Sol Invictus - Once Upon A Time - (8/10)
Published on October 27, 2014
The Devil is an English gent
After splitting from Death In June back in 1984, Tony Wakeford and his project Sol Invictus has pioneered their own apocalyptic branch on the weeping willow that is neofolk. With more than 20 releases, Sol Invictus has seen members come and go, but Wakeford’s brooding voice and mellow acoustic guitars remain a reliable anchor. The bare-boned British folk has grown to incorporate elements of classical, jazz, and the odd experimental touch. Once Upon A Time introduces Agalloch’s Don Anderson on electric guitars, with David Walton providing the mix. Agalloch themselves, of course, owe a considerable debt to Wakeford, notably covering the Sol Invictus classic “Kneel To The Cross”, and venturing even further into the realm of neofolk with their Wicker Man-themed The White EP.
Fans of Agalloch will immediately recognize Anderson’s distorted guitars, adding further layers of atmosphere and subtle textures as an undercurrent to Wakeford’s biting lyricism. The weeping strings of the band’s newer albums return, painting a morose and painfully British gentlemanly picture. Despite the whimsical tone of tracks such as “Mr. Cruel” and “Our Father”, there is a sinister and pervading darkness across Once Upon A Time. The latter, for example, explicitly deals with domestic abuse and the cycle of abuse that such trauma often perpetuates, ingeniously presented through an almost childishly naïve series of rhymes.
Known for his wits and sharp tongue, some of Wakeford’s lyrics nevertheless fall somewhat flat due to their simplicity. His unique and somewhat nonchalant voice is likely to put off new listeners, but stick with it and you just might uncover a new favorite band. The bleakness is spread out between several instrumental tracks, some of which sound straight out of Agalloch’s The White EP, while others approach the 70’s freak folk of Comus. The paganism of yore is no longer much more than a backdrop to the socially conscious and satirical tone that followed Sol Invictus into the new millennium. To put it in a way that Wakeford himself might appreciate; it’s all really quite good.
With such a large and mostly coherent discography, it’s frankly impressive that Sol Invictus anno 2014 are incorporating the sounds of bands that they helped inspire. Once Upon A Time could be a one-time experiment with Anderson’s electric guitars, or it might signify a new chapter in Wakeford’s career. It’s a fresh take on the crooning folk noir, and their best album since at least 2002’s Thrones. For readers unfamiliar with the work of Sol Invictus, Death In June, or Current 93, this is a soft introduction and a good gateway into the eclectic world of neofolk.