Back in the mid ’90s, I was introduced to the world of World Serpent Distribution, specifically the “apocalyptic” and “martial” folk of Current 93, Death in June, and related acts like Fire + Ice and Nature and Organisation. The contrast between the often lovely acoustic melodies, the harsh industrial sounds and disturbing loops, and the militaristic/esoteric lyrical subject matter fascinated me, and for awhile, I immersed myself in such albums as Thunder Perfect Mind, Rose Clouds of Holocaust, and Gilded by the Sun.
Over the years, though, I realized I had become more interested in the idea of “neofolk” music than in the actual music itself. There are few genres that take themselves as seriously as “neofolk” (black metal, anyone?) — from the overwrought lyrics full of esoteric references (runes, paganism, Crowley) to the music’s dogged determination to invoke old ways mixed with martial doom n’ gloom. To these ears, it’s usually more eyeroll-inducing than chilling and/or stirring: it’s never nearly as provocative as it seems to want to be.
Which brings me Lonsai Maïkov’s Décembre au Mont des Oliviers, which — along with The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus and B’eirth/In Gowan Ring — might be the closest to the “neofolk” that I’ve always wanted to hear. That being said, Décembre au Mont des Oliviers is ultimately too diverse and raucous to fit neatly under the “neofolk” umbrella. In other words, don’t expect an album full of nothing but blissed out psych-folk or martial industrial numbers.
Over the course of 14 tracks, Jolif-Maikov and his collaborators meander from gentle acoustic spirituals (“Kyrie Ekekraxa”) to distortion-laden Wovenhand-esque stompers (“Parole Donnée”) to trippier, more psychedelic compositions (“Allonge le pas!,” “Resurgence”). Indeed, one scarcely knows where one might end up from track to track. One moment, you’re traipsing through a Renaissance Faire, the next, wandering through burnt and blackened industrial ruins. Which certainly keeps things interesting, but means there’s also more than a little filler, like the spoken word on “Les clés de l’histoire” (which is unfortunate because the background music is lovely) or “Le Trident d’Opale“ ‘s scattered exotica.
As interesting as the harsher pieces might be — some of which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus album — my favorite songs remain the more “straightforward” blissed out moments (e.g., “Kyrie Ekekraxa,” “Inteletto d’Amore,” “Des Sillons de Lumière”). Here, Jolif-Maikov’s rich, lovely baritone lends weight and gravity to the delicately plucked guitars, wispy flutes and synths, and other similarly fey instrumentation.
All told, Décembre au Mont des Oliviers is a “neofolk” album that, in many ways, redefines what “neofolk” is — for me, anyway — and overall, it’s a welcome redefinition at that.