Thoughts on Windfaerer’s Breaths of Elder Dawns
If I have not been able to see farther than others, it was because I stood on the ashes of the past.
This was originally supposed to go up together with the Windfaerer video premiere this past Friday, but didn’t get done in time. A possible upside of that is that you may have had the time to listen and get an impression of what Breaths of Elder Dawns offers musically, because I won’t be talking about that at all. Hence the title; it’s not really a review, and I was hesitant to make an entry in the hallowed halls of the Lyrics Corner. So here we go with some thoughts.
I’ve already mentioned how Windfaerer’s approach differs from what you may expect under the “folk” tag. What further sets them apart, other than sheer musical quality, is the perspective that the album takes. Where other folk metal, particularly that of the pagan variety, will often venerate some supposed glory or purity of the past, this record “is an homage to a romanticized past as much as it is a rejection of its glorification,” as the band puts it. Throughout, the music is all too aware of the difficult relation between past, present, and future, between the Old and the New, and in particular, the burdens that the former imposes upon the latter.
Opener “Oxalá” wastes little time in thrusting us into that philosophical sphere with its title alone. Oxalá is a deity in the Brazilian religion of Candomblé, which came about as a result of an attempt to impose Catholicism on slaves – West African adherents of the Yoruba religion – who were brought to South America. The conflation of Yoruba with a veneer of Catholic faith led to Candomblé; something ostensibly New, yet so heavily indebted to the Old that its contours are clearly visible. It’s emblematic of a lot more than I can talk about here, so I’d just like to focus on this basic premise that the album goes on to explore: the New is only a thin layer draped over the Old, unable to conceal it or exist independently of it.
Despite the implications that its title carries, however, this song is not yet concerned with the weight of the past. Oxalá is believed to be the creator of humanity; the colour associated with him is white. Something pure, something new. And the New does seem to be coming:
Crimson flames pierce through the horizon
A proclamation of victory
Restored soul ablaze
Engulfed by insurgent light
Into a new dawn we enter
Fire reprises all of its well-known roles here: The dual one of destruction and cleansing – destroying the Old to make way for the New – as well as the metaphysical one, the internal fire of passion that provides forward momentum. An enthusiastic start into a new era. It’s a generational change; there’s a mention of sons, implying the existence of fathers who are passing something on. Like every generation, this one wants to do its own thing, improve, make New. Despite (or because of) the fire obstructing the view of the past and the future, triumph seems within reach: “The inferno consumes our view / The immortal epoch is come.”
This blind hubris is only one of the side effects and byproducts of fire that are mentioned throughout the album. Smoke clouds the air, soot soils everything, and ashes cover the ground. No fire can cleanly burn away the Old; its remnants will always be visible. Ashes, in particular, make recurring appearances. Incidentally, the concept of the life force inherent to all beings is called axé or ashe in Candomblé. Their ashe can turn the deceased into malicious spirits if the proper rituals are not performed; similarly, the ashes of what came before cannot simply be ignored. They must invariably form the foundations that the New is built upon.
“Depletion” goes on to illustrate how rotten this foundation can be, sketching images of foregone horrors whose echoes ring down the corridor of time, a deafening clamour of the Old within the supposedly New. “Ears ever ringing from the thunder,” the present finds itself just as unable to ignore the monstrous misdeeds of the past as to reckon with them. They seem to defy examination or even expression, so the burial rites performed in an effort to end their influence are not the proper ones, merely the equivalent of stuffing skeletons into a closet until it is fit to burst:
A sonorous declaration, absurdity enshrined
Cacophonous eulogy, an expression of grief submerged
Karmic eviscerations encased in walls of doubt
Tangled within limbs of corroded verses
The past simply will not be denied, and this tomb will not stay sealed for long.
Yet even if the past isn’t fraught with atrocities, delving into it too deep and too long may still prove detrimental. In “Astral Tears,” the lyrical I seems mesmerized by and drawn to physical remnants of a bygone age. Ancient buildings and structures are revered and their architects held in high regard, yet neither an understanding of the former’s function nor the latter’s apparent downfall ever enter the picture. The middle of the song points out where this blind reverence leads:
Heaving stones of antiquity
I carry you into the night
A future of ruins
Disconnected from the Old, yet moored to it through this admiration, the New becomes unable to progress in any meaningful way as it reduces its identity to its heritage. It rejects itself in favour of something supposedly greater which can never be rebuilt, dooming itself to only ever be a custodian of ruins.
If, then, the Old cannot be ignored lest its spectres come to haunt the New, nor be revered lest the New is forever stifled, maybe there is a way to connect with it in a more meaningful way. Maybe reaching back past the Old to something that might be called the Primordial can offer refuge from the toils of the present. This notion is explored in “Longing to Ascend,” but as I feel I’ve gone on quite long enough, I’d like to leave it up to you to find out where that goes (spoiler: it’s not good, but at least the music is exceedingly beautiful). You can find the lyrics to the songs on the Bandcamp page for the album.
So where does that leave us? Is there a way to reconcile with the past and look forward? Windfaerer does not have the answer, and maybe neither do we. Despite how often the old adage about having to learn from history or else being doomed to repeat is is thrown about, the concept rarely ever seems to translate to reality. And that’s also what we see in closer “Entombed in Glacial Waves.” The images fathers and sons and of course ashes are reinvoked, along with notions of depleted resources and a general sense of things being strained to their breaking point. The thin façade of the New is about to be torn apart to reveal the Old once again – a cyclical movement that is driven home as the album comes full circle lyrically:
Strength in none
Forging upon toppled ruin
Carried by glacial waves
Crimson flames pierce through the horizon
An empty breath scatters over this dominion
The downfall is completed, and the stage is set for the next generation to move in and repeat the steps.
I hope any of this made any sense; I feel like I’ve kept the interpretations almost as vague as the lyrics themselves are, mostly for fear of getting in over my head if I tried to apply the message to a national, societal or, god forbid, a personal level, but partly also to give you an incentive to explore the album on your own and see what you can read into it. I think there’s a lot there, and it certainly helps that the music, as mentioned, is pretty dang awesome. I hope you have fun, and my apologies to the band if none of this is even remotely what they were trying to say.
Windfaerer’s Breaths of Elder Dawns came out on August 27th via Avantgarde Music, who are handling the rather beautiful physical editions.
Bandcamp | CD | 2LP | Limited 2LP