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While Angels Watch - History & Heritage Vol. II

While Angels Watch History & Heritage coverWhile Angels Watch might still be something of a cult outfit within neo-folk circles but in many ways this second volume further demonstrates that their scope goes well beyond a troubadour styled acoustic guitar form. The first volume culled tracks from early cassettes released in the late eighties and early nineties, a period when then nascent apocalyptic folk genre was still gestating, pointed to a post-punk sound influenced by Joy Division and Death In June. This second volume gathers together later material of rare tracks from compilations and numerous collaborations by groups associated with the dark ambient and neo-classical genres. It's clear Dev's inimitable baritone voice and intelligent lyrics have proven to be something of a draw. Rather than just slot these songs together, Dev has sympathetically edited and remixed these into a cohesive whole. You might consider it revisionist but on the basis of History & Heritage Vol. II I would say that is an approach which works surprisingly well. The whole album flows effortlessly to the extent that it feels more like an album than a compilation.

Themes of war, nature, myth and history hang heavy on the opening tracks of History & Heritage Vol. II. With an enchanting atmospheric opening of flute, shaker and forest based field recordings 'Willow And Arrow-Wood' recorded with Oda Relicta for an album based on Ukranian history sets the deep spoken tones of Dev amidst a hushed sigh of a choir as he orates a tale involving a protagonist who crafts a bow from the wood of a Yew tree, from a land alive with the souls of fallen comrades. The brooding atmosphere continues on 'War Is Coming', a track by Vortex taken from an album inspired by the Icelandic sagas. Hunting horns pierce beating synth stabs furnished with glinting percussive metal sparking like the sharpening of a blade, as Dev references the seasons with words taken from the Poetic Edda delineating a harsh world where brothers fight and kill each other. Powerful drums pound, synths waver and, as it ends, Dev declares "no man will have mercy on another". E-bow discord and rolling drums mark the opening of 'Sound of War', a collaboration with Golgatha taken from the While Angels Watch album Interregnum. If you're thinking that this has all been a celebration of war you might be wrong. Amidst those martial drum rolls and forlorn synths, Dev questions the purpose of war, and in impassioned cries offers to fight for the cause of humanity, in a lyric written by Gitane Demone.

The aforementioned tracks run seamlessly but it would be amiss of me to say that things do slip a bit on the next couple of tracks but maybe that's expected on an album involving collaborations and compilation appearances. Sinking into abrasive electronics with a diatribe on freedom, the noise infused offering,'Statement [Consenting Victims]' with The Lust Syndicate, a surprising offshoot of Spiritual Front, breaks the cohesive flow. Seelenlicht's 'Vergiss Mein Nicht' featuring a recitation of a poem from the German romanticist known as Novalis amidst neo-classical doomy synths and resolute martial rhythms just feels earnest and uninspiring.

It hits its stride again in the next run of tracks starting with some sea based songs and it is at this point I wonder why While Angels Watch, who have worked with Sixth Comm, Fire & Ice and Matt Howden, haven't picked up more willing listeners from those enamoured with the golden age of World Serpent. Field recordings of crashing waves and the keow of seagulls surround Dev's poetic intonations on the Sagittarius track 'Children Of The Sea'. Its piano melody flows into ' Sister Of The Sea', a quiet melancholic song bathed in harmonies and spoken passages, plucked melodies and strings, as those lapping waves gently wash against Dev's voice on a track adapted from an A. E. Housman poem which surfaced in a different form on Dark Age. It's a beautiful song representative of their albums but it gets better here with 'Heroes Day', a rousing song from an early formation of Sol Invictus which is transformed into a sensitive arrangement based around piano, pulled onwards by strings, swelling powerfully with the rising acoustic strum and the entwining of Dev's voice with Rosie Taylor, his female counterpart on some of these songs.

We're back with long term collaborators Sagittarius and in pagan realms on 'Harvest Moon Rises' casting Dev's deep yearning tones on an arrangement of guitar and piano. With its wafting recorder melody it shares a kinship and rekindles the atmosphere of the apocalyptic folk of Current 93's Thunder Perfect Mind. The following tracks taken from compilations curated by Cynfeirdd and Ikonen are more intimate ranging from the sombre bitter ballad of 'Savage' to the sensitive minimalist piano score of 'A Gift For A Gift'. The latter is instrumental, embellished with wistful violin courtesy of Matt Howden and the playful tinkling of a child's musicbox and dedicated to a new born boy. 'A Letter To Alienor' is something of a companion piece, written to commemorate the birth of the boy's sister. Its graceful piano score rides a fine line between happiness and sadness, as the paired voices of Dev and Rosie Taylor shadowed by soft cooing and weeping strings explore the hopes following the breakdown of relationship. 'Savage' covers similar emotional territory and may be more surprising in that is a piano based rendering adapted from an Eurythmics track concerning a trauma based relationship.

The opening moment of 'Panic Attack' lifts segments of sound and voices from Coil's 'Panic', before it bursts into frenetic dancebeats as Dev in shivery spoken tones and chants recalls a nighttime episode of fear and physical discomfort. Forceful and based around electronic rhythms it's an example of While Angels Watch's willingness to slip into other genres, and originally issued as part of a mental health fundraiser. The final track returns to haunting atmospherics on the particularly enthralling 'Walpurgisnacht' where Dev passionately intones text from Moonchild, a novel by Aleister Crowley - Coil also utilised a couple of lines of this on 'The Snow'. Setting the vocal delivery within a dreamy, swirling atmo synth which unfurls slowly to a melodic piano score composed by Neutral. Dev's recitation rises to a rasp amidst distorted crashes and church organ chime, it slips off into ambience as Dev dwells on those oft-quoted closing lines from T.S. Eliot's The Hollow Men: This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but with a whimper.

Sympathetically edited and ordered, it's a retrospective compilation which, as implied earlier, seems more like an album. Involving numerous collaborators History & Heritage Vol. II continues the collective approach the group, along with many others from the post-punk and squat scene, have continued to follow. Housed in a beautifully designed CD package with 20 page booklet History & Heritage Vol. II marks the final release from the FolkWorld label and with its narrative based purposeful soundscapes and piano compositions, along with some acoustic tracks more representative of their own work, History & Heritage Vol. II is an affecting and desirable companion piece to their own studio albums. Released on CD and digitally by While Angels Watch.