Ancestral Voices: Heathen Music in Germany
2000 years ago, long before the advent of Christianity and its incorporation into the Holy Roman Empire, the area of what is now Germany was home to a variety of Germanic tribes, all of whom practiced forms of polytheism. Little is known of the details of their religious life, and thus accounts of neighbouring Scandinavian beliefs in the Eddas and Sagas have been adopted by Germans as a guide in rediscovering their distant ancestral religion. In the last three decades, small new movements have sprung up that are trying to revive and revitalize ancient religious lore. Whether they call themselves “Asatru,” an Old Norse term meaning “faith in the Gods,” or simply heathen, they have had an influence on some of the new heathen musicians.
While traditional German folk music of the om-pah-pah variety has had little influence on most of the new German heathen bands, some of them have looked to the long tradition of innovation in the experimental and electronic music areas, from Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Can , Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk to the pioneers of the 80s, such as Asmus Tietchens, Werkbund , HNAS , CO Caspar, the Cranioclast / Kallabris / Core family and, of course, the well-known Einstürzende Neubauten . Also very influential early on was the transgressive industrial sound of Genocide Organ , the members of which also founded the label Tesco which nowadays is home to the most important single influence on the German New Folk bands, the English band Death In June . And it is from Death In June , as well as from two other British“apocalyptic folk” bands, Sol Invictus and Fire & Ice , that an important initial impetus came for German musicians to explore Runes and Northern European heathen mythology.
As will be seen in the article, the groups discussed here cannot and should not be easily lumped together. Some of them are also interested in metaphysical traditions, such as alchemy and other occult doctrines. Many of their assumptions and convictions regarding heathenism and other philosophical and religious topics diverge widely, yet they are united in a search for meaning and a viable alternative to todays increasingly soulless environment, in a quest to explore non-Christian spiritual themes in their music.
One interesting concern which is common to a lot of the German bands is the idea of “Heimat.” This word, which roughly means “homeland,” conjures up a miriad connotations for Germans, depending on their background. For many, it means kitschy music and costumes and outmoded customs only shown off to entertain tourists, or worse embodies the ‘evil' notions of patriotism and nationalism. But for most of those quoted in the following article, “Heimat” signifies a local environment where they grew up, a tribal home, a spiritual homeland that unfolds ever more splendid treasures to those awake enough to glean them. It is in this spirit that “Heimat” is left in its German form throughout the article.
The Search for Roots
When looking for the inception of New German Folk, properly part of a genre with the terribler moniker “Neo-Folk” and a good starting point for this investigation of heathen music, one has to look no further than the group Ernte , whose first song “Sonnenwende” was a highlight of the classic 1994 compilation Im Blutfeuer , which also featured Death in June , Sol Invictus , Allerseelen, and Blood Axis. Ernte consists primarily of Willi Stasch and Rose Kasseckert but on “Sonnenwende” they were aided by none other than Tony Wakeford of Sol Invictus , which links this first successful attempt at “new” German folk with the English bands that directly inspired it. The lyrics to “Sonnenwende” (“Summer Solstice,” refering to the ancient pagan festival that usually falls on June 21 st ) were adapted from an old obscure German poem, a practice that was to be adopted by many subsequent bands of this “scene”, such as Orplid and Forseti . The song itself is a heroic hymn to the “sacred fires” of the solstice “shining forth in eternity.” Ernte went on to record songs about Mithras, Lucifer and has recently strayed into completely new territory by covering a Spacemen 3 song. Their music has influenced many of the newer folk bands, encourging them to sing in German and to use heathen themes.
One of main projects carrying the torch of New German Folk today is Forseti . Forseti 's main member is Andreas Ritter, a photographer from Jena, a small town in Saxony. Aside from drawing inspiration from the usual Apocalyptic Folk heroes, he is also heavily influenced by the raw, honest acoustic works of Leonard Cohen and Jonny Cash. This and the spirit of the German Romantics led him to develop a purely acoustic music, using violins, cello, xylophone, waldhorn, etc. What really sets Forseti apart is the exclusive use of the German language and the profound nature of their quest to find a timeless essence and identity in an age of turmoil. Marked by creative arrangements and beautiful melodies, their music reaches that quiet place where one can gather energy from the bottomless well of the spirit.
In Ritter's own words: “The basic foundations of Forseti …are far removed from any superficial notions and thinking; it is a kind of inner search imbued with the conviction that one has already strafed the real goal on its edges, even penetrated it but without having fully explored it…it's about nature mysticism, the knowledge of understanding one's Heimat and its culture, and the need to grow spiritually.”
As part of this search, Ritter developed a gradual interest in the Edda , the Runes, and mythology in general. Thus, the project's name refers to an ancient Germanic god of justice, as does the Bindrune that is used on the cover of their first 10” record, Jenzig , on the Eis & Licht label. The record was named after a mountain near Jena which to Ritter symbolizes “nature's greatness and supremacy over mundane human life,” as well as being a place of fond memories from his childhood onwards.
