In 2012, in a small house somewhere in northern Spain, two individuals sitting in a decrepit kitchen began playing tambourine and kitchen utensils together with an electric guitar. The two involved musicians were Cristina R. Galván, a Castillian folk musician, and a fellow simply called Nightmarer, who’ve spent much of his time in metal outfits such as Garth Arum and As Light Dies. The melodies preformed in this simple but romantic setting were old, at times ancient, Iberian folk songs, many of which are all but forgotten in Spain today. Five years later, after long hours of work, what began in that cottage has crystalized into the full length debut album of Aegri Somnia – Ad Augusta Per Angusta.
To be perfectly clear: this is not really folk metal, in so far as folk metal is to be understood as metal infused with melodies from traditional music. Rather, it is straight up folk music, which has incorporated elements from avant garde metal. These elements give the music a certain body, but are not dominant enough to form the core of the album. The list of instruments is instructive enough, with Cristina Galván playing an impressively long range of Spanish traditional instruments, Nightmarer handling strings, synths, violin and accordion – and both of them clapping their hands where it fits.
Even someone largely unfamiliar with Spanish music, beyond flamenco and tango, will probably recognize some key elements here. Plenty of the chord progressions and rhythms will definitely send your mind towards the Iberian peninsula. The more specific genres and forms of folk music is of course lost on many, this reviewer included. That does nothing to make the album less accessible, though, and if you are interested to explore these things further, there is plenty of material in a more in-depth review at No Clean Singing, as well as in an explanatory video by Cristina Galván herself. The latter offers a full crash course in Spanish folk music, and can be recommended.
The moods built with the layers of traditional percussion, well placed electronics and occasional heavy guitar is often festive, at times brooding and always entrancing. There is nothing really ambient going on here, though, for these are straight up folk songs presented so that it’s perfectly possible to enjoy them as pop or metal songs.
“La niña de la arena” is without a doubt the catchiest tune you’ve heard so far this year, and “Rondón del enamorado y la muerte” brings images of the toil and struggles of old Iberia – blood flowing into the fertile soil. In the words of the band, the album consists of pieces “of memory, tradition, secrets and myths transmitted over the years from generation to generation, around bonfires, while long working days under the sun or during celebrations. Small samples of popular wisdom which, unlike others already entered into the mists of time, have been rescued from our elder memory before their demise.”
Ad Augusta Per Angusta is a beautiful piece of music, reminding us how great the combination of ethnic (in a broad sense) elements and modern music can be. It is co-released by Belarusian label Symbol of Domination and Finnish United by Chaos, and available here.