Punk Retrospective
19Sep/120

Lasher Keen – Berserker

Markus Wolff - Berserker

'Berserker' artwork by Markus Wolff
You belong to the forest that grows immortal trees.

Lasher Keen - Berserker

August 27, 2012 - 'Berserker' arrives
Left to right: Sage, Dylan and Bluebird

December 18, 2009 - The atmosphere in that old convent hall, filled with smoke and the whisperings of something uncommon about to appear, now defines Winter Solstice for me. It was my first time, witnessing the deep, spiritual intensity of Lasher Keen. I remember feeling intimidated and elated by their musical explorations of the dark…the real dark of a less human-constructed reality. Iconic, near archetypal characters, meshed dramatically with multiple, distinct layers of eerie, swirling, shimmering sound, to create something more than mere song. I wish I could put into words what it was that caught my fascination; the way the whole performance became a ritual and seemed to revel in that scarcely known secret truth of our animal nature was profoundly visceral. I walked away knowing I’d witnessed something unique and worthy of great attention.

That night was the official release of “Wither”. I bought a copy directly from Dylan and Bluebird at the show. The feelings conjured by their performance hadn’t faded when I found myself noticing the strangely organic look and feel of the disc cover binding and the artwork. It became startlingly obvious to me that these people I knew peripherally, in the community, were true artists.

By the time the ‘Possessed by the Forest Queen’ 10″ came out, on December 18 of 2010, I knew Dylan and Bluebird well enough that I went to their house to buy a copy. This wasn’t my first trip there, as our children are classmates and friends, but it was the first time I was really able to look a bit deeper into their everyday lives. From just a cursory glance, the fact that their artistry was not confined to the music and its packaging was obvious. They live lives rich in aesthetic beauty and organic texture and somehow seem to take their existence from a place of deeper thematic meaning. Yes, they’re a bit eccentric, odd even, but in a very grounded, authentic and endearing way.

Bluebird dress rehearsal

Bluebird at the 9/18/2012 dress rehearsal.

 

That ‘thematic meaning’ I mentioned is expressed in a very real way in their songs, conjured from the mix of instrumental divination and mythical lyricism. For example, the title track of the aforementioned album, ‘Forest Queen,’ brings to life a Goddess I’d never even known to look for. Not an anthropomorphic deity or creature, but something more akin to the movement of a particular branch of the tree of existence. She is the living nature of new life and growth spread throughout, and between, all matter and time. This is their depth and I find it difficult to express in prose, but it is as clear as awareness on their LP.

I include here a performance of the beautiful 'Forest Queen' from the 10" ‘Possessed by the Forest Queen’. All of the Lasher Keen back catalog is available on their website at lasherkeen.net.

While ‘Forest Queen’ is, at least to me, at least today, the strongest song on the 10”, it is exceedingly difficult to rank the 13 songs of the new double 12" LP, ‘Berserker’. The album moves through a range of emotions, constricting into tight, claustrophobic little spaces, then soaring into unbridled flights of hopeful torment. But the song ‘Sun Chariot,’ which may eventually be seen as the crowning summation of the band's output (*disclaimer near bottom of page), passes through so much emotional territory that it’s hard to remember where it began as it falters out of existence. It is at once condensed and expansive, present and eternal. It is epic and successful in its grand ambition and highlights the most elementary aspects of what Lasher Keen is.

Berserker master

Dylan holding the official master of 'Berserker', perhaps the advance copy Bluebird gave me on March 11, 2012.

There do not appear to be any genre constraints with Lasher Keen. The album opens with ‘Ancient Chaos,’ which itself opens with a harp intro, somehow reminiscent of the deeper metal gods of yore, then gracefully slides into a sexy, Motown-inspired romp called ‘Rainmaker’ and later explores growly, twangy, swamp rock with a 3-stringed, cardboard banjo in ‘Fabled Wild Country.’ Plowing through the depths of this album we begin to understand the broad range of puzzling descriptors used in reference to Lasher Keen; “Wood Metal for Scandinavian Tree Troll Folk,” “Medieval Psychedelic Folk,” and “Spirit in Mourning**,” being among those the band use to attempt a coherent self-description. Dylan mentions “inspired amateurism,” perhaps quoting Emerson or Lester Bangs, in a recent interview, while describing the multi-instrumental abilities of the three members of the band.

Rainmaker video

Scene from the April 23rd video shoot of 'Rainmaker'(view video @ bottom of page). Video and photo credit to Lara Miranda.

It may be exactly that “inspired amateurism,” which stirs my respect and amazement at this band of artists. Why else would someone like me, who claims allegiance to humankinds’ greatest art form, punk rock, feel so strongly about the music of a group of mystical folkies? There are no distorted guitars - instead cello, harp, banjo, accordion, barbatos, bodran and Glockenspiel rule the soundscape. Their historic usage of percussion had, until recently, been primarily animal skin drums and a wide range of hand instruments, though they now occasionally employ Adam Torruella to play the trap set. Sage is known to play bass, bouzouki, and banjo along with an array of other stringed instruments I don’t know the names of. Hardly punk, yet it carries within it whatever it is that makes punk great.

Dylan rehearsal

Dylan at the 9/18/2012 dress rehearsal.

I suppose in the end it is the raw passion and artistry I really love, though I can’t presume to tell you that you will love Lasher Keen the way I have come to. I can tell you, it is strange to have found a ‘local band’ doing musical arrangement and performance at this level. There is depth, subtlety, awareness, integrity, intelligence and passion in this work and, for me, that makes it genuine. And, the authentic nature of the music, artwork and lives of this band are well represented in this brilliant album, 'Berserker'. It is beautiful to look at, double LP, full-color gatefold with a 32-page booklet and some stunning colored vinyl, if you like, but the flow and depth of the music is what makes "Berserker' a must-have.

Sage Rehearsal

Sage at the 9/18/2012 dress rehearsal. "Probably not the t-shirt I'll be wearing," he said.

I went to video one of the last practices the band will have together. I could feel an underlying mournfulness, aside from what Bluebird's cello naturally brings. You see, after Lasher Keen performs ‘The Psychotropic Cult of the Oracular Sacrificial Severed Head’ at Stella Natura: The Light of Ancestral Fires, string master/percussionist, Sage Arias, makes his disheartening, hopefully temporary, move away from the band. I am assured we can all hope to hear new songs arising in a yet unknown future as the last note of this incarnation of Lasher Keen falters from existence.

Lasher Keen

Dark Folk Power Trio

Contact the band to get your copy of any Lasher Keen release through these links:

Pesanta Urfolk Records
LasherKeen.net
Facebook
Reverb Nation
Bluebird's Etsy shop!

Lasher Keen~ Rainmaker from lara miranda on Vimeo.

*There are songs on Wither, like 'Animal' and 'Spirit Flesh,' which were critical in defining the sound and feel of the band. 'Forest Queen' and 'Greater Darkness' on the 10" ‘Possessed by the Forest Queen’ are also pivotal in the process. It remains to be seen where the rumored 25-30 minute ‘The Psychotropic Cult of the Oracular Sacrificial Severed Head’ will stand in the overall catalog of Lasher Keen. 'Alone in the Night (Celtic Death March)' seems to be the only hint at what was to come off the first CD, the self-titled 'Lasher Keen.'

**Purportedly a literal translation of 'Lasher Keen'. Why shouldn't I take Dylan at his word? Well, because he also said the definition/translation shifts according to his whim. I like this translation anyway!

Dylan works his magic.

Roadside fun on the way to the Diggins for the 'Rainmaker' video shoot.

Posted by ElDorkoPunkRetro

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