Like Hekate and other bands in the scene, Forseti have shown a keen interest in the turn of the century German youth movement whose desires and aims mirror their own. It come as no surprise that Forseti made their recording debut on Das Graue Korps , featuring Forseti , Orplid , Dies Natalis and Ve Europa . The compilation was dedicated to Fred Schmidt, whose esoteric ideas shaped the 1920's youth group after which the 10” was named. The record was released by the Dresden label Eis & Licht, who first championed Orplid and have a special penchant for promoting acts that sing in their own native tongue.
Language is an essential important expression of the native soul, a fact that has not been lost on Andreas Ritter. He sings exclusively in German, writing most of his lyrics himself. He muses that while it might be “cute to hear Italians sing in German or Germans singing in English, … I have yet to fully grasp the purpose of doing that.” One of the texts on Jenzig is by Uwe Nolte of Orplid who is arguably one of the most brilliant lyricists of the entire German music scene. Ritter insists that he will stop doing music once he runs out of good German lyrics, or he might just ask Nolte to “let him borrow some.”
With a project like Forseti , it is easy to be seen as overly romantic or even subtlely reactionary in the face of the drab, soulless façade of the capitalist West. But while he definitely feels an aversion towards the “aimless and spiritless McDonalds & Co.” and the “never ending modernization of McWorld,” Ritter avoids any overt political statements and asks himself “…if it isn't enough to‘just' be a heathen, removed from any political proclamations.” Despite of this, Forseti have had some problems playing concerts in Germany. A concert in Kassel was cancelled by the club after pressure from self-proclaimed watchdogs of “right-wing” activity. Another show in Bucha, where Forseti was scheduled to appear with Sonne Hagal and Aurum Nostrum , was banned after somebody had tipped off local authorities that it was advertised (unbeknownst to the bands) on a right-wing website. After being banned for being part of a “Skinheadkonzert,” Ritter sued the authorities and succeeded in getting the ruling overturned. Forseti have played numerous successful and fairly troublefree concerts in Germany since then.
A few years ago, Ritter found time to contribute accordeon tracks to the last Death In June album All Pigs Must Die . In turn, another collaboration with Douglas P. appeared on Forseti 's last opus, the full-length Windzeit , which was released in August of 2002. Without a doubt, this well-deserved connection will expose new listeners to the aural magic of Forseti . And while this must surely please Ritter, who also received help from Uwe Nolte of Orplid and members of Sonne Hagal on Windzeit , he seems well aware that the real benefit from his music is internal and spiritual. As he stated in a German interview: “I am convinced that one can only find the way to one's own tradition if one is willing and ready to embark on a quest for it.” The new album title is inspired by the ancient poems of the Edda , which talk of a cataclysmic twilight of the gods, which also destroys the world of men: “Wind Age, Wolf Age – Light gives way to the darkness. Wind Age, Wolfs Age – A storm rages in the sky. Wind Age bursts forth upon the world…”
Two years after Windzeit , Ritter and co-horts return with a new work that completes the trilogy started with Jenzig . Erde (“Earth”) is the name of the new album, which just apeared in June 2004. This time around, the guests include Ian Read from Fire + Ice , Uwe Nolte of Orplid , B'Eirth of In Gowan Ring and Kim Larsen, the Danish musician behind Of The Wand And The Moon . The album also includes a cover of the Orplid song “Abendland.”
“Orplid, my far away land…”
After Ernte 's efforts, the first real German folk act to follow in their footsteps was Orplid , a duo hailing from Halle. Although they have been aided by others, notably some excellent female vocalists, the core of Orplid is made up of Uwe Nolte and Frank Machau. They named themselves after a mythical land described in a romantic poem by Möricke. When Stephan Pockrandt who was then publishing Sigill magazine heard their first recording, he jumped on the opportunity to release it and the Eis & Licht label was born.
After going through through two editions, the self-titled debut of Orplid was rereleased with extra songs and new artwork on Prophecy. The music packs an impresiive range, traveling from the orchestral opening fanfare to the various approaches to folk, from acapella to aggressive orchestrated songs almost reminiscent of later Swans . The album includes paeans to “Brother Lucifer,” to the Norse god Balder and narrative songs about the Elve kings and raven. The latter, “Der Merseburger Rabe,” takes place in Nolte's home town of Merseburg, otherwise famous for being the home of the pre-Christian Merseburg Charms. In his lyrics, Nolte takes up the banner of the sacred German tradition of poetry, of Hölderlin and the Nibelungenlied, of the Eddas and more recent writers like Ernst Jünger and Rolf Schilling. Perfection has been a hallmark of the duos' work, which was a main reason why their second recording Heimkehr was only given to friends and never released properly in its entire form. Beginning with “Die Schöpfung I” (“Creation”), the cycle chronicles the Germanic cosmology of the Eddas and its depictions of primordial, elemental and spiritual forces.
