Extreme metal purists skip this review now: we’re venturing into the realm of fancy-pants, hairy-fairy dark-ambient neo-folk. Picture this – you’re listening to an album that’s blowing you away. Riff after riff after riff pummels your puny brain and causes you to moan and grin and sway like a bath-salt sniffing metal whore. Then, as the riffs reach their apex, as the album continues to wither your bones into ash, an ambient interlude drags you upside down and twists your expectations inside-out. Now you’re either going to despise this forceful, useless intrusion or revel in its sweet unexpected nectar. I remember a similar female led interlude in Wormwood‘s Ghostlands which worked impeccably well. Although I’ve heard such interludes in other albums that have been an impeccable disaster. Well, dear listener, Ols‘ Mszarna is essentially an album consisting of lengthy interludes. Picture a daisy chain party involving the organic wonder of Björk, the darker etherealness of Myrkur and the vast drama of Sigur Rós and you’ve got Ols. Mszarna is the second album composed by one-woman enchantress Anna Maria Oskierko. Poseurs leave the Hall.
I’m doing Ols a disservice by labeling her music as one long interlude, but as a metal reference point it makes sense. Some interludes are bustling with flavor and inventiveness; if given more room to spread their tactile tendrils they could be great. With six of its seven songs running over seven-minutes, Mszarna is lengthy. Each track subtly builds from a organic, natural sounding opening and blossoms into a rich, breathing creature filled with strange and curious folk instrumentation. Each song, too, is written in Polish, so good look attempting these ditties at karaoke. The lyrics are beautiful – the translated lyrics need to be given a chance to embed in your mind. The pretentious English graduate in me fawns over them. They’re rustic, earthy, mystic reflections and observations of the moon, winter, plants and witchcraft written in a direct, sensual and descriptive manner that reminds me of the spiritual touch of Ted Hughes and, going back in time, to pagan poetry. Oskierko’s greatest talent is her voice, which is multi-layered and given the grandiose treatment – the vocal harmonies throughout are a luscious element, supporting the lofty nature of the songs.
The instrumentation is vast. A swathe of folk instruments are layered, layer upon layer, in a layer-for-all layer-fest here. Flutes, doots, bloots and czchoots play over stringed flangotooks and mangotroots. There’s a lingering essence of dungeon-synth and the dark ambient touches of black metal bands in the 90s here. Light and dark counteract throughout. “Zimowa” has a light and airy essence, carrying harp-waves, subtle acoustic guitar, and even subtler electronic elements that drift deep in the mix like distant fireflies. Darker elements are revealed when the throbbing pulse and echo of a drum travels through a song. Opener “Księżycowa” builds steadily for eight-minutes before erupting into a neo-folk inferno of twanging, twinkling, whistling, witch-based magic. This is held up by the firm thump of the drums. “Wiedźmowa” breaks down at its mid-way point as deep subterranean noises swirl with Oskierko’s spoken word vocals. The closing moments of closer “Miniona” even includes a the warm crackle of guitars that wash through the mix. This, mixed with the flutes, percussion, and bells, works very well – if only these guitars featured more.
The weaknesses share traits with the strengths. The repetitive nature of the album is a drawback – Mszarna lacks moments of true inspiration to tip it over the edge. Despite attempting to shake things up once-or-twice, there aren’t enough left-of-centre moments for a listener to remain attentive for 48-minutes. Songs often melt into other songs like the mush and decay of autumn leaves in a gutter. “Ja, olcha,” for example, stutters and vibrates for nearly nine-minutes with not a single moment to draw you in. Rather than feeling immersed and enchanted, I found myself counting the different types of instrumentation and thinking of other things. Songs are too long and too repetitive with only the briefest moments of excellence emerging.
I’m always viewing things through my metal lens. I expect you, if you frequent Angry Metal Guy rather than Chilled Neo-folk Dude, always view things from a sturdy metal starting point too. For that, I highly doubt you’d find a lot to love here. But, there certainly are things to love. You just have to take a machete and cut away the weeds to get to the yellow flowery heart of this organic creature.