V/A: Spiritual Sounds For Artsakh
Release year: 2021
Label: Steinklang Industries
A bit of background to begin with, to better understand the nature of this two-disc compilation release. Artsakh is a region between Armenia and Azerbaidjan, which has been contested for about a hundred years already – ever since the fall of the Russian Empire in the early 20th century. The international community recognises the area as part of Azerbaidjan, though it’s got an Armenian majority, and the area has declared itself independent. Periodically, tensions have flared up into armed conflict, resulting in grievous war crimes and even genocide.
The latest stage in the prolonged and often frozen conflict was in 2020, when Azerbaidjan forces invaded Artsakh and forced many of the Armenian inhabitants to leave their homes, attacking even culturally valuable non-military targets. The Azerbaidjani forces, supported apparently by both Turkey and Israel, were again accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
In support of the displaced Amernians of Artsakh, this compilation consisting of artists in the neofolk field (broadly speaking) has been put together. Released in an edition of 200 copies, according to the back panel of the digipak, proceeds will be directed to the Armenian Fund in France.
Of course, many things lead me to suspect that not much in the way funds will be delivered to the Fund. First of all, a niché genre such as neofolk isn’t the most lucrative economical prospect. Secondly, as everyone knows, CD sales have been dwindling. And thirdly, 200 copies at regular price won’t rake in tons of money. So, it’s a noble effort, but I think it’s safe to say the tangible results won’t move the mountains.
But, I dare venture a guess: it’s not really about the money. It’s a sign of solidarity and of raising this conflict, barely noted in the press, into larger awareness. Any money made and donated is probably just a side-effect.
And perhaps in that respect, Spiritual Sounds For Artsakh may find some fertile ground among the neofolk audience: the long Byzantine christian tradition of Armenian culture does place them within the larger scope of the European cultural sphere.
But, colour me a cynic: I think for most people, this is just a nifty way of checking out some more obscure names within the current neofolk/neoclassical scene.
Because as such, Spiritual Sounds For Artsakh certainly serves a purpose. The two discs offer a total of 20 artists, most of them quite unknown and/or obscure in the larger neofolk scene. So, even though many tracks seem to be previously released, there will be plenty of new and unfamiliar material to check out.
The slightly more known names are few. I suppose Miel Noir can be called such, but at the very least the band they’ve teamed up for on thier track (In)tolérance is: Changes, one of the absolute primogenitors of neofolk. Neoclassical medievalists Regard Extréme have of course been active since forever, and though Uwe Nolte may not ring a bell for everyone, his band Orplid should – and this German poet is a name of considerable note in the neofolk scene not least because the mighty Forseti put some of his poems to music.
But among most others, I daresay, many people will find new names to dig into.
Though Steinklang speaks of this as a neofolk (and neoclassical) compilation, it’s that only in a rather broad sense. Ranging from the tender, instrumental acoustic atmospherics of Imbaru to the dark ambience of Otto Van Kleist and the martial pomp of aforementioned Uwe Nolte, there’s certainly no shortage of stylistic breadth to Spiritual Sounds For Artsakh. If you think of neofolk as stereotypical acoustic guitar, windchimes and a dramatic male voice, you’re probably in for a nasty surprise: not much of that on offer here. Sonnenkind do offer a lovely track of classical German neofolk, though. Miel Noir and Changes, of course, are also in a very traditional vein.
As such, Spiritual Sounds For Artsakh paints a picture of the state of the larger post-industrial neofolk scene now. From neofolk traditionalists to purveyors of nordic ritualist neofolk (Munknör, Vetten runotar) to acoustic landscape-painters such as Imbaru and Meadows At Night, and to the likes of Milos Asian, whose mediterranean-sounding Corpus Y reminds me a bit of selected cuts by Coil, one can draw the conclusion that neofolk is alive and well with a healthy range of variety in it.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t find too many tracks on here that made me want to delve deep into the artists instantly. Few of the tracks impressed me as particularly good, and if not exactly bad, a few did annoy me quite a lot. However, don’t write off Spiritual Sounds For Artsakh just because of that: musically, it’s main value doesn’t lie in offering just me twenty rock-solid tracks, but in presenting me with well over a dozen of artists I’d never heard of, or who were familiar to me in name only. Considering the stylistic variety, is it surprising not everything was to my tastes?
As already stated above, I’m too cynical to believe this compilation will have much of an impact for the suffering Armenians of Artsakh. As a symbol of solidarity, it certainly won’t rise up to be a new We Are The World, but perhaps some of the individual artists see their contribution as something meaningful, or a statement of intent.
However, as a small peek into what goes on in the hidden coves and shadowy corners of the post-industrial neofolk scene, this compilation serves a very real and valid purpose. If nothing else, it’s worth a spin or two for that.