Orplid continued to record and soon issued two classic 10” records on Eis & Licht, Das Schicksal and Barbarossa . Aside from the music, both feature the increasingly painterly and symbolist photographs of Uwe Nolte, whose work has become increasingly accomplished and more and more visionary over the years.
Nächtliche Jünger (“Nocturnal Acoclytes”), an album of seamless and expansive songs, whose folk underpinnings have been embellished with extravagant and unusual arrangements. Nolte's mythic photographs again complement and embellish the lyrical themes of the record, and are especially effective on the double 10” version. A highlight is certainly “Im Schatten der Queste” which present Nolte's impressions of the eternal nature of sacred places as embodied by the “Queste,” a dead oak trunk decorated with a wreath of foliage which stands above the town of Questenberg in the Harz mountains. Other songs such as “Söhne des Ares” and “Inneres Heer” continue martial themes first explored on the MCD Geheiligt sei der Toten Name (“Sacred be the Name of the Dead”). Both the debut album and Nächtliche Jünger are definitely pinnacles and defining moments of the German New Folklore phenomenon.
While the future of Orplid seems somewhat uncertain, Nolte has initiated some new projects to spread his words and visions. Sonnentau is a quiet lyrical folk project to which he contributes lyrics and photos; their first 10” sold out quickly. More mysterious and uncompromising will be Barditus , in which Nolte takes over vocal duties and which promises to be on the bombastic and intense side.
“Screaming, I took up the Runes…”
In a section of the Edda called the Havamal, or “Sayings of the High One”, Odin undergoes an initiatory ordeal by hanging on the world tree for nine days and nights. At the end, he wins the knowledge of the Runes, a series of symbols, which, in the hands of the intitiate, can effect great magic. Numerous accounts of their magical use can be found in the Edda and the Nordic sagas, while their use as an alphabet is well documented by thousands of Runestones, most of them concentrated in Scandinavia. While most glimpses into the Germanic mythology are gleaned from the Scandiavian texts, scholars have connected the continental Germanic Gods Woden and Donar with the Scandinavian Odin and Thor. Many other correspondences exist, and while the Runes might be forever associated with the Vikings in the popular mind, their use in what is present-day Germany was also widespread.
It therefore shouldn't come as any surprise that todays German heathen music groups are increasingly using Runes to signify their reconnection to the ancestral faith. Both Forseti and Dies Natalis use a combination of Runes, so-called Bindrunes ( Raunen 10”), perhaps partly inspired by Death In June , who first used a bind-rune on the album Roseclouds of Holocaust , while the groups Belborn and Sonne Hagal write their entire names in Runes.
Part of a loose ‘scene' comprising among others Forseti and Darkwood , Sonne Hagal also hail from former East Germany. In their own words, “the Runes and the Gods of Nordic mythology are a constant presence and a central part not only in our music but also in our daily life…With every new song about Odin and Hel, about Fehu and Hagal, about the shining sun and the sacred earth, these forces are being invigorated...We are acting from a position of strength and are allied with these mighty forces.”
Appropriately, the first Sonne Hagal release Sinnreger 10” (the title refers to the mead of inspiration mentioned in the Edda ) features cover illustrations by Franz Stassen taken from a 1920 edition of the Edda . After its electronic intro, the record commences with a cover of Ernte 's classic anthem “Sonnenwende”, a more urgent version augmented by violin, keyboard, and snare. The martial “Odin” has a marked Sol Invictus influence, as does “Anna G.,” while “Herbstlied” is a traditional. Sonne Hagal have achieved a compromise, singing in both English and German. They also don't shy away from a certain eclectic approach, using lyrics by Aleister Crowley and interpreting English folk songs on their recent split LP with Aurum Nostrum , Sinister Practices in Bright Sunshine . Although some of their work has been heavily influenced by the World Serpent scene, they appear to be on the verge of finding their own unique sound. For example, the 7” starkadr on Eis & Licht had a looping orchestral sound which complemented the Old Norse lyrics well and sounded unlike anything else. In 2002, the Italian label Oktagon will release a split LP of Sonne Hagal and Nerthus , to which Sonne Hagal contribute a collaboration with the ambient project "Polarzirkel.” The group has also recorded a new full length CD called Helfahrt (“Journey to the realm of Hel”, the goddess of the underworld) with the help of Kim Larsen from Of The Wand And The Moon and Andreas Ritter of Forseti , which was released on the Eis & Licht label. This CD continues their Nordic themes.
Another young band from this circle is Dies Natalis , who have also experienced some problems getting shows in Germany. They play folk influenced by the World Serpent scene and have self-released two CDs, Vom Gedanken..und der Erinnerung (“Of Thought…and Memory,” a reference to Odin's ravens) and the new Vom Tor der Nacht zum Tag herauf (“From the Gate of the Night up to the Day”). Recently, they became the first German folk band to play in Portugal, where they experienced no problems at all.
