ROME: Flowers From Exile
Release year: 2009/2019
In 2009, Luxembourgian neofolk-project Rome, alias of Jerome Reuter, released their fourth album, Flowers From Exile. In the decade since, not only has the album risen to become a genuine modern classic within neofolk, but Rome has ascended to become one of the leading names in the genre – not surprising considering Reuter is very prolific, keeps a respectable quality on his releases, tours tirelessly, and has managed to steer clear of the kind of political controversy the genre is notorious for.
Flowers From Exile is an album that has been ever present in my life since I first got it in late 2014. To begin with, I didn’t even really like the album – only the track To Die Among Strangers, the “hit song” on the album, appealed to me at first. But there was something about Flowers From Exile that didn’t leave me at peace, something that kept me returning to the album. And bit by bit, song by song, lyric by lyric, Flowers From Exile worked its way into my heart, and now I am quite ready to proclaim it as one of those albums with a genuine, profound significance to me. Something that goes far deeper than any “personal top 10” list ever could.
I’m quite reluctant to speculate on or analyze to any great depth the concepts and themes Reuter drew from for the album. Apparently it was largely inspired by being on the road throughout Europe, and the Spanish civil war. It sounds about right. There is a profound sense of homelessness and restlessness on the album, of searching for a home that no longer exists – if it ever did. Of living on and along borders, transient between what others call home but never finding it for oneself.
Hugo Pratt, legendary graphic novel author and creator of iconic character Corto Maltese, once said that Corto’s fate is uncertain – the only known thing is that he disappeared in the Spanish civil war. Pratt felt that as a prelude to the Second World War, the Spanish civil war represented the moment in time when the last remnants of romantic old Europa died, after which a romantic adventurer and individualist such as Corto Maltese could no longer exist.
I hear some of those same sentiments echoed on Flowers Of Exile – a lamentation of a world that no longer exists, and perhaps of the last heroic adventures in the war that ended it; but without a sense of idealizing the idea of war itself. I don’t know from where the images of groups of young, boldly smiling men are taken, but I cannot help but associate them with youth going off to the great adventure of their lives, to fields of glory and fame – only to end up in the mincing grind of war. Reuter’s sometimes laconic, sometimes wistful but always understated voice sings like one remembering those who went off to war and never came back – or, worse, came back but had lost too much.
These are of course personal interpretations, entirely subjective and possibly completely erroneous readings of the album. But perhaps that is one of the functions of art, to allow the audience to imbue it with their own interpretations and significance.
Musically, Flowers From Exile is largely understated but not necessarily minimalistic. Reuter draws elements from European (folk) music tradition, but grounds the compositions in the rather archetypal singer slash acoustic guitar strummer -structure of neofolk, complete with abundant vocal samples and other standard elements of the genre. However, as with other prominent names of the genre, whilst remaining true to conventions, Reuter has a strongly personal form of expression, which ensures Rome sounds entirely unique. Though understated, Reuter’s voice sounds very disciplined. Unlike some colleagues, who are at times rather liberal with staying in tune or key, Reuter seems to keep his voice in strict control, even on the expense of emotional expression. It works.
At first, few of the tracks on the album stand out. Rome doesn’t use conventional methods to emphasize and bring emotion to tracks – arrangements swelling during choruses, putting emphasis on particularly emotional sections, overflowing melodies, vocals straining to the extreme to express sentiment, what have you – which at first can make the album seem gray. Given time, however, the beauty of such understatement starts to shine through, and the utter majesty of Flowers From Exile captivates. A small element, such as the simple piano added towards the end of A Legacy Of Unrest, becomes almost an epiphany.
Ultimately, things are turned upside down: the listener will not be able to pick just one favourite when just about all songs take their turn as favourite.
Truly an album that deserves a status as a modern classic.
The luxurious 2019 anniversary release features the To Die Among Strangers EP as bonus; featuring the title track, also present on the album, as well as three other tracks, the EP presents a more electric, post-punk side of Rome, as well as a martial ambient -style on the lengthy Mourir À Madrid -track, which takes up an entire side on the double LP release. Ultimately, however, the bonus vinyl cannot hold a candle to the album proper.
Whether in its original form, or the expanded form presented on this 10th anniversary re-release, Flowers From Exile is an essential album for anyone into neofolk. In the unlikely case that any fan of the genre is still unfamiliar with the album: do yourself a service and get the album today. Give it the time it needs. Fall in love with it.