I’ve chewed over the challenges of Neofolk before, so am going to give myself and readers alike a day off here. But pitched as Neofolk, Joy Shannon seventh album – this time without her Celtic backing band the Beauty Marks doesn’t really conform to too many conventional tropes of neofolk, and instead of harking back to an age of pre-Christian purity, explored a timeless, transcendental spirituality.
The album’s first song, the hauntingly atmospheric ten-minute ‘Síonnan’ sets the mood and the tone, as graceful vocals soar against a minimal instrumental backdrop, primarily an elongated drone that hovers, stirring and swirling like a mist from which shadows and shapes emerge, fleetingly, only to disappear again, leaving you to wonder if they were really there at all.
The title track, a sparse piano echoing softly by way of an accompaniment captures the very essence of the album, which was inspired by a ‘revelatory spiritual experience in a cave on the island of Crete, one that bears evidence of ritualistic use from 30,000 years ago. “As I walked into the cave, its high ceiling opened up and the cooing of pigeons perched high in the rocks created an echoing symphony of rhythmic coos, which sounded like a heartbeat”, writes Shannon.
And so this cave became the source of her quest to discover caves, real and metaphorical as she explored rituals and legends involving caves while also searching deeper the space within. And as much as ‘The Cave’ is often personal, it’s also a personal response to wider themes, and the lyrics to ‘Song of the Rohirrim’ are adapted from J. R. R. Tolkien.
The evocative and provocatively-titled ‘Open Like Legs’ is distinguished by a distant beat that’s almost subliminal, the pulse of the blood coursing inside your own body, and swells in intensity as it progresses. And just as the body is a temple to some, perhaps it is also a cave – and perhaps both.
Understated, delicate, and infinitely contemplative, ‘The Cave’ is an album that deserves searching the deeper, darker recesses in order to draw the most from it – and it has a lot to offer.