Perhaps one of the most and intense releases concerning the Runes comes from a slightly different musical corner, albeit from the same geographical one. It is the long-out-of-print cassette Runen by the Dresden project Voxus Imp. , who also later put out an LP Idafeld named after a famous plain in the Edda. On the cassette, Voxus Imp. overlay driving electronic and industrial rhythms with German vocals and Runic chants or Galdr to achieve a strange but successful fusion of the modern and the archaic.
Sonnwin is yet another project deeply involved in the interpretation of Nordic myth, but employing a very different musical approach than the already mentioned groups; indeed, they are probably one of the more original groups of them all. Their first CD Fehu comes with the label's recommendation to be enjoyed in nearly total darkness while sipping from a cup of mead (a horn would be even more ‘authentic'), and with good reason. The four young musicians from Saxony create a stirring sound using flute, cello, keyboards, and percussion, fronted by the forceful recitative vocals of Hagen Lehmann. The theme of the CD, named after the first Rune of the Futhark or Nordic Rune row, is a collection of interpretations from the Poetic Edda , with an intro culled from Friedrich Nietzsche's writings. Fehu has unfortunately remained the sole release by this promising project.
The Valleys of Melancholia
In the early 19 th century, an artistic and literary rebellion against the new doctrines of Enlightenment and Rationalism brewed across Europe but reached especially dizzying heights in Germany: Romanticism. While the artistic works produced during this revolt vary in quality, some, like the poetry of Goethe and the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich are timeless in their expression of spiritual yearnings and continue to inspire musicians like Forseti 's Ritter and Schwadorf of Empyrium .
Empyrium is the brainchild of Ulf T. Schwadorf, a musician/producer with deep roots in the metal underground. But from the beginning, Empyrium have stood apart within that genre by focusing on a rich, almost orchestral sound with somber lyrical themes. Indeed, in an interview in Sigill magazine , Schwadorf mused that “in principle, we artists are merely mediums that report from the valleys of melancholia.” The album covers and the whole ambience reveal a deep artistic debt to German Romanticism. Some of Schwadorf's lyrical heroes come from this period as well, especially Novalis, and his favorite painter is Caspar David Friedrich, the ‘inventor' of the symbolic, spiritualized landscape. And like the Romantics, a spiritual link to nature plays a great part in their creations. As Schwadorf notes, “Without a doubt, nature's moods can definitely be said to be our greatest source of inspiration” and elsewhere: “Love of ones Heimat goes hand in hand with the love of nature…I am very thankful to have been able to grow up in the midst of nature.” This deep link to the landscape where one is from, rather than the use of any specific pagan themes, is what qualifies Empyrium 's music as having a “heathen spirit.”
After two acclaimed albums of bombastic orchestral metal, Schwadorf made a grand departure with 1999's folky opus Where at night the wood grouse plays . The music maintains a hushed atmosphere, with intricate picked guitar melodies and flute prevailing. This sets it apart from the Neo-Folk “strummers” and places it more in the tradition of Ulver 's Kveldssanger CD, especially considering the similar background vocals. The title song departs from the subdued theme with the energetic addition of snares, while “Many moons ago…” could be a traditional English ballad, making for a strong offering that really builds the anticipation to the next Empyrium work, which has reached a new ambitious plateau. Named after the mythical hero, Weiland is an involved 3 CD set that aims to embody the heart of nature mysticism. Described as being “dark, athmospheric and demanding,” it has kept its promise to be even more classical and progressive than its predecessors, with acoustic instruments such as violin, piano and guitar predominating. A 7” record with two pieces from the album serves as a musical teaser.
SOTS , or sun of the sleepless , is Schwadorf's solo-project, taking Black Metal in unusual genrebending directions, obviously spurned on by Ulver 's adventurous groundwork. The first release, the Poems to the Wretches Hearts MCD, was a tribute to the old BM bands, like Darkthrone . A subsequent 7” includes one of the strangest and best Darkhrone covers of all time. The home of both Empyrium and SOTS is Prophecy Productions, the label that is also home to morbid metallers Bethlehem and German folk meisters Orplid (on the sub-label ember music).
Sword Age, Axe Age…
In addition to a special case like Empyrium , even some of the more overt metal legions are being inspired by concepts that seem at odds with the simplistic image of Heavy Metal. The keyboardist Manuela of the heathen metal band Menhir states it this way: “For us, Heimat is the land, the place where we can identify with the history of our forefathers, where our families and friends are, and which one longs to return to after a longer absence. Heimat also means the natural world and her holy places where one senses the aura of times long past.” Thus Menhir 's second CD is a concept album dealing with the history and lore of Thuringia from the first settlements of the Celts to the 8 th Century when Boniface began his conversion of the Germanic tribes. Menhir are practicing heathens who observe the seasonal festivities by celebrating them at historically and spiritually potent sites, such as sacred mountains and woods. Like Thuringia , the title of the third Menhir CD derives from an ancient name for an area of middle Germany. Buchonia is a totally acoustic excursion heavily inspired by local folkloric tales of what is now called the Rhön region.
