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Twilight on the Mountain - 70%

Sean16, June 3rd, 2020
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Auerbach Tonträger (Digipak)

Little doubt should be left by now: Stille Volk is definitely seeking for its roots. The previous album had already seen the return of percussionist Yan Arexis, the present one sees the long-awaited return of Milharis. Milharis isn’t a former band member, mind you, but the legendary shepherd-prophet hero of the threesome during its demo days and first album, Hantaoma (not to be confused with their side-project of the same name), before the concept was dropped for the following twenty years to the profit of the Great God Pan.

Early days worship part transpires into the music, too. Most significant, the soundscapes interludes, courtesy of this same Arexis, are back, explicitly named from lines taken from Hantaoma: Dans un temps qui n’a pas d’histoire and Neige que versa le ciel noir. The witches’ sabbath themes and vibes, predominant on Satyre Cornu and its followers, are gone. Man stands alone against Nature, and Nature has already won. On the band picture, the three members are seen from afar, negligible figures in a dark, unending forest. Alone. Previous works usually featured a small bunch of guests; not that one.

La Pèira Negra was not fun. Milharis is even less. Anyone reading this is likely to know Stille Volk is not a metal band, but rather belongs to the blurry “modern folk” trend, using traditional acoustic instruments to develop their own musical universe. Stille Volk’s universe is dark, and has never been as dark as it is now. From the opening track, its plaintive choirs and grandiose snare rolls, the pace is set to slow, and it will not go faster before... the very last track, which is a light mid-tempo number more in the lines of the Nueit de Sabbat album. And when you hear lyrics in the lines of “Under the skin of the Mountain / I’ve crept like a worm / Scratching the salty ice / With my tired spine” (translation is mine), you know for sure the drunken orgies of the Great Pan are far behind.

Not fun. From the baseline provided by Arexis’s ominous toms pounding, sound samples and occasional muffled grunts – or rather, as they wrote so nicely, tellurian vocals - the story unfolds. Plucked strings reign supreme – mandole (Algerian lute), bouzouki, guiterne, or just plain acoustic guitar. For some time now the band has been using a bass, what purists might deem unacceptable, without realizing it adds a welcomed depth to the rhythmic section. Sorry, Mr. Purist, but forget as well about the old days of fancy wind instruments and extensive biniou solos, as they’ve finally understood it was not the brute number of gadgets used which mattered. Even flutes have never been so scarce. Concentration on the essential.

This naturally brings to Patrick Lafforgue’s voice, an indeed essential feature of Stille Volk’s sound. Is it that he was feeling less inspired by the subject? Despair, resignation, fatalism, he conveys all these feelings with ease and his clean low range works wonders. Still, often, too often, he sounds forced, his high notes weak. At times, he’s just plain wrong, like on Sacré dans la Tourmente, which brings back to pre-Satyre Cornu days, where the only vocal advantage he could boast was an original accent. Even on the exalted incantation part of Incantation Mystique, the kind of performance which seemed tailor-made for him, he does not shine as much as he would previously have. Not bitching too much, as this part, with its frantic drumming and final nyckelharpa solo may well be the climax of the whole album. Let’s only hope age is not slowly, but surely, taking its toll.

Another complaint, perhaps. Focusing on atmosphere, Roques and co. might have partially neglected their songwriting. As written above, Sous la Peau de la Montagne works as a grandiose opener. Unfortunately, this means it sets not only the mood for the entire work, but also a standard so high it will never be reached again, hence a growing frustration from the benevolent listener. Of course, the rest is fine. Apart from the reserve about Lafforgue’s singing, it is technically irreproachable. The production is crystal-clear, making every nuance distinguishable, and this album is all about nuance. But it’s just too hopeless. Le Crépuscule du Pâtre, La mòrt de Milharis, La Porte du Jadis, it goes on, and on, same slow tempo, same sad plucked strings, same haunting percussion, same resigned voice. Alas, the time has come to finally write it down: listened to in a single session, Milharis may be beautifully... boring.

Highlights: Sous la Peau de la Montagne, Incantation Mystique.