Damh the Bard’s new album Sabbat was released on Tuesday. Here’s the short review: Sabbat is a return to what we loved so much about Spirit of Albion and The Cauldron Born. It has powerful celebrations of being Pagan, Damh’s take on a folk song, a classic rock cover, and lots of musical storytelling.
I liked 2012’s Antlered Crown and Standing Stone and I’ve used the title song in rituals to Cernunnos. It’s deep and beautiful, but it lacked the get-up-and-sing-it-even-if-you’re-off-key power of Damh’s earlier work. The opening bars of “Sabbat” make it clear that there is no such problem this time.
Damh the Bard is a Druid (and the Pendragon of OBOD) but like so many of us, he came to Paganism through Wicca. “Sabbat” is the Wiccan term for the eight high days or holy days of the Wheel of the Year, and the imagery in the song comes straight out of the Craft: living and working “in the closet,” incense, drums, dancing under the full moon, the Witch’s Rune, and the Great Rite. And of course, riding to the Sabbat, presumably by broom. It’s an energetic song that makes you happy to be a Pagan and reminds you of why we enjoy gathering every six or seven weeks to “sing, feast, dance, make music and love.”
“The Wicker Man” was released last year as a single. It refers not to the classic horror movie but to the growing practice of building and burning Wicker Men at Pagan camping festivals (“no virgin British police sergeants were harmed in the making of this song”). The video below shows pictures of a group making and burning a Wicker Man at the Anderida Gorsedd Wicker Man camp. Several lines in the song make the purpose of the practice clear: “take our prayers, oh Wicker Man” “what dies shall be reborn” and “the Wicker Man is dead … and we shall have our bread.”
“On the Shoulders of Giants” was inspired by Damh’s visit to see the Blue Plaque on the house of Gerald Gardner, which recognizes him as the father of modern Witchcraft. We have the Paganism we have today because of the work of people like Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, and OBOD founder Ross Nichols. We also draw on the work of the ancients: the cave painters and the Druids who faced off against Roman armies. But what spoke to them speaks to us as well, and we are building for the Pagans of future generations.
“Scarborough Faire” reaches back to a far older version of the song than the one most of us know by Simon and Garfunkel. Then in his own song “Iron From Stone” Damh imagines the faerie lover telling the other side of the story. In the “making of” video, Damh speculates that when humans first learned to extract iron from stone we began to close the door between this world and the Otherworld. I differ with him on the details, but I think there’s something to that thought, and I wonder what will happen when the results of technology exceeding the limits of the Earth bears its fruit. That’s another post for another time.
If there’s a surprise on the album it’s the final song, “Thundersbarrow Hill.” It’s based on an actual place in southeastern England. I’m used to Damh the Bard telling Celtic tales, but this song is a tribute to his Viking ancestors, and it’s narrated by Thor.
I will tell you of my Father …
Nine days to hang on Yggdrasil,
Nine nights upon the tree,
To learn the wisdom of the Runes
The land remembers the stories.
If you want more about the background of Sabbat, Damh has created a “making of” video for each of the ten songs. They’re all on YouTube, but they’re easiest to access on his website.
If you liked Spirit of Albion and The Cauldron Born you’ll like Sabbat. It has classics, new compositions, and most importantly, music to make you glad you’re a Pagan.
by Damh the Bard
10 songs, 50 minutes
available on Amazon, iTunes, and at paganmusic.co.uk