Most of the German heathen metal bands have been inspired by the wave of Norwegian Black Metal bands that developed an interest in their native folklore, like Ulver and Satyricon as well as Burzum . Nagelfar , Götterdämmerung , Tumulus , Bergthron , Hel , Odroerir and Adorned Brood are some of the numerous extreme Metal bands that have adopted heathen imagery from a distant Germanic past. Common themes are the martial endeavors of Germanic warriors and the so-called Wild Hunt of Odin/Woden. On a more sophisticated note, the East German BM band Riger named their 1999 CD Hamingja , a complex Old Norse name denoting “soul,” “personality” or“character.” And on their demo CD, the Northern German band Drautran adapt the famous passage of Odin's self-sacrifice on the world tree in the piece “Prolog: die Seidr Kunst.” In an interview, a member of the band calls myth “…that other almost more important aspect of the world, which enters our lives in a place far removed from the listless domain of commerce and the daily lives of ordinary people.”
Apotheosis of the North
Apoptose is a more recent one-man project; however, it has created one of the most beautiful and deeply emotional albums of pagan music in some time: the Nordland CD, which was developed and recorded in 1999 and early 2000. Apoptose is a German medical term, its English equivalent would be “apoptosis.” In medical terminology, it stands for “programmed cell death” which can be found in every living cell, causes it to commit suicide when it is damaged or sick, and is part of a healthy immune system. The original Greek word means something like “leaves falling from trees” which, according to the man behind Apoptose, Rüdiger, “also fits very well to my music.”
Nordland is made up of purely instrumental soundscapes which capture the desolation and majesty of the Northern landscape. Ambient and rhythmic almost classical elements collide to form aural symbols of a bygone world. But the album is far from wallowing in nostalgia; instead, Apoptose 's music serves as a guide to unlocking the deeper spiritual aspects of the Northern soul. Rüdiger explanes this as follows: “The other aspect reaches a little bit deeper under the surface of the human mind and far beyond the pure geographic meaning of this word. To me it also represents the part of the human consciousness that is not easy accessible, the night-side of our mind that you find below the surface. Everybody has this dark side but most of them reject its existence.‘Dark' doesn't mean that it is ‘negative' it is just an archaic part of us that has its roots thousands of years ago. This part of the consciousness still influences our everyday behavior although we often don't recognize it. The music is an exploration of my personal Nordland and may be a device for the listener to find access to his own inner world.”
The music on Nordland has a more direct source of inspiration than most projects in this genre: Rüdiger's travels to ancient sacred places in Scandinavia. Through direct experience of the environment in which his ancestors lived Rüdiger has gained special knowledge. As he puts it: “… the athmosphere at these locations tells you more about the old faith than 1000 books.” But, of course, books can be helpful in one's quest to gain further insights into the past. Rüdiger continues: “I studied different heathen traditions to learn what the center of their faith is. I am always looking for similarities between the belief-systems and in most cases you find more or less well hidden that the ancient religions derive from the observation of nature. The forces of nature took over a human shape to form gods with special attributes… Nordland carries many aspects of that.” This is also directly reflected in the song titles of the album. For instance, “Erntewod” is a old term for the last sheaf of wheat which the peasants in some parts Germany left standing on the field as a gift to the god Woden (Odin). To Rüdiger, this custom is a fitting “example of how natural phenomena receive a divine shape and how they were integrated into the religious belief of our ancestors.”
Aside from the Nordland CD, Apoptose have also contributed a solo track and collaborated with Polygon on the “Solaris” CD, a project inspired by the sci-fi writer Stanislav Lem. For the second album on Tesco, Blutopfer (“Blood Sacrifice”), Apoptose has incorporated recordings from a visit to Calanda to witness the so-called “pagan drums of Calanda.” During Easter week, thousands of people throng the streets of this tiny Spanish town drumming incessantly for three days until the drumskins are stained with the blood of the drummers. The album is an impressionistic encapsulation of the forces and emotions unleashed at this unique and ancient event. A more stately record in the vein of Nordland should also be in the works. A more recent development is a remix for the Der Blutharsch album Fire Danger Season , and a contribution about the oak tree for the 4 CD plus book compilation Infernal Proteus .
“The past hangs above us like a bloody sword.
We are overshaded by the pain of war,
hindered love for our homeland and
forgotten beauty of tradition and nature.”
