Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yavanna - 1984 - Bilder Aus Mittelerde

Bilder Aus Mittelerde

01. Valinor (6:54)
02. Earendils worte in Walinar (6:10)
03. Luthiens Fruhlingsgesang und tanz (6:37)
04. Atalante (6:38)
05. In den hallen von megenroth (4:07)
06. Gondolin - Turgon"s Stadt (8:07)

Sitar, Vibraphone, Synthesizer, Violin, Percussion, Engineer, Arranged By, Producer - by Dirk Schmalenbach
Bass, Horns - by Helmut Jost
Drums, Vibraphone, Percussion, Timbales, Synthesizer, Harpsichord, Grand Piano - Thomas Adam
Flute - Dieter Neuhäuser
Grand Piano - Johannes Nitsch
Grand Piano, Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes] - Dieter Falk
the Guitar - Lothar Kosse, Tommy Schmieder
Vocals - Gitta Löwenstein
Vocals, Backing Vocals - Hans Stettner
Backing Vocals - by Heike Barth, by Sabine Jost, Thomas Flemming

YAVANNA was a German project instigated by Dirk Schmalenbach (violin, keyboards, vocals, sitar, percussion) of Christian progressive rock outfit Eden. He was joined by Hans Stettner (vocals), Thomas Adam (drums, vibraphone, percussion), Helmut Jost (bass) and Lothar Kosse (guitars) for the recording of the one and only album released under the Yavanna moniker: The 1984 production "Bilder Aus Mittelerde", a concept album based on J. R. R. Tolkien's books "The Lord of the Rings" and "Silmarillion".

There are several things about this album that are somewhat confounding, to say the least. First a note though – Yavanna were not really a band. The very talented and multi- instrumentalist Dirk Schmalenbach put the project together following the demise of his former gig as part of the German progressive band Eden. Anyway, on to some of the oddities of Schmalenbach’s project.
Let’s start with a mention of the artwork, a truly uninspired, plain-wrapper looking sort of thing with nothing more than a band name, album title and pencil sketch of a couple of trees that have nothing to do with the band, album, song lyrics or even music in general. This is even odder given Schmalenbach’s background with Eden, a band that prided itself on beautiful album covers layered with meaning.

Also, the songs on the album are apparently based on two of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famous works, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Silmarillion’. This is itself isn’t all that surprising or unusual given the fact Tolkien’s work was enjoying something of a renaissance in popular culture when these songs were recorded in the early eighties. I’ll have to assume this is correct since I don’t speak German, although a few of the song titles obviously confirm the album’s general theme. That said, nearly everything I’ve ever seen (or heard) that was Tolkien-inspired, especially in the seventies and eighties, tended to be long, ostentatious, and usually overproduced. That’s pretty much where the bar is at for Tolkien fare. Not the case here. The album itself is not even forty minutes long and contains only seven songs, none of which reach even seven minutes in length. And other than the bombastic, organ- charged opening seconds of “Valinor” the music is for the most part folk-inspired and rather understated. There is a brief period in “Atalante” where guitarist Lothar Kosse launches into a mildly Glmourish solo and I’m reminded of the later Tolkien effort by Mostly Autumn, but otherwise this is fairly tame stuff.

Tolkien (and Eden) music also tends to be elaborate and include stylistic references not only to folk, but usually classical and symphonic music as well, often of the Baroque period. That doesn’t happen here either. Indeed, with the possible exception of “Gondolin” and it’s mellow violin-led instrumental break there is very little in this music’s structure that predates modern rock and contemporary folk. There is also a pretty strong eighties vibe that tends to come out during the vocal passages of the record.

Finally, like I said Schmalenbach was a multi-talented musician who had mastered all the basic rock instruments (guitar, drums, bass) as well as keyboards, violin and sitar. In my opinion he is guilty of too much reliance on electronic keyboarding here, particularly in the early tracks “Earendils Worte in Valimar” and “Luthiens Frühlingsgesang Und Tanz”. True, he manages to weave in violin on both these tracks, but given the strings’ potential to dominate the emotion of a song I think Schalenbach missed a great opportunity here.

This is a decent album, but not something that will ever be considered a timeless classic. I still enjoy it a lot...

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