Friday 10 May 2019

Vroudenspil - Panoptikum (2019)

Country: Germany
Style: Folk Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2019
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia (DE) | YouTube

Here's something a little different. Vroudenspil are a German folk band who have been around since 2005. Note that I say "folk" rather than "folk metal" because there's no metal here. The band call what they do "buccaneer folk", a sort of blend of folk and ska, dressed up in pirate garb, that reminds a lot of gypsy punk. Apparently they used to have a more mediaeval feel too, but that's less obvious on this, their sixth album.

This is bouncy and engaging stuff and it's opened doors for Vroudenspil to perform at all sorts of niche festivals. They started out at renaissance festivals and expanded into pirate festivals, goth events, rock festivals, pagan events, you name it. They played three sets at Wacken in 2015, which is telling. Frankly, they're so engaging that it's hard to imagine anyone not liking this. They could support Manu Chao one night, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones the next and then the Dread Crew of Oddwood on a third.

Their particular combination of sounds gives them a consistent feel but the sheer variety of them gives them a lot of flexibility within that sound. A song like Schein und Sein, for instance, begins with smooth jazz, like it's introducing a Mike Hammer episode but then the beat kicks in and we're in acoustic Alestorm territory. By the time the saxophone gets a solo, we're bouncing up and down to a Madness song.

Many of the songs have a more consistent feel, often with a ska base, even if they sound far more like Gogol Bordello than Reel Big Fish, but get wild with certain instruments. Kaleidoskop brings in sea shanties with a "Yo Ho" chant. Tanzbär does something cool with what sounds like handheld percussion. Rausch der Sinne features some old school gypsy guitar from the Django Reinhardt school. Feuerteufel features an insane accordion solo that's reminiscent of Kerry King, merely on the accordion, but it also has a delightfully playful bass that's prominent throughout.

Even on something like Menschenbild, a relatively traditional folk song for a couple of minutes, Vroudenspil feel like they're not only musicians but performing artists, if that makes sense. The middle section is as visual as it is auditory, because I could just see these pirates on a Night Boat to Cairo and that's before the more conversational final act with laughter and all sorts of other things. On occasion I can see these songs as much as I'm listening to them.

The Madness references are surely deliberate, because Vroudenspil have that ska base and Madness constitute a good chunk of the great ska songbook. I'm fascinated by how some of the other references are surely not deliberate. I can't imagine that the flute solo in Aufgewacht was meant to sound like the theme tune to The Last of the Summer Wine, for instance, or the playful bit at the end of Selbsträcher was trying to emulate Jump in the Line. But hey, you never know!

Talking of playful, I think this album gets cheekier and more playful as it runs on. Just check out Kleine Fabel, two tracks from the end. The very beat is cheeky and the sax even more so, but the song gives every instrument its own moment in the spotlight. It's a joy to behold. And then Vanitas starts and its intro prompts the whole playful meter to move up another notch.

While Vroudenspil are a stretch in a whole new direction for the rock/metal spectrum, so they may well not be your thing, you should totally give them a try. I'd suggest that the only reason that they're not as famous as Gogol Bordello is that the latter live in New York and sing in English. The only song that won't have you dancing in your chair is Seelenfrieden, an anomaly of a song to wrap up the album. Everything else is guaranteed to put a grin on your face.

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