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While Angels Watch - Interregnum

While Angels Interregnum coverWhile Angels Watch are often bracketed within the dark-folk genre but their roots are to be found in the post-punk and post-industrial milieu. Their first cassette offerings coincided with pivotal releases from Death In June and Current 93 such as But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?, and Swastikas For Noddy. Around this point Tony Wakeford had just launched Sol Invictus with Against The Modern World, while Michael DE Victor aka Dev was part of an early formation of Sixth Comm, with another former Death In June member, Patrick Leagas. While Angels Watch disappeared for over a decade returning in 2002 with the album Dark Age, following it up with the mini-album Still The Star Shines, and a retrospective CD, History & Heritage, compiling tracks from those early cassettes before disappearing again in 2008. They have returned again with Interregnum, a layered, complex and epic recording.

Existentialism and esotericism all factor within Interregnum. Lyrically it veers from the micro to the macro, with some tracks dwelling on the desolation, isolation, and resignation of the individual while others sweep up global concerns such as the effect of war and the power of the media, authority and governments causing worldwide devastation. Mythology and the Northern Mysteries figure heavily, while other tracks adapt texts from Robert Frost, Arthur Machen and even Gitane DeMone. Musically it is dynamic and textured centring around Dev's deep baritone vocals sung, spoken and chanted, backed by guitars and augmented by keyboards, drums, violins, electronic treatments, atmospherics and choruses of voices. It is an album that belies a background in post-punk and you can hear it in the passages of soaring guitar with booming bass lines. Like Naevus, While Angels Watch go far beyond the stifling categorisation of dark-folk. Much of it marches to the strum of acoustic folk but taken as a whole it's clear Michael DE Victor as While Angels Watch stretches those boundaries on Interregnum, at times aided by 6 Comm's Patrick Leagas, and members of Sieben, Mani Deum, Decemberance and :Golgatha:.

The strident acoustic strum of 'Voices' that opens Interregnum rises from a collage of samples, with Dev's heavy set baritone ruminating on the malaise caused by the constant babble of opinions spouted by politicians, the media and even the public staking out their claims and counter claims. The entire track is riddled with backward electronic treatments, the acoustic strum propelled by passages of surging guitars and low bass runs, ending on a series of juxtaposed samples of those blabbering competing opinions. It settles into 'Loki Rides' draping Dev's slow drawled melodic tones over acoustic pluck and strum. A song for the seeker, emboldened by passages of layered guitars, keyboards and wind chimes adding texture to the maudlin atmosphere. "See Mercury rise" Dev cries over alternate sun based and star sprinkled lines in a track steeped in mythology.

The runic centred 'November', written by Peri Ayan and Manos K of Mani Deum, reads like a short story, and is musically separated into distinct sections from the opening early Sol Invictus acoustic strum to the cello driven section with its runic intonations: "A Thorn in Valhalla, Pariah! Othala!" and then into the main lyrical body of the song comprising rousing strum and cello sweeps, played by Francesca Metallinou from Decemberance. It builds into a powerful ensemble piece repeating the runic chant as guitars, cello, drums and synthetic strings surround the voice of Dev, his commanding tones imploring us to "Draw down the Moon, And scatter the runes".

'Obsidian Blade' features a spirited performance of quick strum, pounding bass and drums and syncopated trumpets, dissolving into wind chimes, electronic treatments and samples (I spotted a couple from The Wicker Man), resurfacing into atmospheric almost pastoral realms where a flute gives way to a convergence of voices who in unison slowly recite text adapted from the Robert Frost poem 'Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening'. It's not the only track here to adapt text. From field recordings of lapping water 'Locust Moon' flows into an acoustic ballad where Dev's sung and spoken word delivery captures a feeling of heartfelt longing to a love lost and hopes dashed. A mass of voices enter and fall away to leave Dev alone intoning words continuing this adaptation of Arthur Machen's 'Guinevere and Lancelot'. Both songs, like many of the tracks on Interregnum, continuously change shape and direction amply illustrating the amount of effort that went into this recording, that comes over a decade since their last release of original material.

'Symbols In The Snow' - a title that appears to have slipped through Death In June's lyric generator - unfurls to intricate guitar notes and recurrent bursts of drum rolls. War themed couplets are deployed in almost spoken tones, as this sombre ballad swells with light keyboard flourishes and cooing female accompaniment. "Ripped and torn, We are unborn" a chorus of voices sing coalescing around the lead vocals before falling back into the windswept atmospherics of the following track, 'Winter'. It foregoes guitars for icy tones; its weeping synths overlaid with fingerbells and ghostly harmonies. A sense of resignation hangs heavy around this one; peace seemingly only attainable with death.

Those aware of the work of While Angels Watch will know that Dev was part of an early formation of Sixth Comm, so it's perhaps of no surprise that Patrick Leagas features on 'Winter'. The compositional arrangement of 'Sound of War' seems to share an affinity to the experimental rhythmic work found on 6 Comm's Headless too. Based around shakers, light keyboards and drums as a backdrop to Dev's powerfully commanding voice, it offers a sparse martial setting of a track originally written and recorded by Gitane DeMone - and those expecting a celebration of war may be surprised by the sentiments contained within.

Guitars are recalled for much of the rest of Interregnum. Violin and voices soar on 'Europa Aeterna', a lament to a lost Europa, and its forgotten ideals and thwarted possibilities. You could even read it as a swansong for Brexit, a decision taken by the UK electorate who chose to sleepwalk through the EU exit door - and that's my take which isn't necessarily a view shared by While Angels Watch. Here While Angels Watch are joined by long-time collaborators Matt and Jane Howden of Sieben who also guest on the following track, 'The Watcher'. Flitting between solo acoustic verses and musical passages and choruses coupling a soaring violin score from Matt Howden with the voices of (the late) Jane Howden and Patrick Leagas - who also adds drums here - 'The Watcher' is an understated ensemble delight.

While much of Interregnum falls into the realm of what could be considered a midlife existentialism, the final two tracks offer searing indictments of the modern world. The stirring dark folk of 'Treasures Of Treachery', issued as a taster of the album, is an impassioned call to arms against governments who indulge in conflicts under the pretence of a "war on terror". But behind their shady veneer lies unabated industrialisation and profiteering leading to worldwide environmental destruction. The final track 'List 99' which takes its title from a register of names of those banned from working with children doesn't hold back either. From its lullaby-esque opening this track dealing with paedophilia and child killers drifts off into a melange of electronic samples and treatments, listing names forever tainted amidst rhythms and surging guitars. If you're looking for reassurance, look elsewhere as 'List 99' acts as a brutal, bitter denouement to Interregnum.

Interregnum was years in gestation and it shows; it is an epic journey both musically and topically in its lyrical concerns. Since the release of Dark Age and Still The Star Shines Dev's voice may have aged, grown deeper and more world weary but Interregnum remains a defiant and impassioned release. There's a lot to digest, within songs that continually shape-shift and deal wrestle with issues both big and small, but Interregnum represents a highpoint within their discography and it marks a welcome return for While Angels Watch. Released on CD and digitally by While Angels Watch.