Hungarian duo The Moon and the Nightspirit have so far released six full length albums, all packed to the gunwhales with Pagan-infused neofolk of the type that seems to be getting bigger and bigger worldwide by the minute. For seventh album Aether they promise a more ‘masculine’ style of music – all their previous records have been dominated by the very feminine vocals of Ágnes Toth – although the reality of the matter is not quite the earthshaking divergence from the norm that you might have expected.
In reality, it’s very much business as usual for Toth and musical partner Mihály Szabo. The pair create an otherworldly feel on opener Aether; almost like the Fairyland wood of A Midsummer Night’s Dream brought to musical life, with Toth’s magnificent breathy, hex-laden vocals tying everything together at the end of the track like a shamanistic Druidess presiding over nocturnal Sylvan rites…
… Which is a good way really to describe the album in toto. When Szabo offers up the promised masculinity, the air of the pieces does become markedly heavier, although not in a metallic sense; more, as the band hoped, his vocal contributions are placed to offer the shade to Toth’s light, or ying to the yang to get my spiritual metaphors mixed up. Consequently the reverie that starts second track Kaputlan Kapukon Át (translated as Through Gateless Gates) is soon lent a feel of stygian menace when Szabo adds his anguished cries. Fans of Heilung will enjoy this development, as I think will longstanding fans of TMATN; As noted, the changes here are not seismic, but are designed to complement and bolster what was already a successful formula. And in that spirit you’d have to say that the duo’s gamble, such as it is, has paid off.
Third track Égi Messzeségek (Celestial Distances) is perhaps the apogee of the ‘new direction’ the band are following. Thumping percussion opens the track and Szabo takes centre stage vocally through the song’s early stages, which are heavily redolent of Dead Can Dance. Stylistically this track is the proverbial sore thumb although, so well is it done that it fits well within the frame of an album already committed to exploring new avenues. This adventurous spirt is to be commended, especially as the song is rather good…
A Szárny (The Wing) adds treated beats and droning guitars to the mix – Eluvitie fans will feel at home here – before the song fades to almost nothing for a mid section that reminded your reviewer of Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály; it’s an unexpected twist and one of the highlights of the album.
The second half of the album isn’t quite as arresting, although closing track Asha is rather nice, but overall this is a nice package. The Moon and the Nightspirit have carved a niche for themselves that no-one would have blamed them for sticking to, so their decision to expand their horizons will hopefully not only do just that but expand their fan base too. Good luck!
Aether releases on June 19th.