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Forever Autumn : Patience Of ðm Fire-Keeper

Forever Autumn's acoustic doom will not be for everyone, but it has magic on its own terms.

It is grey here, and cold, with the lowering skies leaking melancholy frozen tears; whether shaped by regret, or pain, or simple loneliness, they fall endlessly to an earth bounded with shapeless mists broken and pierced by the stark, black bones of trees. Such is the soul of autumn, the dying cycle of the endless wheel of years; such is Forever Autumn (a million miles away from the trite sentimentality of golden-carpetted vistas espoused by Justin Hayward in his take on the same subject), where the fire-keeper waits, preparing to defend home and hearth against the lethal teeth of winter, until spring - at last - brings relief and life back to the world.

And such is Acoustic Doom, the name coined by Autumn Ni Dubhghaill to describe the evolution of her sparse, skeletal musical style: songs stripped down to the bone, sharp and gnarled and twisted as the leafless branches clawing towards the dark skies. Distilled to their purest essence, they are steeped in the Celtic folklore of old and the unadorned spirits of nature; signs and symbols abound, revealing and warding against the capriciousness, the cruelty, the majestic indifference of the world to the fate of any individual.

Superficially, this might seem to hold more in common with Folk than Doom - a certain lilt to the music, olde-worlde images, simple instruments that could be hand-made or found: bodhrán, rattles, tin whistles. But Folk has long since carried the expectation of whimsy, or of foot-stamping dance-friendly cèilidh, and the singalong re-telling of familiar tales in audience-friendly fashion, grim deeds wrapped in jaunty doggerel. No, Forever Autumn is rooted in more ancient archetypes, part-bardic, part-shamanic, where words are invested with power and meaning and the melody and rhythm shape a ritual around them. There are no easy comparisons, in truth, which share similarly stripped-down music, profoundly personal lyrics, and nature-inspired imagery, all invested with a solemn Doom spirituality: just odd snatches and moments that vaguely touch on what some of the more poetic singer/songwriters (the likes of Joan Baez, Rose Kemp, Leonard Cohen, Al Stewart) might have written, had they bridged the gap from raconteur into deep, dark atmospheric recital.

Elegant in its simplicity, fragile in its beauty, the music is a loose-woven tapestry: the warp of Jon McGrath's deep-voiced and slow cello anchoring Autumn's meandering weft of plucked or strummed acoustic guitar and inconstant, diverse percussion. Occasional hesitations in timing or slight miscues form part of the organic flow, unselfconscious flaws that simply emphasise how genuinely this fabric has been crafted from natural fibres both rough and smooth. It shapes a melancholy and somewhat desolate stage - sketched out by, rather than filled with, sound - haunted by stately melodies, in plaintive minor keys, that rarely reach for a passion beyond weary sadness. There is no need for more: these are plain frames, with a primal appeal of their own, that serve as vehicle for words and voice.

And so it is voice, ultimately, that gives the songs their character and variety, turning their shared basic patterns into quite different realisations: the wildness of nature in the wordless howling of 'Coyote', horror and suffering through the rusty hag-shriek of 'White Embers', aching regrets in the soft huskiness of 'A Sadness On Winter Leaving', mystic invocation with the rhythmic tribal chanting of 'Cernunnoita'. Intentionally or not, there is a sense of another archetype: the triple goddess with her aspects of maiden, mother, crone each represented in those various timbres. But whether singing plainly, or soft and low, shaping abstract sound or harshly screeching, it is also Autumn's voice which cements the honesty of presentation. Brimful of emotion, seemingly straight from the heart, the slightly frail tones above all invite listeners to empathise with the feelings they convey. To share the moment, whatever it brings, from glimpses of serene reflection to the cold touch of old, unhealed pains.

'Patience Of ðm Fire-Keeper' is, more than anything, an intimate album; like being part of a scant audience in a tiny venue, the band close enough to reach out and touch, the music a naked and direct channel felt and shared by all. It's a genuine, fascinating and deeply touching piece of work, made all the more so by the uniqueness of the style: if there is a place in your soul which can be reached by this deep woodland sorcery, not only will it be a spell that is hard to shake off, but it will be a long search to find anything remotely comparable. All of which gives me the greatest difficulty in abstracting it to any sort of objective score: despite the powerful sense of emotion and mood, it's so far off the beaten tracks that there's very little to measure it against, and even less to draw those who embrace Doom for its heaviness or groove or extreme noise assault to seek it out. Nonetheless, on its own terms, in its own tiny niche, it's damn' near perfect - and, in the end, that's how I'm going to have to mark it.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. The Coming Of ðm Tuatha De Danaan
2. A Sadness On Winter Leaving
3. Suicide Pact
4. Mournyng Sunn
5. Coyote
6. Cernunnoita
7. Lament Of ðm Bean-Sidhe
8. White Embers
9. This Lonely Ram-Horned Willow (Isigfeðera)
10. An Honest Place
11. Last Song

Duration : Approx. 49 minutes

Visit the Forever Autumn bandpage.

Reviewed on 2014-11-29 by Mike Liassides
Rotten Copper
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