Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review/Interview: Ostara - Runaway Horses

Since the autumn of 2016, there has been flurry of activity for Richard Leviathan’s Ostara project. Firstly, Ostara released a new album, Napoleonic Blues, on vinyl back in October (note: my review of this release can be read here at Heathen Harvest), with a digital version via Bandcamp and a digipack CD version being released in January of this year. As with Ostara’s prior album, Paradise Down South, Soleilmoon handled the physical versions of Napoleonic Blues. In between these releases, Ostara saw a handful of live performances as well, with an Australian concert in December and an appearance in Nuremberg in October.

Ostara's Napoleonic Blues, CD version (personal collection)

February, however, saw Leviathan do something expected: out of the blue, he released a digital only single for a song called “Runaway Horses” on Bandcamp. Posited as a non-album single, “Runaway Horses” isn’t quite a companion to Napoleonic Blues, yet it isn’t totally divorced from the album either. Leviathan explains how the song came into being as such:

It's a completely new song that was in the repertoire just before the release of the album and has a somewhat different mood and quality from that collection and thus could be a prelude to what is to come. Sometimes a song comes into being and stands out, insisting to be recorded, like an omen seeking fulfillment. I remember when Death in June's "Leopard Flowers" was released separately from Rose Clouds of Holocaust and really stood apart from that work while complementing it quite beautifully.1

Per the text on the Bandcamp page, “Runaway Horses” is inspired by the 1969 novel of the same name by Japanese multi-genred artist/writer, Yukio Mishima. Mishima has has a profound influence on the neofolk scene (as well as other underground genres of music). Douglas Pearce of Death in June has expressed Mishima being his favourite author next to Jean Genet.2 References to Mishima can be found in songs on The World that Summer3 as well as the grey-market boxset release of Tribute to Yukio Mishima & Jean Genet which contains a live Death in June performance from Japan.4 “Raio No Terrasu (Jesus Wept)” on Current 93’s Dogs Blood Rising references Mishima’s play Terrace of the Leper King.5 Les Joyaux De La Princesse’s Erik Konofal has expressed influence from Mishima6 while Die Weisse Rose’s release Kyrie Eleison contains a quotation from him.7 Leviathan explains how he became exposed to Mishima’s work and his influence in Ostara’s “Runaway Horses”:

I started reading him at sixteen when I read Temple of the Golden Pavilion and then proceeded to devour the rest of the novels and short stories. Runaway Horses was an enduring favourite, along with the rest of the four books of The Sea of Fertility. I think Mishima was unique as a writer and quite literally as an author of his own destiny, his death by suicide being the final act of a living book in which the man and the mask, the pen and sword became one. His personal fanaticism, his coupling of aesthetics and the martial spirit is rare in the modern age but it can be inspirational to others when it is brought into the light as a living example beyond nostalgia or illusion. While many are drawn to the life and the cult of his personality, it is through reading the work that you discover how his obsessions with beauty, mortality, history and fatality are presented in a very human, conflicted and ambivalent way. It's never just about heroic ideals and spiritual principles. At the centre of everything is the way in which the characters think, act and interact, mostly as tragic figures seeking something enduring in a life doomed to dissolution and decay. It's that 'runaway' sense of a fanatical urge to live, act and die with absolute resolution regardless of the consequences that inspired this song. It is ultimately a kind of liebestod, which is why I designed the artwork and video around some striking photographs I have from a geisha performance I attended in Kyoto in 2014. These complement the romantic and erotic themes of the song quite well.8

Taking the text and music as is, independent from the influence of Mishima, “Runaway Horses” sounds romantic. The song is in the vein of Leviathan’s iconic neofolk-pop style, yet it is “beatier” as there is a toe-tapping rhythm to it. There is also this feeling optimism to the song. Closing ones eyes, one could picture a heroic narrator saving his betrothed, riding off into the sunset together. This interpretation, of course, has little in common with Mishima’s Runaway Horses, but that is perhaps indicative of the multifaceted nature of the lyrics. They can be an extension of Mishima’s work, or something catered uniquely to the listener. Typical neofolk songs that pay lip service or tribute to a literate source are not usually written to be consumed in a variety of means. Intentional or not, “Runaway Horses” is definitely multifaceted. This attribute, combined with Leviathan’s pop/folk stylings makes “Runaway Horses” an extremely attractive, standout song.

"Runaway Horses" graphic used at the Ostara Bandcamp page

The song may be confined to Bandcamp for the time being, but Leviathan has greater plans for it: “Bandcamp is a nice way to showcase music but the goal is always to extend that effort towards an album, which is where it will eventually end up. I acted on impulse with this one and the reaction so far has been fantastic.”9

“Runaway Horses” can be found via streaming or purchase here: https://ostara.bandcamp.com/track/runaway-horses-single


Official Links

http://www.ostara.net/ - Official website for Ostara
https://ostara.bandcamp.com/ - Official Bandcamp page
https://www.facebook.com/ostaramusic/ - Official Facebook Page

Endnotes/Citations

1. Richard Leviathan, email message to Nicholas Diak, March 14, 2017
2. Andreas Diesel and Dieter Gerten, Looking for Europe: The History of Neofolk, trans. Markus Wolff (Zeltingen-Rachtig, Germany: Index Verlag, 2003), 91.
3. Ibid., 91-92.
5. Diesel & Gerten, 63.
6. Ibid., 325.
8. Leviathan, email.
9. Ibid.

Bibliography

Diesel, Andreas, and Dieter Gerten. Looking for Europe: The History of Neofolk. Translated by Markus Wolff. Zeltingen-Rachtig, Germany: Index Verlag, 2003.

Ostara. Napoleonic Blues. 2017 by Soleilmoon. SOL192CD. Compact disc.

Ostara. “Runaway Horses.” 2017 by Bandcamp. No catalog #. Digital download.