This extract from their lyrics reflects the outlook of Darkwood more aptly than many paragraphs of empty phrases could. Darkwood is an endeavor initiated by Henryk Vogel with the intention “to express our natural love we feel for the Heimat we have been born into and we can identify with.” For Henryk, this Heimat was the Brandenburg town of Finsterwalde, from which the band's name is derived.
Strangely enough, the newest CD, Flammende Welt (The World Aflame”), was released in September 2001, when a bloody sword was being raised over the Western world. According to Henryk, it presents the “third part of a triptychon dedicated to the Struggle of Europe.” The first Darkwood album, In the Fields , started off the thematic thread with a cycle of melancholic songs about the hardships of war, with specific references to WWI and WWII. The grave sculptures on the cover are a visual expression of the album's deep bow of respect to all that struggled through those monumental and to us unfathomable years. Musically, the album's Sol Invictus and Death In June influences are everpresent, yet overall Henryk's music reaches a personal, minimal yet very emotional space that is very different from his “mentors.” Although most songs are in English,there are two notable exeptions, “Deutsche Sonnwend” (“German Solstice”) and “Lied der Kämpfer” (“Warriors' Song”), both of which use 19 th century poems by Schumann.
The second work, Heimat & Jugend (“Homeland & Youth”), surprised many with a complete change in style. The majority of the pieces of this travelogue are harsh, rhythmic soundscapes with orchestral overtones. The Hermann Hesse quote inside the digipak: “The one who has returned home is a different person from the one that has always stayed home” reflect Henryk's newfound appreciation for Germany after an extended stay in America. The CD was followed by the limited Talons 7” which came in a hand-made case with wax seal. All productions sofar are self-released by Vogel on his label HeidenVolk (“Heathenfolk”).
Although Vogel's heathen philosophy is not as explicitly stated in his work as some of the other bands covered here, his attitudes about nature and religion are on the same level. He retains an “inner distance from the material spectacle” around him, and remains “withdrawn but always ready for a well-aimed spiritual ambush.”
The only German band that started out on the original home of Apocalyptic Folk, World Serpent, Belborn have recently made a name for themselves. Belborn 's founder Holger was born on April 30 th , Beltane, hence the name of the project. Together with his partner Susanne, they have come up with their own musical hybrid: “Neue Deutsche Welle + Neo-Folk = Neues Deutsches Folk” (“New German Folk” being preferable of the annoying Neo-Folk term) a combination of the distinctive ‘new wave' sound that emerged in Germany in the early 80s and so-called Neofolk. Indeed, the synth and bass arrangements betray a certain pop sensibility while the vocal lines possess an interesting phrasing unique to Belborn .
The birth of their daughter Skadi Lilja a year and a half ago has had an immense deep, lasting effect on this project. As Holger states, “I admire the wisdom of our daughter…in my opinion, children are very close to the origin of all souls and know very much.” Hence, the second Belborn CD was called 3-Drei-Three to emphasize this familial trinity which to Holger symbolizes “the eternal recurrence of all existence.” The theme is repeated in the visual design of the release. The back of the CD shows the trinity of Wotan-Wili-Weh, while the front a drawing by Holger depicting three birds on their journey into the center of a solar spiral.
The most recent release, Y, continues these themes and even includes a video of Holger lighting a need-fire in the Bavarian mountains. As with most of other groups that have been mentioned, their Heimat is deeply rooted, hidden in their being. Living close to the Bavarian Alps in the deep south of Germany, they are quick to exclaim that they simply need mountains around to stay sane.
When asked about the role of heathen ideas in the German music scene Holger states that “Heathenism definitely lays a positive role ... Of course, not everybody who wears a Thorshammer or every band sporting a Runic symbol are true heathens with body and soul. A certain commercialization can aleardy be observed in certain places but in the end even this serves the positive spread of the heathen worldview and thought.” Holger adds that the scene's followers are mostly pleasant, well informed people and the atmosphere at concerts is special and cannot be compared with other shows. “Luckily, there are more and more dedicated people who organise exclusive celebrations at unusual locales, such as castles and outdoor stages in the woods.”
They insist that “we are idealists” and prefer to march “straight ahead” beyond the conventions of left and right. Songs like “Junges Europa” (“Young Europe”) and “All unser Blut” (“All our Blood”) eloquently express their hope of overcoming the so-called ‘New World Order' and are a plea for preserving the identity as well as diversity of the European quilt of cultures.
A recent project which Belborn participated in highlights the depth of concern for history, art and culture that is typical of most German heathen musicians. The duo interpreted a painting by the Wagnerian artist Hendrich for a theme compilation named Hermann Hendrich . The now obscure painter was inspired by Germanic myths and fairy tales and helped in the creation of several turn-of-the-century “temples,” such as the Nibelungenhall and the Walpurgishall, dedicated to showcasing his work and enveloping the visitor in a vision of a mythical world. Belborn joined other artists such as Von Thronstahl and Elke Rohling in this benefit effort for the non-profit organization Nibelungenhort, dedicated to preserving this almost forgotten artist's legacy.
