Lasher Keen – Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy

Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy

Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy

Frantic screams, heathens jump and twist in ecstatic patterns, a woman in a flowing gown dances among the crowd, letting the music flow through her body in another form. The thin man on stage chants and hollers incantations of the most esoteric sort. He is clad in a cape, perhaps wearing a cowl or a wreath of leaves. His voice sounds summoned from another place, stretching and creaking before changing to a howl or perhaps a chant. He sings a celebration of all things magickal, wonderful, and weird.

This is Lasher Keen, an entity born of the collaboration between multi-instrumentalists Dylan Sheets, Bluebird Gaia, and a rotating cast of supporting characters. Broughty Cole, who tragically passed away shortly after the recording of this album, provides percussion and the album is dedicated to his memory. They’ve given their unique sound many names, from “medieval psychedelic folk” to the more facetious “tree metal for troll people”, summoning the unorthodox nature of The Incredible String Band, the willingness to be rooted yet experimental in the tradition of Pentangle, and the playful insanity of Comus.

2012’s double album, Berserker, regaled the listener with tales of frenzied warriors, elemental gods, the mysteries of the runes, Odin, and Fionn mac Cumhaill. Overall it was very much concerned with the heroic and their pursuits. Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy takes a different approach and plunges headfirst into the mist-shrouded depths of Celtic spiritual wisdom (which has always been a cornerstone of Lasher Keen’s explorations, but they have never seemed more grounded in it than now), a side of heathenism much more mysterious and psychedelic than its Norse cousin. In the album liner notes (which are wonderfully detailed and add much appreciation to the music), Sheets explains his inspiration and dedicates the music to the amanita muscaria, a psychoactive mushroom connected with many European cultures and thought by some to be used by Druids before Rome’s incursion into the British Isles drove their traditions underground.

Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy’s massive ninety-three minute run-time starts with “The Quest to Question”, a song that opens as an invocation and then, in Lasher Keen fashion, ramps up the tempo and shifts lyrically into an Anglo-Saxon-like game of riddles:

“Who hurls the flaming spear of wonder, the Gae Bulga of fire? Who consumes the lightning that rips apart the oak king?” asks Sheets. But beware, “Woe unto you if you conquer this riddle,” he warns.

Lasher Keen

Lasher Keen

“Dancing Sounds”, like Beserker’s “Rainmaker”, is a song of pure fun and is undeniably catchy, but while “Rainmaker” was an homage to funk and Motown, “Dancing Sounds” begins as an innocent waltz before descending into one of the most tripped-out and completely unexpected breakdowns one could imagine. Suddenly the listener is thrust deep into a psychedelic vision where Sheets compels you to close your eyes and imagine such sights as “a naked pink and purple polka-dotted upside down mushroom shaped centaur.”

Gaia sings a rendition of the traditional song “When I was in my Prime”. Her delivery is reminiscent of Jacqui McShee’s classic singing from Pentangle’s Cruel Sister album, but while McShee’s recording was delivered a capella, Lasher Keen adds harp and hand drum percussion, giving the track a tinge of eastern flavour, capped off by a short instrumental jam that would have made any classic psych folk band happy to hear.

The first half of the album features several more songs, each with their own charms, like the wishful man-out-of-time lyrics of “Trembling Dreams” or the mirth of “Waltz of the Jester’s Fool”. The second record consists only of two massive songs, both stretching over twenty-two minutes. One is reminded of the vast arrangements and esoteric content of an album like YesTales from Topographic Oceans.

“Climbing the World Tree” takes the listener upward, encountering many figures from Celtic myth on a journey toward self-discovery. Gaia’s bodhrán and Sheets’ harp propel the journey forward between jaunty passages that change to meditative sections of spoken word and back again. At the top of the world tree, “I see what I see, you see what you see. Each person’s journey is their own.

The album closes with “The Psychotropic Cult of the Oracular Sacrificial Severed Head,” a song as epic as its name would suggest. The lyrics center on the ancient Celtic headhunting tradition, where the heads of rival chieftains or even Roman generals would be collected and kept preserved as spiritual trophies for generations. It was the band’s performance of this song at 2012’s Stella Natura festival that introduced me to the band after only a brief flirtation beforehand. Their performance of this massive work made sure the relationship was fully consummated. Complete with a martial drum beat and Irish whistle melodies, the song weaves like knot work: shouts turn to ambient sections turn to strummed guitar and Gaelic chants. Words don’t truly do it justice, as it is so unorthodox as to be almost impossible to describe.

The album’s physical manifestation is presented on a beautiful gatefold double LP. Gaia’s cover art is presented in the proper scale, along with the inner illustrations of the gatefold and the booklet that is included. The artwork is a combination of medieval codex illustration and Pagan psychedelia, matching the quality and aesthetic of the music. Nothing has been spared in the production of the album or its packaging, and I would encourage anyone to purchase a physical copy to achieve the full experience.

Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy’s all around quality makes it a release to be celebrated. While much music in this genre tends towards the melancholic and jaded, Lasher Keen shows us the things left in this world worth celebrating with ecstatic mirth. Lose yourself and join in the dance.

_____________________________________________________

Track List:

A1) The Quest to Question
A2) Dancing Sounds
A3) Prophetic Dragons
A4) When I was in my Prime
B1) Trembling Dreams
B2) The Fate of a Poet
B3) Waltz of the Jester’s Fool
B4) Silent Fleet of the Foot Tree Walkers
C1) Climbing the World Tree
D1) The Psychotropic Cult of the Oracular Sacrificial Severed Head

Rating: 8.5/10
Written by: Ian Campbell
Label: Self-released (United States) / N/A / 2×12″ LP, Digital
Psych Folk / Neofolk

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Folk, MUSIC REVIEWS, Neofolk, Psych

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