I grew up in a very strange, small town in deepest Sourthern Ontario, just above the very southern tip of Canada. On the edge of Lake Erie (come on, LAKE EERIE) it sported a marina, a historic fort from the war of 1812 (complete with ardent historical re-enacting), a few beloved greasy diners, and a strange, independent amusement part on Boblo Island, only accessible by boat. It seems more like a real place now that I am an adult, with the amusement park shuttered and a Walmart where the decrepit stripmall where I bought fantasy novels used to be, but it’s still every inch a Hellmouth. It’s the sort of place where reality is always a bit thin, where the whether seems out of sync with the rest of the country and where some half-human creature is just waiting to step out of the woods.
I grew up in the woods. My parents’ house was located just outside of town, set back just a little from the highway, and there was a stretch of woodlot on one side of the house that stretched almost half a kilometre. I’d play there, read there, climb the trees and bury treasure in the soft, mossy dirt. Behind the house were some farmer’s fields — corn, soybeans — and behind there, more woods and lakes. I spent much of my time pleasantly lost, surrounded by bugs and dirt and the green and a blue arch of sky; I had a recurring dream (I think) of walking out my back door and into the woods at night, surrounded by dancing lights, and losing track of which were fireflies and which were stars.
Listening to dark folk project Nebelung‘s latest release, Palingenesis, is the closest I have felt to those dreams, and that time in my life, in years. One one hand, their aesthetic is deeply rooted in the natural landscape. You can practically smell the loam and petrichor, deep and rich and verdant, coming off their trembling riff structures. Tracks like “Aufgang” uncoil like vines, while other, like “Nachtgewalt,” surge and fall like small rivers over smooth grey stones.
On the other hand, a sense of threat is never far from the surface of Palingenesis. The album, for all its physical, visceral conjuring of the natural world, it is also dangerously close to dream space, as though a monster might shamble out of the woods at any moment. This is perhaps most present in the album’s centrepiece, the vast “Wandlung,” which trembles and aches with profound vulnerability, and also with the potential for sudden, lurching strength.
The vocals are very occasional and subdued, restricted to an occasional sonorous chant or urgent whisper. The human voice always feels like an intrusion, disturbing the natural landscape that the instruments do such a wonderful job evoking. The position of the human voice as other, or alien, is an excellent choice, and increases the sense that we are listening to the heart and lungs of a natural landscape. The place that Nebelung conjure with Palingenesis is one of sublime beauty, and also the kind of place a darkness might shamble out of. That fear, that sense of risk, lends this beautiful album an edge, a bit of sharp fear, and it is all the lovelier for it.