Snow Ghosts - The Fell
Electronic ensemble Snow Ghosts return with their fourth album, ‘The Fell’. A collection of old folk songs that were never written. ‘The Fell’ conjures images of shapeshifting animals and ancient tales experienced within a future landscape. Ancestral marks imprint the endless terrain of ‘The Fell’ and their songlines still sing.
A seed of an idea was planted in 2015 during a conversation between vocalist Hannah Cartwright and fellow founder Ross Tones about his home in Weardale. The trio, completed by Oli Knowles, have had three releases since that time, giving the album time to slowly grow its roots deep into their creative subconscious.
“The concept of The Fell as a living thing was there from the beginning” Explains Ross. “That imagery provided the overarching environment” Hannah continues, “which then left us encompassed by human, floral, faunal, mythological, folkloric and magical elements to explore as and when we approached each piece. It was a chance to completely immerse ourselves in another world, its history and perception through other inhabitants.”
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.
“The moorland fell looks beautiful, wild and desolate.” Ross continues. “From certain places you can look in all directions and see no obvious signs of humanity. Yet it’s a completely man made landscape. We used it as a multilayered metaphor, containing stories of the interaction between humans and nature which express themselves in folklore.”
The arrangement too is multilayered in its approach. 2019’s colossal ‘A Quiet Ritual’ contained a score for a full orchestra and the ancient Carnyx. ‘The Fell’s’ instrumental arsenal consists of esraj, dulcimer, daf and bodhrán drums, violin, guitars, and a variety of synthesisers. Whilst equally vast, immersive and other-worldly, these tools are used to create intimate, personal stories. Sharing a mutual influence of the shadowy elements of folklore and the heavier side of experimental noise, a disparate array of reference points and this extensive collection of instruments combines to form Snow Ghosts’ bewitching and often intoxicating sound.
This magnitude of sound is highlighted within the first two tracks. In ‘Given’, the esraj is paired with hulking synths and highlight the insignificance of mankind against the enormity of infinite galaxies. ‘Hearths’ comes back down to earth, where digital and analog synths complete a circle alongside trad folk staples of the daf drum and dulcimer, conveying home, community, and safety. Stars are symbols of the ancestors watching down from above, reaffirming humanity's place in the universe.
The union of acoustic and electronic instruments is consistent across Snow Ghosts extensive catalogue. The band have always explored the fringes of electronic music and sound design with an organic backbone. Traditional sounds are processed to sound unlike the instruments they came from and synthesised sounds perform more traditional roles.
For ‘The Fell’, contrast was an invaluable tool in crafting a soundscape that reflected the land of which it was conjured from. Noises appear to swirl around and direction becomes meaningless. Wind often has a voice; ‘The Helm Wind’ is the only named wind in the British Isles which personifies it in the landscape.
In ‘Buried’, the simplicity of the dulcimer and bodhrán drum is the calming break in the clouds that follows the dark violent storm of wrath that is ‘Curse’; a song that explores the folklore of shapeshifting women and highlights historic misogyny that still exists. ‘Avine’ plays the counterpart to ‘Curse’. Its somber funeral procession drone gradually flourishes to a soaring height with textural strings and synths that dance like the Siren from which it takes its inspiration.
Creation of The Fell took place during both the UK’s departure from the EU and the pandemic. As a result, the writing took place in Wiltshire UK, Gothenburg, Sweden, and County Donegal, Ireland between 2019 and 2022.
“It would’ve been impossible to not include a song that was born of the political climate in the UK at the time. Like so many others we were just so shocked, and as musicians it felt like our futures became unforeseeable’ Oli said of the experience.
‘Home’ channels this frustration with viciously bowed strings and frantic percussion, drawing parallels from the human destruction of animal habitats. It centers around betrayal and the break of trust. The soul supposedly weighing 21g is directly replaced by a lead bullet of the same weight.
‘Vixen’ continues the theme of displacement but looks to the future, as well as revisiting the themes of anthropomorphism. Swells of emotive violins portray departure as the album begins to draw to a close. The album comes full circle with ‘Taken’ that mirrors the cyclical nature of birth and death. It’s a beautifully intimate song of personal loss, loss of faith in society, a crumbling civilisation and the loss/theft of a friend.
For Snow Ghosts, ‘The Fell’ marks their fourth full length album for Houndstooth. All three members are multidisciplinary musicians and full time composers with multiple projects. Hannah combines voice and guitar in her long time solo project, Augustus Ghost, as well as fronting ethereal math-rock band ‘Masakichi’. Ross continues to release spectacular albums with his experimental bass music project ‘Throwing Snow’, whilst Oli nears completion of his debut album for his solo exploratory electronic project, ‘The Keep’, as well as providing keys for psychedelic noise rockers, Sex Swing. Years of collaboration and experience in the cinematic realm come together to produce the band’s most considered album yet.