| Artist: Sieben|
CD Title: High Broad Field
Reviewer: Matthew Johnson
For his latest release, Sieben's Matt Howden sets the conceptual bar higher than ever before. Last year's Ogham Inside The Night was a spiritual tour of the four directions, but High Broad Field is a complete narrative drama, modeled after the Medieval mystery plays but with a distinct sense of Howden's signature English animism. Pagan and Christian themes mix freely here; Lucifer and God are both characters, with the latter portrayed by Howden's daughter April, but so are the elements of the landscape itself, though it's the churchyard cat, voiced by Lloyd James of Naevus, that gets all the best lines on the memorable "Easy Prey." Between the narrative structure and the imagery evoked by Howden's looped violins and the earthy dance rhythms of Jason White on the cajon, a type of wooden hand drum, this album is decidedly less wild and tribal than Howden's other recent work. While it's still tied very much to the land, it's not so much the wilderness but the village that inspires this work. "The Moor's Runes" highlights the Anglo-Saxon pagan aesthetic that runs so deeply within Sieben's work, and this deep sense of nature as divinity is hardly a case of throwing in some Wicca references for extra goth credibility, as is often the case with lesser dark folk acts. Ultimately, High Broad Field is as life-affirming as you can get. If there's any doubt about that remaining after listening to the closing refrain of "Every flower will bear a fruit / And every seed will plunge a root / On this high broad field," there's also a bonus DVD, filmed by Joao-Paulo Simoes in the landscape outside of Sheffield, that consists primarily of breathtaking natural imagery. It's more a visceral response than a narrative retelling of the original album, but Simoes's close-up shots of snow-dusted branches and woodland songbirds reaffirms the undercurrent of primal joy that lies behind even the more ominous moments of Howden's musical mystery play. With a storyline that's mystical but still earthy and music that's otherworldly but also somehow sunny, particularly on the hope-filled title track, Howden has created a true masterpiece. Aurally, poetically and even visually, it'd be hard to find a more creative artist in the dark folk scene.
Tread the high broad field at www.matthowden.com.
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