Genre: Neoclassical / Neofolk
Ogham Inside The Night is the latest offering from Matt Howden. Many neofolk fans knew Matt Howden originally as the violin player for the Sol Invictus. Though Matt’s role in Sol Invictus was the first introduction many had to Matt Howden’s talent his solo career now eclipses his contributions to Sol Invictus. Matt is quite a prolific musicians as he is now heads the musical projects Sieben & Matt Howden as well as remaining a contributing member to the Hawthorn, Raindogs, Sol Invictus, in addition to his various contributions to other bands. Ogham Inside the Night is Matt Howden’s most recent musical contribution and it comes handsomely packaged with his previous release under the Sieben moniker “Sex and Wildflowers.” This 2 CD collection is available through Iceflower / Trisol Records.
For this review, I will be specifically discussing the album Ogham Inside the Night. For a glimpse into the companion recording “Sex and Wildflowers,” please visit the independent review of Sex and Wildflowers at Sex And Wild Flowers.
Like Sex and Wildflowers Ogham Inside the Night is a conceptual album. Utilizing an ancient European alphabet known as Ogham Matt has created yet another amazing album fueled by mysticism and exemplary song craft. The Ogham is an ancient pre-Christian alphabet that appears on standing stones throughout Ireland and the British Isles. The Ogham alphabet is believed to have once been used and widely circulated throughout the European continent. Though the Ogham alphabet is not as widely acknowledged and studied as the Nordic / Germanic Rune alphabet it is nonetheless equally intriguing. Like the Runic alphabet the Ogham’s purpose is thought to have reached beyond the function of a mere alphabet. The Ogham writing system and the symbols it is comprised of are believed to have had individual spiritual and mystical meanings that were encoded into each symbol. On top of these mystical associations, each letter of the Ogham alphabet also corresponds to an individual European tree species. This botanical connection adds to the alphabets intrigue and pagan / naturalist interest. It is quite interesting that the Ogham system has remained quite unacknowledged and untapped within the neofolk music community. I salute Matt for his insight in utilizing this ancient alphabet and spiritual system for inspiration and for his efforts to bring this knowledge into the light.
Ogham Inside the Night is in my opinion the crowning achievement of Sieben thus far. Just when you think Matt Howden has uncovered the extent of what is musically possible with a violin he awes us all with yet another innovative album that pushes the envelope. Like the companion CD Sex and Wildflowers, all the songs on Ogham Inside the Night were composed on Violin then later paired with other instruments. The composition process also followed a similar avenue as Sex and Wildflowers with most songs being developed by using looped violin playing. Unlike Sex and Wildflowers Matt has invited a very impressive lineup of guest musicians to assist on Ogham Inside the Night. The list of contributors includes Jason White, Carlos Boll ( Mystery School), Simone Slavatori (Spiritual Front), Chris Eckman (Walkabouts), Monica Richards (Faith and the Muse, Andy Weaver, Jane Griffiths, and the musicians of Larsen and Defile des ames.
Ogham Inside the Night is steeped in mysticism and Pagan spirituality. Aside from the Ogham focus the album is also divided into four separate chapters titled Prosperity Arising in the East, Melody Arising in the South, The Cauldron of Knowledge in the West, and Battle from the North. In addition to the chapter’s headings and the Ogham references, each song is encoded with Ogham and spiritual references in a flow of poetic prose.
Prosperity Arising in the East, the first chapter of Ogham Inside the Night, begins with the song Ogham the Sun. Ogham the Sun begins with the sound of gentle ocean waves, rain and the low rumbling of thunder. Amidst the rain can be heard birds chirping and other unidentifiable environmental sounds. Violin plucking emerges from within the environmental sounds and begins a diligent recital. The instrumentation quickly advances filling out the song along with the inclusion of Cajon, Drums and what sounds like a Guitar. The song structure is extremely difficult to describe let alone attempting an accurate description of each instrument as Matt has become so affluent at utilizing the violin in an array of unconventional means. The song builds into a throbbing, sensual composition driven by complex rhythms and Matt’s seductive vocals that careen between driving recitals and soaring serenades. The most notable and instantly recognizable achievement of Ogham Inside the Night is the amazing pairing of tribal percussive elements and the neoclassical romanticism of the violin.
The third Chapter, The Cauldron of Knowledge in the West, begins with one of my favorite songs of the album titled Ogham the Knowledge. Ogham the Knowledge begins with a similar introduction as Ogham Inside the Night with environmental sounds and Matt’s familiar violin plucking. A violin loop merges with the violin plucking and quickly builds to overpower the environmental sounds. A steely guitar enters the composition alongside tribal drumming setting the stage for Matt Howden and Monica Richard’s vocals. Monica’s feminine and witchy voice is an excellent pairing with Matt’s sensual and masculine vocals. The two entwine their voices and share the stage as they simultaneously deliver the lyrics. The music is once again a crafty combination of multiple violin loops that sing out sweetly from within a multilayered labyrinth of rhythm and percussion. The song pulls together into a vigorous composition that engages the mind, spirit and body simultaneously beckoning the listener to dance and sway while losing oneself in this fiery musical incantation.
Ogham Inside the Night ends on a very gentle note with the song Ogham Carved the Wood. The pace of previous tracks is reined in as Matt is joined by Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts for a gentle finale. The song once again begins with the now familiar environmental sounds that have introduced numerous songs on Ogham Inside the Night and have been a unifying thread throughout the album. The rudimentary violin plucking starts off the composition once again but is joined this time by Chris Eckman on guitar. The guitar and violin are joined by drums and as all three instruments meander down a crooked musical path that is imbued with a particular jazz infused freedom. This short interlude ends when tribal percussion permeates the song unifying the track. Matt and Chris sing together offering a nice juxtaposition. Matt’s voice leads the duo while Chris’s voice gently enhances Matt’s vocals. The effect is one of a softened and more sensitive masculine vocal delivery. The instrumentation is also softer and is played with less force than previous songs as it merges tribal, jazz, and neoclassical references. Ogham Carved the Wood wraps up the magickal and very moving musical journey.
Ogham Inside the Night is by far Matt Howden’s most ambitious work to date. Matt has successfully expanded beyond his solo roots and has assembled an amazing collective of fellow musicians who have helped expand and refine the Sieben sound. Not only has Matt Howden achieved yet another musical masterpiece he has once again created his eloquent songs around a strong and engaging theme. Matt’s focus on the Ogham alphabet and its multilayered meanings is sure to introduce many listeners to this ancient spiritual system and bring a new awareness to those actively working with Ogham.
Ogham Inside the night is highly recommended for people intrigued by the possibilities of pairing neoclassical romanticism with fiery tribal percussion and rhythms. Anyone who is tantalized by innovative compositions, exemplary song craft, and spiritually explorative themes will find Ogham to be a treasure trove of inspiration and enjoyment. For those who want a deeper understanding of the prose and lyrics and Matt’s personal thoughts and insight concerning the individual songs there is currently notes available at the Matt Howden website that thoroughly illuminate these subjects.