September 22, 2023

A lush, intoxicating escape into the realms of the exotic…

Crisp acoustic guitar notes ring out tentatively as Gedin, the enchanting 10 minute opening track to Wegferend’s dark folk album En Autremonde – Chapitre 2nd slowly bubbles to life, soon accented by the popping sound of derbouka and the warm, alluring voice of Alexia Cazaméa. The album is the French trio’s first full-length release and the follow-up to their debut EP (Chapter one) from 2019. And what a follow-up! The seven tracks found within form a lush, intoxicating, and highly memorable escape into the realms of the exotic, conjuring images of twilight forests, rainy rituals, and oneness with the earth. These folkloric tales are spun with a mix of French and English lyrics while gentle notes flutter, strings are strummed wildly, and hypnotic rhythms are bashed out on a variety of unconventional instruments.

Those percussive sounds drive the song Holy Ghost for example, with a thumping shamanic bass drum employed effectively, while tuneful recorder and Cazaméa’s impassioned vocals swirl over top of the continuous groove. The Wayfarer on the other hand has a dreamy Celtic feel with Irish whistles, which builds to an energetic jig before slowing down and completely changing the tone with ethereal half-sung, half-chanted vocals:

Crow you own the sky,
Whale you own the sea
But you’re just as mortal,
Just as weak as me

It’s a particularly striking piece of music, and the numerous changes throughout reveal a band unwilling to conform to traditional folk norms. Dare I tack on the word ‘progressive’ to their more commonly used ‘dark folk’ label? By this point in the album, I’d already have to say yes.

Druide is an evocative piece painting pictures of a nocturnal man and the wildlife and secret spirits which follow him. I found myself going back to this one a lot, easily lost in the aching melodies of the tin whistle and classical guitar set against the relentless heartbeat of the Irish Bodhrán. Another major highlight is the reflective instrumental Lost in Reveries, with its otherwordly mandola and recorder melodies and its anguished notes crying out in search of solace. Much credit is due to Manon Cazaméa, whose stringed instrument plucking is a vital component – and perhaps even the soul – of this band’s music.

Jos L’Uelh De La Breissa is one of the longer tracks. Drummer and percussionist Thomas Boissier, who delights in exploring a wide variety of instruments throughout the album, adds some harsh backing vocals as the music briefly shifts to reveal a more metallic influence – but mainly in a thematic way (i.e. don’t expect any mosh pits). Elegant cello playing from guest Pierre Burette brings a depth and solemnness to the gorgeous closing instrumental title track. It’s perhaps the most low key on the album, but every bit as enchanting, and as the tribal sound of the bass drum signals the end of it all, the music dissipates and vanishes in unseen wisps, leaving us in a state of silent melancholy.

Every once in a while, an album appears out of the blue – the way it did in your teenage years – that grips you unexpectedly, holding your attention and drawing you into its mood so effectively that you instantly know you’re in love with it before you’re even two songs in. En Autremonde – Chapitre 2nd is exactly that kind of album. I hadn’t heard of Wegferend until this release came across my desk… and now I can’t stop thinking about them. Quite simply and without a scrap of hyperbole intended, I can say that this band have crafted 48 minutes of pure and rich beauty, seemingly summoned from the deepest and most ancient parts of the earth; simultaneously sorrowful, frightening, and comforting. I hope more people will give these young folkies the attention they very much deserve. This ambrosial dark horse may well become the soundtrack to my autumn. More please!