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Songs From The Ivory Tower – has any album title ever more succinctly summed up the elitist and idealist aspirations of neo-folk and martial industrial music? Sagittarius is the solo project of German musician Cornelius Waldner, and Songs From The Ivory Tower is the band’s second album following 2003’s Die Große Marina, released as a limited edition vinyl LP by Renovation Verlag, and still available as a free download from the Sagittarius website and from Neo-Form magazine (www.neo-form.de). For the recording of Songs…, Cornelius Waldner has assembled a formidable array of guest musicians, including Marcel P. of Von Thronstahl, Halgadom etc., Herr Twiggs of Kammer Sieben, Damiano Mercuri of Rose Rovine E Amanti, Troy Southgate of H.E.R.R. and Seelenlicht, and Philipp Jonas of Secrets Of The Moon.
Songs… opens with a song in English, ‘Nihil Arisen’. Cornelius Waldner’s wistful piano finds an apt counterfoil in Philipp Jonas’ guitar, as Waldner intones the mournful lyrics in a clear, simple spoken recitative. The general effect is similar to Golgatha or some of Karsten Hamre’s (Penitent, Arcane Art) work. However, the song is marred by the words simply not fitting the rhythm of the music, which is a shame. Fortunately, nearly all of the album’s remaining tracks are either instrumentals or in German, so this problem doesn’t arise again. The following four songs form a sort of suite, all being based on poems by Timo Kölling, the former editor of the German black metal magazine Moondance and a member of Trist. All the lyrics are given in the album booklet, but without English translations, so you’re on your own there. Musically, the songs are dominated by neo-classical piano work. Marcel P. contributes cello to ’Du Stehst Am Alten Gartentor Und Schweigst’ and ’An Des Meeres Strand’ and ’An Des Meeres Strand’ features vocals by Herr Twiggs, who arguably has a deeper, richer voice than Waldner.
Later songs feature lyrics by other German poets, including Stefan George, Bernhard von Uxkull-Gyllenband, Gottfried Benn and Ludwig Uhland. Of these, the most famous is undoubtedly Stefan George, whose ‘Das Lied’ is the seventh track on Songs…, with the vocals being handled by Marcel P. Cornelius Waldner contributes piano and flute, at least according to the album notes, but this doesn’t sound like a concert flute to me, more like a wooden flute or recorder.
The following song, ’Der Gute Kamerad’ has vocals by Troy Southgate. Now, those who have read my previous reviews of H.E.R.R. and Seelenlicht will know that I’m not the most ardent admirer of Troy Southgate’s vocal stylings, but here, he’s not half bad. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that this is the most enjoyable work I’ve heard so far from him – his voice suits the material, it melds well with Damiano Mercurio’s acoustic guitar, and overall it sounds quite a bit like Ian Read of Fire +Ice. A stately, formalist minuet by Johann Krieger follows, also with Damiano Mercurio on guitar and more of that mysterious flute.
The thirteenth song is ’Europa Calling’, a cover version of the song originally recorded by Forthcoming Fire, but made famous by the several different renditions of it released by Josef K.’s subsequent band, Von Thronstahl. This song has become something of a neo-folk anthem, a rallying cry for the Children of the Black Sun to rival Death In June’s ‘Runes And Men’, and Sagittarius fully do it justice:
Don’t you hear Europa calling
For him who leads the children home…
(This song, incidentally, is not to be confused with the Sol Invictus song of the same name, which is also very fine, but is entirely unrelated.)
The album concludes with a bonus track, ‘The Song’, an English rendition of ‘Das Lied’, with Tory Southgate again handling the vocals, and again sounding good. Apart from my reservations about the opening track’s clunky lyrics, Songs From The Ivory Tower is an effortlessly pleasant listen, with many talented musicians playing real instruments, strong lyrics and beautiful neo-classical arrangements. Praise and plaudits to all involved – this is another quality release from Cold Spring fit to stand beside Von Thronstahl, Rose Rovine E Amanti and Werkraum at the more melodic end of the Cold Spring roster.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine: