DARKWOOD: Twilight Garden
Release year: 2020
There are only a precious few neofolk acts in the world who’ve managed to truly break out from the decidedly esoteric confines of the genre – apart from the old guard of Death In June, Current 93, Sol Invictus and the likes, from modern purveyors of the genre I’d say only Rome and Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio (if you count the latter as either neofolk or new guard) have done so. Darkwood from Germany, the nom the guerre of Henryk Vogel, does not quite belong to this small list – but the project is undoubtedly in the forefront of modern day “classic” neofolk acts.
It’s been seven long years since Twilight Garden’s predecessor, Schicksalsfahrt was released. As such, it was scarcely surprising to hear a renewed, in some ways even drastically so, approach to the rustic, ageless dark folk. But all the same, it did catch me off guard; I guess I’ve been binging too much on the old classics to be able to easily digest the “new” sound heard on Twilight Garden.
The changes are apparent from the first song onward: One-Eyed God starts with uncharacteristically strong percussive elements, which are a common thing throughout the album. Unlike on what I’ve come to consider the “classic” Darkwood albums, the drums are a central element on large parts of the album album; otherwise, too, the arrangements are far more fleshed out than before, with eletric bass, synthesizers and, unless I’m totally mistaken, some electric guitar here and there. I guess one could say Twilight Garden flirts with a far more pop/rock expression than before, only underlined by the more uptempo songs. And another important change, which I think is a first for Darkwood: all songs are in English.
So, I admit: I was initially thrown off balance. What is this? To be honest, I was expecting another album of stripped-down, acoustic neofolk accompanied by sparse percussive arrangements and classical instruments such as violin and cello – you know, an album of songs like Der Falken Flug and so on.
It might have taken me a while, but finally I was able to gleam under the surface and see that for all the changes in the sound, the quintessential core of Darkwood remains largely the same. The songs are still centered around Vogel’s acoustic strumming, and his vocals, somewhere between tender and wistful, still dominate. The themes of looking back on ancient times and traditions of yesteryear and, mayhap, harboring a certain disdain for the state of the world today, remain. So, as much as things may have changed, what truly matters has remained.
Luckily, another essential element remains: the quality. Though in some ways different from previous works, Vogel has retained Darkwood’s respectable standards of quality, as well as the atmospheres and the romantically inclined, ageless and mysterious aura that makes good neofolk so unique.
Ultimately, the more fleshed out arrangements make Twilight Garden quite likely Darkwood’s most accessible album to date. It might not have individual songs that equal the best in the project’s back catalogue, but as a whole it holds its ground when pitted against its predecessors.
With albums like this, neofolk continues to be a viable underground presence in the new decade.