Every Halloween, we review an album suitable for the occasion. In 2012, we chose Deison’s Quiet Rooms; in 2013 it was The Holocene’s Horror Scene. This year, the honor goes to Folklore Tapes’ cassette compilation Fore Hallowe’en, which is the obvious choice for Samhain. The Celtic festival (from which Halloween gets its roots) was a time in which the living and the dead could co-exist. Frightening to some yet alluring to others, it provided communal acknowledgment of the spiritual world. A watered-down version exists as All Souls’ Night/All Saints’ Day, but for most, despite horror movies, the ancient associations have been lost.
Folklore Tapes is the perfect label to address the observance of Samhain, as its primary focus is the preservation and dissemination of buried tales. Folklore is more than just stories; at times it contains hidden truth. The label’s last release, Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor, brought the point home through copious research and beguiling music. Their latest release does the same via a 24-page booklet and the contributions of ten recording artists. As the first installment of the Calendar Customs series, it’s a clever start, in line with the label’s mood of mystery. Just don’t expect a happy Christmas tape anytime soon.
The booklet is a delight, filled with black-and-white photography and Hallowe’en lore. One may read about the origins of the jack o’lantern, the symbolism of the female vampire, and a method through which one might identify one’s true love with an apple and a mirror. Care to know which members of your parish are slated to die over the next year? This tape may come in handy. The same is true should one need a spell to counteract witchcraft. Believe you don’t need such things? Fine, don’t order the tape. It’s easy enough to dismiss such tales as superstitions from the time fore Hallowe’en.
As might be expected from a multi-contributor work, the selections are a bit uneven, but the overall effect is powerful. The footsteps in the forest of “Domnhuil Dhu” are evocative ~ until interrupted by a seal-like voice warbling, “God is dead.” Although true to the subject, a subtler touch might have been more effective. And the sweetness of “Derwyn Adwy’r Meirwon” undercuts the otherwise unsettling nature of the collection. But these tracks feature early in the mix, allowing a subtler, more disturbing spirit to enter midway. Ian Humberstone’s “The Summons of Death” is a great mood-setter, dominated by a sinister wind in the first half, dark bass and psychedelic guitar in the second. Eva Bowan’s vocals on “Aos Si” sound as if they have been stolen from the fairies, who would not have recognized field recordings, regarding them as dark magic. While such creatures often aided the living, they were known to be fierce when provoked.
Field recordings, filtered choirs and chanting children join hands on “Punkie Night”, an always unsettling combination. As the tape proceeds to unwind, one feels the spirit world drawing near. Ritualistic elements descend like incantations; sacrifices are thrown in the fire; singing ceases. The night is ceded to the spirits, some seeking revenge, others peace. Side B lacks vocals. With human elements removed, the spirits are free to frolic (Bokins’ “Taskmaster, Trickster, Troublemaker”), to haunt via magnetic tape (Children of Alice’s “The Liminal Space”), and to rattle chains, wind music boxes and spin bicycle wheels (Mary Stark’s “Nos”). Annabelle has nothing on these creatures. The past doesn’t care if we consider it folklore; malevolence will have its way. So if you feel a chill on the back of your neck this evening, don’t worry; it was probably just a vengeful spirit. (Richard Allen)