While the hipsters were busy strumming acoustics in DIY mimickry, and mainstream music drifted more into a rap/jazz/rock fusion, an underground music grew that does not aspire to be trendy, or current; it wants to be ancient, and eternal, with a type of profundity that modern music evades like a kid dodging questions from an authority figure.
We might call the new style ambient neofolk. Equal parts industrial, soundtrack music, world music and synthpop, it takes the basic framework of modern synthpop and layers it with samples from the past, choral singing and complex instrumental work. Unlike popular music, its goal is to create an atmosphere and maintain it, instead of being quirky.
To my ear, the originating ancestors of this music are 1980s synthpop and industrial fusions like Dead Can Dance or Ministry. These songs follow their framework: a verse-chorus loop expanded by different layers, broken by interludes that form a unique song structure, and using melodies from the past to maintain an ancient and somber mood, in which a playful voice emerges.
Created in the footsteps of bands like Blood Axis and Kreuzweg Ost, who make sonic collages from samples of voices and music over synthpop beats, Winglord is upbeat and mostly dominated by the voice of its synth-piano and underlying bass keyboard. The result is more listenable than the pure collage approach, and like 1980s Ministry its rhythms and tempo changes are infectious and rewarding like pop, without the musical equivalent of high fructose corn syrup.
The Winglord style of ambient neofolk combines the infectious power of old industrial and synthpop, the ideas of black metal, the atmosphere of neofolk and the grandeur of movie soundtracks. If you a Vangelis or Poledouris soundtrack ever took your breath away, you have an idea of the kind of emotional surge that this music imparts on a regular basis.
This album represents a significant improvement over the first Winglord release, Heroica. While it was musically solid, it was unsure of itself stylistically, which caused the musicians involved to over-play certain themes and add intricacy that distracted from the intense mood that was otherwise in the process of creation. With The Chosen One, the band have resolved many of those difficulties and give us an album with no fat or fancy to weigh it down.
No review of this album would be complete without a tribute to what are undoubtedly influences, the power-pop of VNV Nation and the brooding ambient folk songs of Lord Wind. Winglord is less obviously pop than VNV Nation, and less obviously meditative than Lord Wind, which forms a happy medium for the above-average listener who wants the emotions of their music to soar above the morose aspects of life.
In fact, this is what makes Winglord such a success: it is motivational, a type of addictive beauty that makes you want to create more of it. Like the dark winding caverns that black metal bands like Summoning conjure up, Winglord use minor key melodies that they can expand over the course of each song. But these melodies return to triumphant themes, a melancholy will to survive that is also joyful. Experienced observers will note similarities to post-Summoning project Ice Ages.
Unlike soundtracks, The Chosen One can be listened to in a more active role than background music. Like its industrial and pop ancestors, it is catchy and hard to clear from your head. However, it preserves the spirit of martial industrial and neofolk, and evokes the emotions and outlook on life that defined the vision of a former time.
It is unlikely you will hear this music on mainstream radio. The hipsters will keep flogging the exceptions to the rule, and the rock ‘n’ rollers will keep endorsing hedonism, like abandoned egos afloat in an ocean and screaming invective at the sky. For those who want a sustaining and encouraging communion with beauty, the second Winglord album delivers.