Beyond Sound and Music
As mentioned in the introduction, Germany has had a long ‘tradition' of innovative electronic and experimental music. In the seventies, this was often dubbed ‘cosmic music' especially when refering to electronic pioneers such as Tangerine Dream . Today, a stranger, darker exploration of sound and space predominates in the German extreme music scene. The projects promoted by labels like the Loki Foundation collective offer a different take on ‘cosmic music,' one dominated by involved concepts and symbolism
Inade consists of two of the founders of the label Loki Foundation, Rene Lehmann and Knut Enderlein, which they founded with Andreas Berge in 1991. They chose the mischievous Norse trickster-god Loki as a figure head for their provocative program of dark industrial sound, which has since been variously described with such ill-fitting genre names as “death industrial” and “dark heavy ambient” etc. Their first album was a modest but powerful cassette named Schwerttau and saw the light of day in 1992. Named after a Nordic poetic term for blood (“sword dew”), this was probably some of the first German music to explicitely deal with Nordic pagan themes, which were elaborated over the next few releases as well as in the work of Dagda Mor . Over the next four years, cassettes gave way to the first 7”, then to the 1996 milestone release Aldebaran on Cold Spring. Here, new ground was broken and the Germanic cosmological themes were expanded to include alchemical and cosmic imagery. According to Inade , Aldebaran also marked their “most pronounced increase in listenership” since this was their first CD. The musicians characterize Aldebaran as a “sound interpretation of the eternal cosmic war of becoming and passing away.” This idea is contained in Nordic mythology as well as many other mythologies and has fascinated personalities such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Mircea Eliade. Aldebaran ends with the author Ernst Jünger's enigmatic words “The real is just as magical as the magical is real,” an apt summation of Inade 's approach.
Inade 's last opus The Crackling Of The Anonymous is a devastating exploration of occult states of initiation through sound. This work should be called “New Cosmic Music” but even this label might detract from the serious and definitely non-hippy nature of Inade 's work. It might be best to let Inade speak for themselves as they elaborate on the ideas behind the album in a recent interview in Black Magazine:
“This album is an interpretation whose conceptual framework leads into the depths of a power usually conceived of as the immeasurable and ungraspable, the source and the root of consciousness. The Crackling Of The Anonymous – the symbol of a brightly shining unexpected impact, followed by a calm vibration, as a kind of disharmonic phenomena whose repolarisation is effected through divine signs or even through anonymous factors. The radiance emitted by such gates of incidence can also have a physical effect and can even be visible, but of course people almost always only see that which they believe and only in seldom cases that which they cannot fathom. But the meaning and purpose of all manifestation is the coming into consciousness that results from these fields of radiation. Here, the symblic overcoming of pain takes place, a cosmic necessity that precedes all realization. In this context, pain does not correspond to physical suffering but instead is the threshhold to the vortex of life which in turn leads to eternity. This album is an aural journey of the listener into a transcendent cosmic state of agitation full of kinetic structures, bizarre shapes and titanic sculptures.”
As heady as this explanation might sound, Inade 's music is actually fairly accessible given a certain degree of available intuition and openness on the part of the listener. But music for the masses it definitely is not.
Today, the members of Inade prefer not to place themselves in any single tradition, although they do proclaim feel an affinity for the “meta-idealism” of the Futurists and the idea of “art as religion” as expoused by the Art Noveau artists around 1900.
Aside from a few appearances on compilations, notably the ambitious Infernal Proteus , a hard bound book containing 4 CDs with plants as its theme conceived by the Ajna Offensive, Inade have since participated in a split 12” LP with Turbund Sturmwerk that represents the second installment in the “Germania Occulta” series. The theme of this release are the teachings of the German occultist Peryt Shou who had wideranging contacts with and was a great influence on many outstanding esotericists of the first half of the 20 th century. The first release of the series, Saturn Gnosis also includes tracks by other Loki luminaries such as Herbst 9 , First Law , and Predominance , all purveyors of highly individual approaches to the “dark ambient” genre. Especially the last Predominance album, “Nocturnal Gates of Incidence” is full of references to mystic astral and cosmic phenomena and its seemingly age-old hymns burn with the icy fire of the Northern lights. Fittingly, the first piece, “From Ancient Aeons,” appropriates the voice of Icelandic Asatru priest Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson.
Dagda Mor , the project of Andreas Berge from Saxony, who was long associated with Loki Foundation, is another pioneer of the fusion of Nordic spirituality and experimental music. Ominous, foreboding, bass-laden loops and sheets of sound overlayed with distorted vocals dominate Dagda Mor 's releases. Samples, such as the Wagner one in “Nach Nibelheim fahren wir nieder” (“We ride down to Niflheim,” Niflheim being the fog world in Eddic cosmology) from The Border of the Light CD, are also used.
