Style: Pagan Folk Metal
Release Date: 5 Mar 2019
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Mileth is an deceptively simple name for a band who seem to like complexity. Their album title is much more representative of the complex track names and the complex music that brings them to life. I believe it translates from the Galician as something like Four Prayers at the Dawn of the Dead Moon, which is neatly evocative but also delightfully vague. Who's praying and what for? Why four prayers? And why at the dawn of the dead moon, which I presume is the moment that it begins to wax again after vanishing?
I have no idea because I don't speak Galician and Google Translate isn't as helpful as it could be with the song titles, which continue in the evocative but vague manner of the album title. I have no idea what Of the Dead and Spiral Silence or She, Who Walks on the Roots of the Cold Hell might be about but I'm captivated by the surreal imagery.
As you might expect, with song titles like that, the music is complex too. The band isn't small, with at least seven members and some of them play a variety of instruments. Hey, there are two musicians credited on bouzouki! Sure, one of them also plays bass and the other is one of three guitarists who also handles other instruments like whistles and mouth harps, but still.
The latter is Marcos do Relicario, who writes most of the material, and he also provides one of the two male voices here. I don't know which it is but the more prominent of them sings in a shrieky black metal style while the other has a rumbling growl more like we might expect from death metal. One or both also contribute vocals in a choral style.
Above them, leading the way, is Dana da Carballeira, who sings in a clean and overtly folky style. Whatever the music is doing at any point on this album, she brings a liveliness to proceedings, as if she's inviting us to dance with her or, maybe, given that there's often a command in her tone, she's asking us to dance for her.
Galicia is the autonomous region at the northwest of Spain, above Portugal and with lots of Atlantic coastline. While they're part of Spain today and have been for a long time, it's fair to say that they're their own land in many ways. More people speak Galician there every day than they do Spanish and Mileth are a Galician band performing in Galician.
I'm not enough of an expert on Iberian culture to say for sure but I believe a lot of the folk flavour here is Galician rather than Spanish and I find it enticing. The castanets that fade into the wind at the end of opening track, O Son do Buxo Baixo a Sombra do Xistral, are gloriously atmospheric. There are pipes and flutes and an accordion that's especially interesting midway through Da Mitolóxica Errante: ITH. Even the laughter at the beginning of Esperta, Letárxica e Erma Fraga! feels different somehow.
I like my folk music somewhere on the extremes. Either it should be simple, one voice telling a story with musical accompaniment from one guitar, or it should be complex, layering the textures of a culture into song so that we can transport ourselves, even for fifty minutes or so, to another place and experience something different. This is very much the latter.
As a debut album, it's thoroughly enjoyable, but as a portal into another place, it's even better. The variety of the music on offer is part of that but it's aided by other sounds that are woven into the music: lapping waves to remind that we're by the ocean and flickering fires so we can keep watch. I have little idea what stories are told here but I'd like to know. In the meantime, I'm enjoying conjuring up my own.