A Darker Shade of Pagan: Top Ten of 2010

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While I generally keep my music podcast A Darker Shade of Pagan from getting entangled in the daily workings of The Wild Hunt, every once in awhile I like to alert my readership of some great Pagan and Pagan-friendly music that I come across. Since I just posted my ADSOP top ten of 2010 show, I thought I would share what I thought were some of the best albums that speak to the Pagan soul from the past year. Consider it a gift-giving guide to the Pagan in your life dissatisfied by what usually passes for “Pagan music”.

ADSOP’s Top Ten Albums of 2010

10. Various Artists – “We Are All One in the Sun: Tribute to Robbie Basho” [Purchase: CDMP3]

A tribute to the seminal composer and guitarist Robbie Basho, this collection gathers several modern-day psych-folk (and folk-folk) luminaries to interpret his work, including Arborea, Fern Knight, and Meg Baird. While none of the artists may approach Basho’s mastery of the guitar, they do succeed in channeling his expansive and esoteric spirit. Highlights include Arborea’s haunting cover of “Blue Crystal Fire”, Fern Knight’s rendition of “Song For the Queen”, and Helena Espvall’s take on “Travessa Do Cabral”. A worthy collection that serves as a nice introduction to Basho’s work and the contributing artists.

09. Woodland “Seasons In Elfland: Shadows” [Purchase: CD, MP3]

An American contemporary of such Europeans artists as Faun (who contributed to this album) and Omnia, Woodland seems to have reached a new level of maturity and consistency with this latest release. While their debut release, “Twilight”, never really resonated with me, “Shadows” proved that I had missed something the first time around. Both childlike and dark, the band takes a trip though the Unseelie and its darker mysteries, buoyed by the almost-whispered secret-spilling vocals of Kelly Miller-Lopez. A well known commodity within the Faerie subculture, Woodland is a band ready to break out to a larger audience.

08. Dyonisis – “Intoxicated” [Purchase: CDMP3]

This ethereal-rock band returns after three years with the surprisingly strong “Intoxicated”. Weaving layered, almost choral, vocals, and tackling subjects that are both mythic and personal, Dyonisis manages to breath new life into the genre. The pinnacle of the album may be the 7-plus minute long “Eve’s Song”, a roaring epic defense of the first woman who “wants to know things”. A statement of reclaiming power, choice, and sexuality from a patriarchal world. Other stand-outs include “We Are”, “Arachne’s Song”, and “Lunatic”. Truly a band that deserves more exposure outside the goth/darkwave underground.

07. Noblesse Oblige – “Malady” [Purchase: CDMP3]

How can you not enjoy an occult concept album that takes it cues from Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Anger, and Christina “Goblin Market” Rossetti? Using tarot, ghost stories, and Vodou as signposts along the way, Noblesse Oblige mixes world music, folk, and electronics to create a sinfully appealing sound. Something of a left-field release for the usually EBM/Industrial-heavy Metropolis Records, “Malady” is fascinating album that rewards serious listening, but works just as well as backdrop to whatever decadence you have planned. Check out their video for “The Great Electrifier” for a taste of the sound and aesthetic.

06. Sharron Kraus – “The Woody Nightshade” [Purchase: CDMP3]

Sharrond Kraus’ grabbed the top spot in 2008 with her masterful album “The Fox’s Wedding”, and returns in 2010 with “The Woody Nightshade”, an album that is just as intimate and personal but almost stripped of the mythic overtones of her previous work. Not to say it isn’t there at all, as songs like “Evergreen Sisters” and “The Woody Nightshade” prove, but this seems like an album born of love’s endings, a theme that repeats throughout. The sound is almost stripped bare, emphasizing sounds of fingers on guitar-strings and a lone lamenting voice. This is a record that wants to convey the singer sitting in the room with you, playing her heart out.

05. Íon – “Immaculada” [Purchase: CD, MP3]

A album for mystics that mixes the sounds of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, “Immaculada” soars between folk and haunting darkwave soundscapes with ease. Masterminded by Duncan Patterson (Anathema, Antimatter), and featuring an array of heavenly guest vocals, it truly encapsulates a spiritual journey. Starting with an (immaculate?) conception, traveling through love and loss, and ending with a “Return to Spirit”. This is an album that grows more complex and enriching as you listen to it. Romance, loss, religion, spirituality, it’s all there, wrapped into this package.

04. Brendan Perry – “Ark” [Purchase: CDMP3]

We’ve waited over a decade, but we finally have a new Brendan Perry solo album, and I’m pleased to say it’s as strong and captivating as anything he’s ever done. Half of the hugely influential Dead Can Dance, Perry has been the quieter member of late, with former partner Lisa Gerrard releasing several soundtracks and solo albums in the past ten years. On “Ark”, Perry makes up for lost time, temporarily casting aside his preferred folk instrumentation to work with electronic backings, hearkening at times back to Dead Can Dance’s very early goth-inflected work. But this is no nostalgia trip, “Ark” is very current, dealing with war, the Middle East, and the environment, while also touching on personal themes. With so many following in his footsteps, it’s good to have the originator back amongst us once more.

03. Rajna – “Offering” [Purchase: CD, MP3]

For those of you who like Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard’s solo work, but miss the dynamic energy and interplay of Dead Can Dance, Rajna may be the closest you’ll ever get to a sonic reunion. Inspired by the band, this French duo have released what I consider their strongest album yet. “Offering” has a strong focus on the Mediterranean and is, in the words of the band, “an experience in time, back to hidden and forgotten worlds of the Antique, like a pathway to Eleusis and its sacred temples and mysteries.” I must have listened to the album at least a hundred times since receiving it and I still find myself surprised and drawn in by some sound or nuance I missed before. Essential for any DCD fan.

02. Fern Knight – “Castings” [Purchase: CDMP3]

I’ve been a fan of Fern Knight for years, so I was truly excited to hear that there was a new album on the way, and that the album was going to be a concept record focusing on the tarot. Traveling from “Zero to Infinity”, the band’s pleasing mixture of psych-folk and progressive-rock sounds are a perfect vehicle for the “well-worn archetypes” they encounter on their sonic journey. Fern Knight shows how to take elements and themes that could drag down a lesser band into pretentiousness and instead provide us something enthralling. One of the best albums to explore the occult made in recent memory. Check out their video for “The Poisoner” for a taste.

01. Pandemonaeon – “Dangerous Beauty” [Purchase: CDMP3]

If one band that operated within a modern Pagan context stood out among all the others this year, it would have to be Pandemonaeon. There is a tendency within our communities to judge our bands and artists lightly, graded on a curve created from our desire for music and art created “for us”. Thankfully there is no need to do that here, not only is “Dangerous Beauty” a great “Pagan” album, it’s a great album period. A powerful melding of metal, folk, goth, and Pagan-fueled chant Pandemonaeon successfully raise the bar for “Pagan music” with a collection of songs that truly rock, truly move you. There were many talented Pagan artists who released albums this year, but only Pandemonaeon managed to stretch the boundaries and create something lasting. Please read my interview with Sharon Knight of Pandemonaeon for more insight into “Dangerous Beauty” and this band.

You can download my latest podcast, featuring songs from all these albums, here. I hope you’ll explore these releases, and perhaps find some new music to love. As always, apologies to all the other artists who released great albums this year, I only have room for ten.