Berge's early poems reveal a preoccupation with the sun and with fire as well as with many elements of Nordic mythology, as can be seen in a poem called “Jul” from 1992: “Born from the womb of the night/ Fires light up everywhere/ Our hearts widen/ And our eyes shine with pride/ Hail to you, O shining flame, which brings us the new year/ Hail to you, O sun, shine on for your radiance is wondrous…” These themes also permeate the imagery and titles of the early cassette releases of Dagda Mor . “Loki & Surt,” “Ginnunggap” (the primordial empty state of the cosmos), “Holmgang” (a Norse form of the duel), “Mimir” (the well at the base of the world tree), and “Seidwerk” (Seidhr, a Norse form of shamanic magic mainly practised by women) are only a few of the song titles explicidly derived from Norse mythology and folk ways. In the music of this and the other projects mentioned, ancient concepts fuse with modern sound tools in an alchemical union of opposites.
The Dark Side of the Sun
It has been a mainstay of Industrial and post-Industrial music to concern itself with forbidden themes and Germany is no exeption in this. Labels such as Membrum Debile Productions (MDP), Stateart, and of course Tesco have been at the forefront of this genre in recent years. Magazines such as Sigill , Black and the newer Zinnober have been instrumental in cross pollinating the Industrial and New German Folk scenes. For some years several musical groups, such as Turbund Sturmwerk and SRP , have explored the shadow side of the German experience as well as occult aspects of the Third Reich. One of the central obsessions of many in this scene is the myth of the Black Sun, as supposedly embodied in a floor design in Himmler's grail castle, the Wewelsburg. This motif has been used by many groups, especially the Austrian project Allerseelen and Von Thronstahl . Research has determined that is likely inspired by ornamental discs from the age of the Germanic migrations.
Schriever Rundflugzeug Projekt , or SRP for short, is named after a supposed Third Reich project to build UFO like planes. The first SRP album Götzen gegen Thule (“Idols against Thule”) is self-described as “Occult Third Power Industrial” and deals with the possible existence of post-WWII Third Reich bases in Antartica. The project's founder, Heiner Gehring, is the prolific author of such books as Inner World , Neuschwabenland , and Vril-Mythos and has written extensively about UFOs, mind control, the HAARP-Project and Hollow Earth theories. In 1995, he initiated an association called Innere Erde Gemeinschaft to further his researches into alternative science and the many myths surrounding it.
Deva Loka 's (“loka” is a Sanskrit word that means “universe” while “deva” translates as “goddess”) Kampfstationen
is inspired by the writings of German author Ernst Jünger. MDP has also released an LP named “Midgard” by Asandre , which according to the label features “northern mythological sounds.”
Another band distributed by MDP, S. Bussler's Wappenbund, creates a industrial, hard-edged sound inspired by Turbund and Der Blutharsch . On their self-released CDs Blood & Fire and zeitenwende , song titles such as “empor” (“upwards”), “goldene tat” (“golden deed”), and “unser blut” (“our blood”) seem to point to a preoccupation with the action-based ethics of the traditional warrior. A new 7” EP called “Zurück in der Heimat” has appeared on the Eternal Soul label, followed by the next full-length Preussen . The martial music of this relatively new project effectively evokes the violent aura of many past struggles between faiths and nations, which still hang over us “like a bloody sword.”
There are numerous other projects and bands that have been left out of this article, mostly in the metal underground, but one can get an idea of the surprisingly far reaching scope of the heathen music phenomenon in Germany. Newer folk projects like Aeldaborn , Werkraum (who have released their first CD Unsere Feuer brennen! ), Neun Welten, and in neighboring Austria Sturmpercht, Graumahd and Riharc Smiles have begun to make their mark. Long forgotten poetry is being put to new music, new words in praise of ancestors and Gods are written, and even the avantgarde tools of experimental and electronic music are put in the service of exploring the native world of religion, mysticism, and mythology. And the best of these bands and projects will continue to find new modes for expressing these ancient and ageless themes.
Selected Internet Sources:
Ernte/Cthulhu Records Interview: stigmatamag.narod.ru/ct.htm
Eis & Licht Tonträger: eislicht.de
Uwe Nolte: noltex.de
Sonne Hagal: sonnehagal.de
Lichtbringer Medienwerkstatt: lichtbringer.com
Prophecy Productions: prophecy.cd
Loki Foundation: loki-found.de
Dagda Mor: dagdamor.de
Membrum Debile Productions: membrumdebile.de
Cold Spring (UK label that has released Von Thronstahl, Werkraum, Inade, Turbund Sturmwerk): coldspring.co.uk
Malignant Records: malignantrecords.com
The Ajna Offensive: theajnaoffensive.com
Tesco USA: tesco-distro.com
Originally written in 2001 & revised in 2004 for ESOTERRA magazine.
Copyright by Markus Wolff, 2006.