ELLI RIEHL: Die Kornmuhme
Release year: 2022
Label: Steinklang Industries
Sometimes you come across an album that baffles and fascinates you so much, it takes ages to decide whether you like it or not – and even then each listen is prone to change your mind. The most recent release of (apparently) Austrian Elli Riehl, who’ve sporadically released a small body of material since 2004, is one of these.
The name Die Kornmuhme sounds purely phonetically, to be frank, quite silly. But apparently it is a reference to a being of old Germanic folklore, also known as the Roggenmuhme: some kind of cornfield demon, which could make the fields barren if not properly honored, but through proper sacrifice could be entreated to provide a bountiful harvest.
And both folklore and old legends are something Elli Riehl and this album seems to be steeped in. Another track, Frau Holle, takes its name from the character in one of the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm – also known as Old Mother Frost, she is an ancient entity linked to the winter festivals and Yule in particular.
Knowing this helps dig into the odd musical cornucopia that is Die Kornmuhme. Over the course of nine tracks and 37 minutes, Elli Riehl present the listener with a weird combination of styles, atmospheres and musical landscapes – at times eerie and ominious, at times mysterious, but a lot of the times also curiously playful. Like old folklore, there is both an element of seriousness and jesting here.
Steinklang’s vinyl edition of Die Kornmuhme is a revised and expanded version of a body of work that was originally released as a split CD with Mjøđr Ylgjar. As already established, it is a weird and unusual mixture of styles ranging from oddly disjointed, even psychedelic electric guitar, tribalistic percussions, dark nature-ambience, woodlands-industrial and gnome ritualism. Does that sound baffling? It is.
And yet, Elli Riehl isn’t odd in the sense that you can’t make heads or tails out of it. The ample percussions provide a backbone to the music, and the electric guitar anchors the sound into something familiar. Unlike abstract or experimental music, Die Kornmuhme presents a lot of elements that make the music accessible.
The weirdness is, then, first and foremostly in the atmospheres. But also in the odd details of the soundscapes – the slowed down animal grunts and noises, the weird vocals that sound like an angry forest gnome, some of the electric guitar drones, which sound quite heavily down-tuned, or pitch-shifted downwards. There’s this oddly disjointed, dreamlike feeling to the instrumentation, like in a fever-dream or being quite drunk.
I am somewhat weirdly reminded me of Hungarian Tormentor’s oddball album Recipe Ferrum! 777. Not purely musically, but in how both Die Kornmuhme and it bend and contort conventional instrumentation, disjointed atmospheres and borderline ludicrous musical elements into a whole that amorphously shifts from absurd to atmospheric, silly to genuinely intriguing.
Die Kornmuhme really does evoke mental images of folklore and legendry; before your minds eye, you can see pastoral fields and vast green seas of forests amidst rolling hills, and hear the weird processions and rites of all the woodland creatures of myth. The horns of the forest folk call to weird rituals in the middle of the endless forest, and mythical creatures become just as tangible as your fellow man.
In the end, Die Kornmuhme’s strange atmospheres, as well as its both odd and rich musical expression won’t probably be something for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Sure, sometimes the vocals rub me the wrong way, and sometimes I have the creeping suspicion Elli Riehl are just taking the piss, but so what – the trickster is after all one of the essential characters of all folklore!
Nestling somewhere in the odd thickets and undergrowths of psychedelic, industrial music, there’s no easy and clear-cut definition to be pinned on Die Kornmuhme. There’s really no list of names to drop and say “if you like this, this and this, then check out Elli Riehl”. All I can say is: if you found my fumbling description of Die Kornmuhme interesting, intriguing, bewildering or even confusing… give the album a try.