The album’s title translates as ‘through difficulties to honours’, and this collection of Iberian folk songs, popular in the late 19th and the early 20th century conveys nothing if not the supremacy of strength of character, and a sense of journey, through adversity to triumph in a way which speaks of the resilience of the human spirit, and the human soul.
The album’s accompanying blurb sets the scene: ‘A travel through the rural Spain watered by our ancestors’ sweat and blood, an approach to the magical Spain with its lights and its shadows, and a gaze in to the abyss of the black and tenebrous Spain with the inner cruelty and brutality of human beings. 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 and have been rescued from our elder memory before their demise.’
Folk music, by its nature, tends to be narrative, but also dramatic and allegorical. While the lyrical content is, admittedly, entirely lost to me, the sentiments conveyed by these ambitious reshapings of traditional compositions remain intact, and, using contemporary rock instrumentation Aegri Somnia succeed in rendering them powerful and moving in an alternative context.
To unravel the workings of this project, which was pieced together over the course of some five years, some biographical detail may be useful: formed by Cristina R. Galván “Lady Carrot” from the Castilian folk music scene and Nightmarer from the avant-garde metal projects As Light Dies and Garth Arum. Aegri Somnia is a folk / dark wave duo from Madrid, Spain.
If it sounds like a curious hybrid, Ad Augusta Per Angusta is proof that it’s one that can work well. It’s loud, dark, metallic. It’s contemporary, but also timeless.
‘Seran’ launches the album with an immense swell of theatricality, huge swathes of post-metal guitar propelled by a spiky drum machine bringing force and layers of drama to the gothic symphony.
‘Señor Platero’ is a beautiful, graceful folk song – played in a full-throttle metal style. The guitars burn, slabs of molten lava over which Galván’s operatic vocal soars s if swooping from the heavens to grace this interzone between the earthly and the ethereal. The loping drums and serpentine vocal of ‘La Niña de la Arena’ is high-tempo and high-power, but features some neatly executed techno-industrial percussion breakdowns. Entirely incongruous with the origins of the material, such features serve to highlight the versatility and absolutely timeless nature of traditional folk music.
Elsewhere, on ‘Charro del Labrador’, the violent, top-end-orientated drum track duels with a chorus-heavy picked guitar line to create a sound that will resonate with anyone who’s heard – and enjoyed – a bootleg containing demos by The Sisters of Mercy from circa 1984. I’m probably writing for myself alone at this point, but this is by no means an album exclusively of interest to old goths. Far from it.
The album’s sound is dominated by big, grainy, up-front guitars with a thick, metallic edge: sometimes almost overbearingly so. That’s by no means a criticism per se: the production values are unusual, in that the guitar sound is as ‘unfiltered’ as it is up-front, a shade messy, and prone to burying everything else in the mix, including the vocals. All of this adds to the potency of Ad Augusta Per Angusta, an album which yields rewards through perseverance. Exactly as the title foretells.