While I generally keep my music podcast A Darker Shade of Pagan from getting entangled in the daily workings of The Wild Hunt, every once in awhile I like to alert my readership of some great Pagan and Pagan-friendly music that I come across. Since I just posted my ADSOP top ten of 2011 show, I thought I would share what I thought were some of the best albums that speak to the Pagan soul from the past year. Consider it a gift-giving guide to the Pagan in your life looking for something different in the way of “Pagan music”.

ADSOP’s Top Ten Albums of 2011:

10. Metal Mother – “Bonfire Diaries” [Purchase]

A project of Bay Area singer-songwriter Tara Tati, Metal Mother is a winsome mix of ethereal textures and tribal art-pop that do a great showcasing Tati’s expressive vocal style. Tati, a “student of many esoteric traditions,” sings about connection with the earth, politics, relationships, and freedom in way that evokes that California spiritual ethos she has emerged from. Check out the (somewhat NSFW) video for her song “Shake” (which she also directed) to get a feel for the sound, aesthetic, and vision of this intriguing new artist.

09. The Moon and The Nightspirit – “Mohalepte” [Purchase]

At this point in their career Hungarian Pagan folk band The Moon and The Nightspirit have reached a point of maturity and confidence in their output that almost guarantees a solid album of new songs on every new album. They make their unique mixture of ethnic folk and neoclassical darkwave sound almost effortless. The vocals of Agnes are as strong as ever, and I’ve even come to appreciate the metal-growl accents of her partner Mihaly. One of the very best explicitly Pagan bands operating today.Check out this live video of them playing at Germany’s Wave Gotik Treffen to get a taste of what you’re missing if you haven’t already jumped on this bandwagon.

08. Arborea – “Red Planet” [Purchase]

For those who are looking for a fantastic hybrid of archaic British folk styles, American twists on the form, both old and new, and ghostly atmosphere, you simply can’t go wrong with Arborea. Their latest album, “Red Planet,” is their most developed, and I hate to use this term, but, mature-sounding release yet. Shanti Curran’s vocals are like taking a walk in a fog-laden forest, and the duo’s interpretation of songs like “Black is the Colour” or Tim Buckley’s “Phantasmagoria in Two” are remade into narcotic anthems, psychedelic folk that is more natural entheogen than artificial lysergic acid diethylamide. This is music to watch trees grow to, though they can be short and sweet, like on the single “Careless Love.”

07. Seventh Harmonic – “Garden of Dilmun” [Purchase]

Do you like Dead Can Dance? Do you like thematic explorations of “the muses, the wheel of the year, and the seasons of the heart”? Then you’ll love Seventh Harmonic’s new album “Garden of Dilmun.” After nearly a decade away, composer Caroline Jago’s band returns with an immensely strong album that features a new lead vocalist in soprano Ann-Mari Thim of Arcana, and weaves in and out of tribal, martial, and ethereal styles creating a dynamic and engaging trip through the Pagan ritual year. This is ritual music of a different and unique sort.

06. Faun – “Eden” [Purchase]

German Pagan folk act Faun’s new full-length “Eden,” is the follow-up to 2009’s “Buch der Balladen.” Unlike that album of largely sedate, well, ballads, “Eden” follows more in the footsteps of 2007’s “Totem” or 2005’s “Renaissance,” the album that helped introduce them to the United States. For those of us in the states who were lucky enough to catch them live at Faerieworlds, you’ll find much of the energy and charm in this new work that won over so many new fans. “Eden” features a guest performances from the Mediaeval Baebes, and they honor their recent experiences with the Faerieworlds crew by including contributions from storyteller Mark Lewis and illustrator Brian Froud. This album feels like something of a capstone on their previous accomplishments, and I look forward to what shape the band will take on their next album.

05. Julianna Barwick “The Magic Place” [Purchase]

Julianna Barwick is a celestial choir of one, the “indie rock Enya,” as some would put it. The layers and loops of her voice creating a feeling of otherworldliness, of sacred song, while never specifically tying herself to any one interpretation of what context that transcendent  experience should happen in (according to Barwick, the “magic place” the title refers to is “a tree on our farm” ). This could be called New Age music if that genre had retained some bite, some hint of darkness in its heavenly synth washes and choirs of ascended masters. The site Tiny Mix Tapes calls Barwick’s style of music “holy ambient,” and that seems to get to the heart of this captivating sound. Truly singular.

04. Bjork – “Biophilia” [Purchase]

I have no idea what I could possibly say about Bjork that hasn’t been said already. Her identity as an artist, as an innovator, as an activist, has long since been secured. So let me just say that “Biophilia” is a truly ambitious work that stretches the idea of the “album” in new directions, and to new heights. But leaving aside the interactive applications and the ornate choral concerts, the music itself finds Bjork exploring the natural world and the mysteries and wonder of our universe. This is Bjork gone cosmic, an observer to the very birth of existence itself. I have no idea where she could go from here, but I’m sure she’s already working on it, and that it’ll be brilliant.

03. The Machine in The Garden “Before and After the Storm” [Purchase]

American Darkwave duo The Machine in the Garden, while not a Pagan band, use myth and mysticism as a lyrical anchor throughout their new album “Before and After the Storm,” their first in six years. According to singer Summer Bowman she “looked to mythology and mysticism when I was writing the lyrics for these songs. I wanted to think about other cultures and their origin stories as a mirror of returning to many of our musical roots with this work.” Songs like: “Cimmerian,” “In the Vanir,” or “Power and Prophesy” drip with allusions to an ancient folkloric past while marrying them to their dark modern sound. A truly excellent release, buy an immensely talented band.

02. Atrium Animae – “Dies Irae” [Purchase]

The Italian band Atrium Animae was formed in 2007, their name is “considered as a symbolic representation of the passage from physical world toward an immaterial world.” The heavenly soprano of Alessia Cicala, a member of the band Chirleison, partnered with the compositions of Massimiliano Picconi, together create music on their debut “Dies Irae” that is stately in its atmosphere, a sacred enveloping that is almost funerial in outlook. Or as the band’s promotional material puts it: “A symbolic voyage in a silent wasteland made of treachery, defeat and spiritual hunger. A world where the locked embrace of loss and despair are represented through a reinterpretation of passages taken from religious and pagan texts.” Sublime, and an excellent addition to the genre of neoclassical darkwave.

01. Soriah with Ashkelon Sain – “Eztica” [Purchase]

Soriah with Ashkelon Sain, a duo whose album “Atlan” made my A Darker Shade of Pagan top-ten for 2009, returns in 2011 with “Eztica.” Described as “a neo-tribal, mystically ethereal, paranormally enrapturing musical experience” this mix of throat singing (what Soriah calls “an offering to nature in her own tongue”), atmospherics, and ritual, is truly captivating. While something of a companion to “Atlan,”  I think “Eztica” is the stronger album, one that sees more complex arrangements, and a sound that can be driving as well as atmospheric. This is a shamanistic ritual art experience, one that documents Soriah’s explorations into his own ethnicity and heritage, amplified by the amazing soundscapes of former Trance to the Sun guitarist Ashkelon Sain. This is the kind of musical spiritual journey that most others simply aspire to.

You can download my latest podcast, featuring songs from all these albums, here. I hope you’ll explore these releases, and perhaps find some new music to love. As always, apologies to all the other artists who released great albums this year, I only have room for ten.

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