SONNE HAGAL – Ockerwasser (2014)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Eden Hunter

The Shapes of Things to Come, a great title for the first song on an album by an artist I never even heard of. Very ‘droney’, with rather monotonous singing, but very impressively creating an atmosphere of loss or depression. Apart from the synthesizers (I guess) there is some acoustic guitar strumming and it’s very light on percussion, simply a great song.

The next song, Morpheus starts with what sounds like a flute synthesizer, and it evokes a somewhat similar feeling of desperation. It sounds beautiful. Some weird noises and again an acoustic guitar enter the scene, shortly before the singer, who is now joined by a female voice, making it a little lighter. A choir and an electric guitar join in, not interfering with the main melody, such as it is. Not necessarily innovative, but very pleasing to the ear. Some pre-recorded conversation enters as well, sounding somewhat ominous. This could be the music accompanying the end credits of a very sad movie.

I absolutely love it! A bit like the Besnard Lakes (on a quiet day), or the Antlers: depressing music, but very well performed.

Third song in, Of Dissembling Words, has a similar descending melody. Acoustic guitar, female voice (first in, this time), male voice, some distorted electric guitar, almost Frippian in tone, and some (electric?) piano, and again some choir-like voices. The song sounds a bit like someone explaining to you why he or she is disappointed in you: you made him or her very sad.

But I’m starting to wonder a little: should I understand the title of the first song as a warning that all songs on the album sound absolutely the same? On to the fourth song: After the Rain. A little bit more up tempo, a violin, and almost happy. The percussion is a little more intrusive as well, but it still sounds like it was recorded in the next room (or the next building, or the next city). Still a great song on its own.

Next we have Black Spring: a little bit more (droney) violin, but I’m really getting worried:
  • How did the first song go anyway?
  • Is the album really one 50 minute song?
  • Is it a concept album?
  • Where did the third song differ from the fourth?
  • How does this album fit into their career?

So I find myself getting somewhat sceptical, rather than curious, about song # 6, called Thyme. They knew it!!! Totally synthetic 80’s style percussion to start with, and only then do we get the droney descending melody with the depressing voice! Funny thing is, as I slowly start to lose interest, the songs seem to be getting better (although the first two still stand out as well). How can this be? Did I lower my expectations? Did they suck me into their sound? What’s going on?

Song number 7, Silence, starts with a gong, there’s silence for you. Then some treated acoustic guitar and what sounds like some accordion, with the synthesised flute. Somewhat menacing, I’d never think that of flute and acoustic guitar as being menacing…

Gold starts with acoustic guitar and then some bass that is reminiscent of the Child in time bass line. Some vibes (I guess) add some color, but do not enough to differentiate the song. Female voices do add something though.

Next song Devon is more of a duet, and sounds a bit like Magna carta, or Kings of Inconvenience, folkie acoustic pop with added atmosphere and production tricks (windy noises, some shrieks, etc.). So far, this is the most folkish sounding song on the album.

Mediocrity in Love Rejected (love that title…) is a speeded up clone of Devon (which is probably why it’s a little shorter), or am I getting confused? Final song, Assassins, starts with a monologue, warning about the dangers of man as the source of all evil. Luckily, we soon get to familiar territory: acoustic guitar, male voice with very limited range, some production effects (whip lashes?), vibes and generally sadness.

What to make of it? I think you could call it prog-folk: the seriousness and general virtuosity of prog without the tricky time signatures, plus the instruments of folk, but generally without their ‘classic’ or ‘old fashioned’ melodies.

I absolutely love every song on the album, but that’s at least partly due to the fact that they do all sound the same way too much for my taste. In a comprehensive album collection, you (may) need an album by this group: they DO create some very small (one song?) niche of their own that sounds very accomplished and complete. I may buy it one day, but I’d be listening repeatedly to other albums before I ever buy a second album by them. They do not only show promise; on one CD they show promise, success, fulfilment and completion, a complete career!