Artist: Brethren of the Free Spirit
Title: The Wolf also shall Dwell with the Lamb
Label: Important Records
Genre: Esoteric Folk / Baroque / Medieval Classical
01 The Sun Tears itself from the Heavens and comes Crashing Down upon the Multitude
02 The Wolf also shall Dwell with the Lamb
03 Into the Dust of the Earth
04 I am a Flower of Sharon and a Rose in the Valley
Brethren of the Free Spirit... A name like that is enough to give any spiritual historical buff a heart attack. These poor bastards were the kings of the “sticks and stones” ideology. Anything could go wrong to fuel their fire, and indeed plenty did in the time of their climax. They were prominent in times that included the black plague, the inquisition (at least the earliest bit), the Hundred Years' War, and the rise and fall of Catharism. Declared heretics in the early 14th century by Pope Clement the Fifth, they definitely had a shite time in their relatively short span of existence. Though there were many groups like this one emerging all through Europe at the time when the Church was perhaps at its most fragile, this one tends to stick out in the minds of Christian historians. Partially, perhaps, because of their intense persistence to follow what they believed, even in the face of charges of heresy. Put it this way, even after the good pope declared them heretics, the Brethren of the Free Spirit still sruvived well into the 15th century, over a century after the declaration.
Now, whether the two musicians at hand, Jozef van Wissem and James Blackshaw, consider themselves followers of the long-dormant cult or are simply using the title to attempt to invoke the same persistent and undying passion in their own music, I don't know. But perhaps that's less of the point, and perhaps it is meant to bring about a time in history in our minds. The two instruments at work throughout TheWolf also shall Dwell with the Lamb are the acoustic guitar and the lute, an instrument resembling a guitar that was used prominently in the renaissance era. Mr. Blackshaw is your 12-string guitarist (strangely enough tuning to Dadead or Dsus2, a fairly rare tuning but used in some Irish traditional songs if I remember correctly) and Jozef van Wissem is your lutanist.
This album was purposely recorded in mono, so if you cannot tell the instruments apart at times, the band had a reason behind it. The opening track, The Sun Tears itself from the Heavens and comes Crashing Down upon the Multitude is, ironically enough, the most docile track on the album. Incredibly minimal for these two instruments, it feautres what can only be described as a sweeping array of artificial harmonic grandeur. Nearly 8 minutes long, we're subjected to an open and emotional journey that sets the pace for the rest of the album, albeit we're in for a more moving journey. Perhaps the minimalism of this track spoke of bleak atmosphere of those those days during the unrest in the church. Many believed, as they do now, that the end of the world was at hand, and I mean really believed it. There wasn't much room for happiness in those days as it were, and the lack of god in any kind of believable manner took what little comfort could be found. Cults like The Brethren of the Free Spirit sought to restore faith and some sort of spiritual comfort.
The Wolf also shall Dwell with the lamb features a more traditional, and somewhat monotonous journey, through the folk influence of these two instruments. We're carried through roughly three separate melodies continuously repeating, and again, the significance of this could be the arrival of the Brethren to restore some sort of order in the belief system of those days. However, just as they came, they were spoiled back into the Earth by the very church they sought to recover the hearts of people from. Into the Dust of the Earth strangely has been mirrored halfway through even though it initially was composed based on a classical baroque lute prelude from the mid-17th century by an anonymous composer. With the dark texture of this piece, it appears the meaning lies in the wisping away of the Brethren, their declaration as heretics and subsequent wiping out through the historical pages. The melancholic nature of the track represents death, a burial, the return to the Earth. However, the fact that the track is mirrored could also speak out to give a bit of mystery, to imply that some survived through the ages, that history reversed itself from what was supposed to be in those days. Though something as archaic as a surviving dead religion is highly unlikely, its an artistic measure and one worth pursuing.
That leaves the last track of “I am a Flower of Sharon and a Rose in the Valley” with a bit of thought to be had. Its meaning could be the simple return of the bodies to the soil, what they became, but flowers in the Earth, or the track could reference the ties of the musicians to those who were executed as heretics. They they are the flower, they are the rose. Its all up to speculation and the music that is played behind it with traditional instrumentation is a beautiful soundtrack to think to. Consistently moving and emotional yet repetitious melodies we've consistently to keep your mind in place but to gently work you through the puzzle.
The artwork is a strange affair and I really can't figure it out though there are some guesses. Imagine for a second that just once, the wolf wasn't the cult, but the church itself. It has laid with us for two thousand years, and we continuously invite it, as it silently picks us off, one by one in the night, through religious wars, schisms, crusades, and other such spiritual anomalies. The two on the cover, naked with hoods could be the normal human, believing what that wolves say, but blind to the meaning and implications of the church's rantings. They are also tied up, perhaps symbolic of being bound to their beliefs like mortar to stone. Two vultures poke their heads out of alternate sides of a towering clothed structure that stands bellowing over a small wooden shack that the two humans rest upon. I believe the vultures are symbolic of the leaders of the church, who know the evil of their actions and words but hide in secrecy. The giant bells are a reminder that even the most faithful can hear the evils that they spew from their necks, but are too blind to see their measures. The last symbolic reference that I feel I can pull out of this one are the structures. The clothed structure literally towers over the small wooden one, but wood is infinitely more stable than cloth. Even a silent but strong zephyr could be the end of that structure, catch it and take it tumbling to the ground while the wood structure wouldn't even give notice. This could say that if those humans could unbind themselves, unblind themselves, they could easily topple such a frail structure without giving up theirs. However, it also stands to say, if the wind blows the wrong way, that frail structure could swallow us and ours completely, leaving us to die, bound and blind, in darkness, forever.
Even if you feel I'm completely wrong on this one, one thing is for certain. The mirror on the inside of the digipak sleeve can speak to us all. It can remind us all of our blood, of where we've been in time, and the hardships this blood has endured. It reminds us that we're all strong enough to take this world and make it right again. We just have to have the strength to look ourselves in the eye, and make the decision. That mirror is our eternity. We can look at it, and wait for it to fracture, or we can understand, walk away, and accept that things in this world must change, and the hands that must bring down the fire upon the world must be our own.