“It was a dark and stormy night” is a clichéd opening statement to the point where it’s ironically used for laughs, but in the case of Portugal’s Urze de Lume and their new album Histórias de Lobos – Entre o Lume e a Escuridão, it is actually a dark and stormy night that opens the dark folk/soundscape tapestry, building up a world inhabited and guarded by noble and enigmatic wolves and the people that lived to tell about their experiences with them. This is Rainbows in the Dark, bringing you the best of all things non-metal and metal-adjacent.
Urze de Lume have been around Lisbon’s scene since 2014, bringing their Iberian heritage to the classic formula of dark neofolk to much acclaim. On Histórias de Lobos – Entre o Lume e a Escuridão (Wolf Stories – Between the Fire and Darkness), the band trades out nylon strings, bagpipes, war drums and strings for something darker and more abstract. Entre o Lume e a Escuridão is really much more of an immersive soundscape, with the primary focus being on weather, spoken word, harsh noise and the signature wolf howl and bark. With this album, the second in a series of Histórias de Lobos releases, the band tell the stories, in their own words, of people who have come face to face with wolves in the mountains of Portugal and lived to tell the tale, set over the backdrop of dark ambient tones and electric guitar, which seems to be the only instrument on the album aside from a tiny bit of bass. Of the seven tracks on the album, several don’t feature any music at all, but that’s Urze de Lume letting history speak for itself. “The chapters were created upon stories that I gathered throughout the years,” multi-instrumentalist Ricardo Brito says of the writing process. “Some of the people that passed me that information, unfortunately, are not with us anymore. So, for me, these pieces are some sort of homage to their memories.” Urze de Lume have always been about celebrating their traditional heritage, but on this release, they let the heritage truly come alive for the listener.
“It’s just tones. Just dark and ominous tones,” to quote Jason Segel’s character in my favorite movie of all time. Kudos if you know the one. Entre o Lume e a Escuridão has a similar vibe, with a huge emphasis on the story being told and the music being a simple backdrop to that. Divided into seven chapters, each track on the album represents a true story the band has picked up about Lusitanian settlers and their encounters with or concerning wolves in the mountains of Portugal, and each one is a story of the power of nature, fear and, ultimately, survival. Fear plays an important part in the dark ambient to harsh noise gradient of sampled sounds, and upon first listen the impression that I got was that I was listening to the sounds of a horror movie. Permeating each track are eerie washes, static, thunder, rain, fire and, most importantly, howls, growls, barks and snarls from the ubiquitous animals in question. I don’t speak Portuguese, understanding the spoken word isn’t a barrier when there’s so much feel put into the presentation. “Capítulo II” presents itself like a radio broadcast gone wrong, with a crackling fire, static and a distorted, distant narration that crawls with tension. “Capítulo IV” features narration like from a documentary over ominous, dread-filled synths and faint, distorted screams that make my skin crawl.
When the music does kick in, it’s equally dark and menacing, albeit vastly pared down to just guitar. The band deliberately went outside of their comfort zone by experimenting with distorted electric guitar as a way to augment the wolf’s calls. “Capítulo III” builds on a repeated clean motif by adding distorted volume swells as a haunting counterpoint. “Capítulo V,” probably the least foreboding song on the album, is a beautiful clean passage that features layers of melody building gradually on top of each other into a full and complete symphony before being stripped back down bit by bit. Perhaps the most surprising song on the album, “Capítulo VII,” features a straight-up tremolo picked black metal riff that would be right at home in a more aggressive outfit. It’s not the typical neo-folk that some might be looking for, but this isn’t an album about the music. The band sought out ways to properly tell the stories they had been gifted, and in that they succeed tremendously.
Stories and nature, especially stories that connect us to our past, our places and nature are crucially important, especially in a place like Portugal that has so much history and so much nature. I know I’ve been taking what solace I can in nature, and it helps me feel not so weighed down. The band is releasing this album on cassette, which is a first for them, but they decided that this format is the best one to allow them to capture the feel they were going for. Definitely worth a buy to support not just the band, but the history and stories they speak about.