ELK TOOTH: Never Give All The Heart
Release year: 2022
Label: Steinklang Industries
Naysayers sometimes say that all neofolk is the same: simple, repetitive strummed acoustic guitar, understated male vocals, windchimes. Of course, I’ll grant them this much, there is a whole lot of that department within neofolk. But even that is not all of the same cloth.
Take US project Elk Tooth as an example: save for the windchimes – not much of them on Never Give All The Heart – it’s by and large pretty much yer stereotypical neofolk act in theory. But in practice, it’s from a very different world than, say, Death In June or Rome or Forseti or, well, a whole lot of “stereotypical” neofolk acts. Which aren’t, by the way, necessarily very much alike each other, either.
If I were to drop names, my strongest association is Of The Wand & The Moon. Elk Tooth don’t sound very much like the Danish project, but there are some strong parallells nevertheless: highly understated, minimalistic, even expressionless vocals, and a general dreamy, wistfully melancholic atmosphere. Especially the emotional distance of the vocals reminds me of Kim Larsen’s.
Elk Tooth, a one-man project with ties to black metal act Canis Dirus, complements their archetypically simplistic strummed acoustic guitar with various synths, minimalistic percussion and a bit of electric guitar. The overall feeling of the album is misty, distant, forlorn and autumnal; like wandering through the bare trees at dusk in a desolate woodland thicket, with not so much as a sound heard around, lost in thoughts of loss and distant sorrow.
There’s this floating, ambient quality to the album: even when there is percussion in a song, it gives the track no driving rhythm or backbone. The acoustic strumming is equally laid back and relaxed, most of the time not giving rhythm or structure as much as a sort of semi-formless ambience. This is complemented by the sweeping synths and backing vocals coming and going like vague shapes in the mist. Winter Rain is the only track with some kind of actual rhythmical, percussive core, but even there the floating, dragging vocals lend it a soaring quality – same goes for opening track Despite Our Sorrow, which has unusually rhythmical acoustic guitar for parts of the track.
In the right frame of mind, Never Give All The Heart can be quite effective. It is not hopeless or gloomy in its melancholy sadness, but fraught with a sense of bittersweet sense of tranquillity; the pale sun of an autumn day shining through the dead branches. However, at times the album does come across as a bit too intangible and ambient (for lack of a better word) in its slightly distant, foggy sound and floating instrumentation.
Whilst not perfect, Never Give All The Heart gets many things right. The album could benefit from a bit more variation in expression, maybe throwing in a song or two with a more meaty style and approach, but even in this form it is an enjoyable piece of music for moments of solitude.