Ols – Widma Review

If I had just one word to describe Ols’s new album, Widma, I’d have to go with vivid. Exhibit A: “A tart drop of blood, a frozen hawthorn berry draws an unclear sign.” After pouring over the English translation of Ols’s Polish lyrics, my original lukewarm response began to morph into fondness. Perhaps because I was unable to interpret the lyrical content on my initial listens, the album sounded to me a bit drab. But after Ols graciously shared the translated version of the lyrics with me, the album came alive on subsequent listens. Ols’s language is lucid. Her words paint crystal clear pictures describing our natural world. But don’t let her beautiful language fool you. The underlying themes Widma are dark and harrowing.

Ols is the solo project of artist Anna Maria Oskierko of Poland. Widma, which translates to “Spectres” in English, is her third album. Anna drives all aspects of her albums herself. She composes the music, writes the lyrics, sings, and plays all the instruments. Typically labeled as dark neofolk, Ols’s music invites her listeners to traipse through magical realms of misty forests and mysterious wetlands. Widma is no departure. Widma is a concept album about late autumn, which in human life corresponds to old age. The album shepherds listeners through stages of growing older, eventually leading to the first breaths of winter and autumnal dying. One simply does not listen to a concept album without comprehending and synthesizing the lyrics.

Widma sounds stark and uncomfortably mechanical even at times. Ols’s monotonous vocals drone on and sound lifeless at first but grow to sound full of yearning after multiple listens. One constant that is maintained throughout her album is the heartbeat-like drum that keeps a soothing and reliable, steady pulse. Polyphonic vocals, which provide the foundation for many of Anna’s songs, contribute to the hypnotic nature of her music. Though her vocals don’t demonstrate spectacular range or exude any in-your-face dynamism, Anna’s voice is calming and warm. It’s the sort of voice you’d want to hear as a child while having your favorite bedtime story read to you (Goodnight Moon, anyone?). With every turn of the page, your eyelids droop down a hair further. On Widma, Ols‘s sound ranges from the new age vigor of “Siostry” (“Sisters”) complete with a cornucopia of flute action to the bleak ritual chants of “Widma” (“Spectres”). “Drzewa dawno zmarły” (“The Trees Have Long Died”) is the most dark and crazed song of the bunch, and I am especially fond of the meditative vocals on “Starucha” (“A Hag”) which have a layered and round-like feel. The album closes with “Pod Iodem” (“Under the Ice”) which confusingly sounded both sanguine and solemn at once.

Widma sounds as if it was written with the lyrics first and instrumentation second. I appreciate that. The album has a clear exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. Those who don’t actively listen to lyrics (full disclosure, I am 100% guilty of this and have embarrassed myself not knowing all the lyrics to my favorite songs) are missing out on over half of what this album has to offer. Widma relies a little too much on its story, however. Without it, the album feels repetitive and certainly fails to live up to the eccentricity and alluring strangeness that other bands in the whimsical dark folk space like Dead Can Dance, Wardruna, or Faun exude.

Ols’s sparse instrumentation and ornately descriptive language has me enjoying the small things in life such as the the process of unhurriedly watering the succulents in my apartment and the feel of my pen meeting paper as I write the first draft of this review in a notebook rather than staring blankly at my computer screen. For that, if nothing else in this review is nudging you in the direction of checking out Oskierko’s new work, Widma is worth a listen. She’ll have you off on a walk in the woods in no time, even though we can’t visit parks and trails at the present in person. For now, listening to Widma will do.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pagan Records
Websites: olsproject.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Olsproject
Releases Worldwide: April 17th, 2020

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