Thuringia is one of the little-known gems of Germany. One of the least populous states in Germany, it is nevertheless replete with natural beauty in its misty forests, lofty mountains and verdant plains. It’s in these landscapes that Martin van Valkenstijn, aka Mosaic, has taken inspiration for his somewhat folk, somewhat black metal, somewhat atmospheric project for the last fifteen years. In celebration of this monumental anniversary of his project, Valkenstijn tirelessly worked to remaster and compile a collection of old, limited release tracks in the form of Harvest: Songs of Autumnal Landscapes and Melancholy.
Harvest is a celebration of the past of Mosaic and a thanks to the band’s devoted following, and features rare songs, most of which have only seen a limited, cassette-only release until now. Going back as far as the first ever Mosaic recordings and including the band’s original Samhain Celebration song cycle (you best believe they have more than one), the tracks on Harvest capture the first ten years of the band, of which Valkenstijn is the sole official member, musician, lyricist and creative director, as well as being the one to remaster every track at his House of Inkantation studio. Stylistically, Mosaic has always been, well, a collection of a lot of different genres and creative influences. Equally fueled by ferocious black metal and gentle neofolk, the band also takes inspiration from the natural soundscapes of the Thuringian countryside and impressionist poetry, making Harvest a pretty diverse listen from start to finish. It’s readily apparent the growth and expansion of the band’s sound over time, seeing Valkenstijn include more and more into the folds of the project. From spoken word oration to gentle acoustic passages to ripping blast beats and pulsing guitars, Mosaic seems to be whatever Valkenstijn wants it to be at any given time. Still, despite the fact that the band has expanded sonically so much over the years, Harvest really highlights the indescribable quality that is still present in every track, the thing that makes it all Mosaic. That never gets lost, no matter how much the songs change, and that’s really refreshing.
Harvest begins with a selection of spoken-word atmospheric pieces. Very heavily driven by poetry, the songs are built from field recordings and natural sounds, with Valkenstijn’s voice reciting poetry being the only accompaniment. The works recited range from German and Austrian legends like Georg Trakl, Joseph Eichendorff and Max Dauthendey to Valkenstijn’s own original works, and he delivers them in a variety of tones, from robust dictation very reminiscent of a politician to impassioned cries to low growls. He’s clearly a very gifted orator, and even though most of the works are in German, you really feel the passion. Harvest moves on to a more folk-influenced section, starting right smack in the middle of “Schwartze Erde,” which keeps the same sermon-like vocal theme but with the backdrop moving towards passages of strummed acoustic guitars and light, tribal percussion. None of these songs are particularly long, but they flow effortlessly into each other, giving them the sense that they’re movements in a symphony, like they all add up to be something bigger than themselves. Again, right smack in the middle of “Der Ietzte Atem,” acoustic guitars give way to electric, and Harvest switches styles to dark, raw black metal. Continuing with “As the Fields Call from the Grave” and “Bittersweet Odour,” the rest of the album closes with more samples and readings interwoven with furious guitars and drums, at times bordering on atmospheric but maintaining the sense of melancholy hinted at in the album’s full title. I think it’s a really interesting choice to have the tone of the album switch mid-song. It reveals the amount of thought and care put into curating these tracks and the order in which they’re presented. I was not expecting that level of attention to detail in a compilation album, but I’m more than pleasantly surprised by it.
Mosaic have certainly been around the block a few times, and Harvest shows that. Despite how varied their past has been, Valkenstijn clearly has a vision for Mosaic that stretches beyond genre or artistic trappings. Indeed, Mosaic has always been about conveying deep, resonant emotions that evoke the sights and sounds of nature and man’s inherent connection with the seasons. Harvest is a great way to celebrate all that Valkenstijn has achieved in 15 years at the helm of this project. Supreme Thuringian Folklore indeed.