Snow Ghosts incite a powerfully gripping journey during which you may easily find yourself lost, captive to an intoxicating musical mist. The bewitching vastness of The Fell awaits you.

Release date: February 24, 2023 | Houndstooth | Website | Facebook | Instagram | Stream/Purchase

Snow Ghosts is the fantastic – and oftentimes audibly foreboding – venture of Hannah Cartwright, Ross Tones, and Oliver Knowles. Cartwright and Tones initially formed the project in 2008, the pair brought together by a desire to infuse their shared affinity for British folklore with a love of electronic music. The result of this experimentation is a potent blend indeed, and one which leaves a significant impact on the listener. The Fell sees Snow Ghosts mark their return after 2019’s A Quiet Ritual. Does this latest album offer the same level of melodiousness found on “Heavy Heart”, or the jarring unpredictability of “Rip”? Absolutely, and then some.

A comparative listen to The Fell against their previous records shows that the recent experience of living has seen both their cohesive craftsmanship and courageous exploration take them further than before; these are both attributes that also play wonderfully into the namesake’s concept, rooted deep within mossen, mysterious musical soil that greets your sole (and soul) as you tread The Fell’s landscape. Suspended in time, it is – to quote the group’s Bandcamp page – ‘a multilayered metaphor, containing stories of the interaction between humans and nature which express themselves in folklore.

Thematically speaking, it’s also one of the bolder albums I’ve reviewed in my time, and that richness can only be fully appreciated when articulate by the band themselves:

The concept of The Fell as a living thing was there from the beginning…That imagery provided the overarching environment…which then left us encompassed by human, floral, faunal, mythological, folkloric, and magical elements to explore as and when we approached each piece…The Fell is also a liminal or ‘thin’ place. Bog land preserves organic remains, like time capsules, a quality that made it a special place to prehistoric people. These relics serve as starting points for new stories and songs. Folk tales talk of the metamorphosis of animals into people and back again which talks to a deep rooted ambiguity of where people begin and the land ends.

At first, the fearsome atmosphere of “Given” settles around the feet, rising to form a thick, dissonant fog. It is only once we transition to “Hearths” that we uncover the driving, fabled lyricism of Snow Ghosts, entrenched here in tones of familiarity and safety. Here, and elsewhere on the record, it draws comparison to artists such as KOJ, entwining beauteous vocality with diverse musical components that occasionally bare harsh, mechanical teeth. Cartwright’s voice carries an alluring sense of wilderness and wonder, lifted atop the compositions in a position of deserved prominence. It’s a commanding performance – the kind of euphony often associated with the likes of Emma Ruth Rundle – and Cartwright’s enigmatic, dancing delivery on tracks such as “Hawthorn” and “Magpie” are sublimely juxtaposed to instances of more jagged instrumentation.

Content warning: Flashing images in the video below

Naturally, the vocals play but one part. Synths both analog and digital play a pivotal role in backing the darkly reminiscent storytelling found on The Fell. However, with three such talented hands and minds at the helm, Snow Ghosts employ a far greater, more eclectic arsenal of instruments across the album: violin, guitars, daf, esraj, dulcimer, and bodhrán drums all contribute to the wealthy tapestry of sound. Each of these is wielded masterfully, spinning a duet between futuristic artificiality and an organic, yet at times fragile inclination to hold onto things of eons passed.

Drawling, militaristic percussion and plucked strings form a cocoon around the ominous core sound expounded by Snow Ghosts. They propel our traversal of The Fell with boldness and sincerity, fusing the contemporary elements of the soundscape to more traditional components that befit its overgrown, tangled nature. The repetition of vocals and droning digital textures on songs like “Prophecies”, with its gradually swelling, cosmic layers, lend the record an almost welcoming sense of darkness – not in a morose way, but rather like the encompassing comfort many take from the intangible embrace of night-time. As you walk its course, The Fell is compelling, drawing focus. Yet, it is an album smeared with elements of unnerving, of moments that serve as a persistent reminder that danger may lurk in the shadows lying just beyond the foreground of your perception.

One of the record’s most prominent characteristics – the primary entity cloaked within The Fell’s spellbinding clutches – is an ambient aimlessness. It’s a disorienting listen, with percussion providing pace without any indication of just how lost you are in its wilderness. As it happens, this positions the listener wonderfully to experience and respond to the full character of each track present. You’re drawn like a moth to the voltaic zaps that arc all around as “Curse” flickers and crackles into life, warning you with calls of ‘This way madness lies‘. Elsewhere, the swiftness of “Filaments” quickens the pulse and “Buried” offers temporary respite from the unyielding unease with its more traditional, calming enchantry.

This soon subsides, reverting to an exuding discontent that is heightened later in “Home” – a sinister ode to political and global events at the time of the album’s writing. This demonstrable sense of inspiration is rife throughout The Fell, realised by Snow Ghosts in sprawling musical forms that are shapely and seductive, like the Siren that inspired the funereal “Avine”. This quality resurfaces regularly, such as in the spectral, layered vocalisations that seep forth at the close of “Vixen”, leaving the listener helpless in a dissipating undertow that is a highlight moment of mine. Then, closing number “Taken” is laden with an earthly innocence and melancholy that are starkly opposed to the scattered expanse of outward-looking wonder where we began our journey. We have travelled far, heard much, and felt even more.

For those seeking a mysterious record of intrigue and indomitable character, The Fell provides a veritable shroud of sound and storytelling to lose yourself in. Described as ‘a collection of old folk songs that were never written’, Snow Ghosts invite you to indulge in a journey of folkloric experimentation that embodies the murmurations of what was, what is, and what will be. Moreover, like the enduring tales woven throughout generations, a part of The Fell will always remain with you long after your first foot has embraced its entrancing terrain.

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