changes, “Linear Notes for the Changes/Andrew King Split MCD,” Changes Website, accessed September 13, 2014; http://www.highfiber.com/%7ethermite/changes1.html
23. Robert Taylor, “Flame,” in The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two (West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2014), 30.
24. Robert Taylor, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 25.
25. “Robert N. Taylor interview,” Neo-form, accessed July 27, 2014; https://web.archive.org/web/20050215101930/http://www.neo-form.de/artikel/artikel.php?id=92
26. Robert Taylor, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 25.
27. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 22.
28. Ibid.
29. Changes, Changes/Andrew King Split CD, (Terra Fria 2005).
30. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 22.
31. Ibid.
32. Various, Enemies: A Collection of Wartime Lyrical Tunes, (Der Angriff, 2009).
33. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 22.
34. Robert Taylor, “Shenandoah,” in The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two (West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2014), 31.
35. Robert Taylor, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 25.
36. Ibid.
37. Ibid.
38. Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (1979/2001; Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 2006), DVD.
39. Robert Taylor, “And Finally: A Polemic Poem in Parody,” in Gothic Trilogy (West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2014), 27-39.
40. Ibid., 57.
41. Ibid., 58.
42. Ibid.
43. Ibid.
44. Ibid.
45. Ibid., 57.
46, Ibid.
47. Ibid.
48. Nicholas Tesluk, email message to Nicholas Diak, July 2014, 22.
49. Ibid.
50. Ibid.
51. Ibid.

Bibliography


FluxEuropa. “Robert Taylor Interview.” Accessed July 27, 2014. http://home7.swipnet.se/~w-78038/changes/

Changes. Ride the Tiger. 2013 by Autre Que. AQ05. 7” picture disc vinyl.

Changes. “Linear notes for Changes/Andrew King Split MCD.” Accessed September 13, 2014. http://www.nmia.com/~thermite/liner_notes/changes_andrew_king_notes.html

Changes and Andrew King. Changes / Andrew King. 2005 by Terra Fria. tf007. Compact disc.

Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 1979/2001. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 2006. DVD.

King, Andrew. Changes / Andrew King Author’s Notes. Word Document, 2014.

Neofolk! Blogspot. “Changes - Bandinfo, Interview, Video, Links.” Accessed June 6, 2014. http://neo-folk.blogspot.com/2013/07/changes-bandinfo-interview-video-links.html

Neo-Form. “Robert N. Taylor Interview.” Accessed July 27, 2014. https://web.archive.org/web/20050215101930/http://www.neo-form.de/artikel/artikel.php?id=92

Taylor, Robert. “And Finally: A Polemic Poem in Parody.” In Gothic Trilogy, 27-39. West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2014.

Taylor, Robert. “Flame,” In The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two, 30. West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2011.

Taylor, Robert. “Mahabharata of the Soul,” In The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two, 44-45. West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2011.

Taylor, Robert. “Shenandoah,” In The Lyrical Ballads of R.N. Taylor Book Two, 31. West Union, WV: The Red Salon, 2011.

Various. Enemies: A Collection of Wartime Lyrical Tunes. 2009 by Der Angriff. Angriff 36. Compact disc.

Werkraum. Early Love Music. 2008 by Ahnstern. Ahnstern23. Compact disc.