Brethren of the Free Spirit The Wolf Also Shall Dwell With The Lamb

[Important; 2008]

Styles: acoustica pantheistica, ecclesiastical folk
Others: Robbie Basho, Balint Bakfark, Spinoza

The Wolf Also Shall Dwell With The Lamb opens with a meditative display of harmonics that introduce us to the D tuning that James Blackshaw’s 12-string guitar and Josef Van Wissem’s 13-course Baroque Lute hold throughout the record. This serenity, though, might seem puzzling for a song titled “The Sun Tears Itself From The Heavens and Comes Crashing Down Upon The Multitude.” This title refers to a vision of the Virgin Mary had by several children in Portugal in 1917. The Virgin Mary promised several miracles over the course of several months, and on October 13, she made the sun change colors, rotate, and appear to descend from the sky. The spacious harmonics signify the tiny drops of sun blissfully falling to the ground or, perhaps, the awe of those who patiently awaited the miracle (and even those who doubted all along). The direction of our gaze is up, and what accompanies it is marvelous enthusiasm.

Similar religious imagery was evoked by Brethren Of The Free Spirit -- named after a pantheistic 13th Century Christian movement -- on 2007’s All Things Are From Him, Through Him, And In Him. On this album, Blackshaw and Van Wissem pulled back the veil that falsely perpetuates the distinction between God and World, thus revealing God’s transcendental immanence. The album walks us through a purification or rebirth: we begin behind the veil and end reunited with ourselves and the world, free from sin. We might think of the repetitive structures of the music as expressing our first vision once the veil has been removed, of God’s movement in and through all things — as if each thing in the world takes its turn, stepping up to disclose that it is part of the same underlying subject as the thing that came before and after it.

Despite the tranquil aesthetic and the celebratory religious references, the contemplative mood that is stimulated on both albums is dark. It calls to mind the brutality of the Schopenhauerian will more so than the charitable sage. The photograph inside the album sleeve shows a darkened mirror that barely reveals a reflection of Blackshaw and Van Wissem. There is some overpowering vagueness that inhibits a transparent glance, much like the music itself. While there are moments of unquestionable joy on The Wolf, there is a creeping suspicion that the joy is always on the edge of a great abyss.

The title-track is festive -- the strings play around a low drone as if it was a maypole. The dancing, repetitive structures gracefully fall back into themselves, as the swirling leads to the reconciliation of wolf and lamb. But do we have reason to doubt this apparent harmoniousness? We find similar palindromatic moments on “Into The Dust Of The Earth.” Once the distinction between world and heaven is dissolved, the things in the world undergo a perpetual movement into themselves. There is no ascension or descension, but a constant internal movement of identical, but apparently spatially non-overlapping, instances. The final song on The Wolf, much like the concluding moment on All Things, provides the space for spiritual renewal. There is not but one flower, since the use is indefinite. Rather, there is a possibility for a universal realization of the harmonious relations of the things in world. But the brooding, downward look that is the mood of the finale leaves one doubtful.

1. The Sun Tears Itself From The Heavens And Comes Crashing Down Upon The Multitude
2. The Wolf Also Shall Dwell With The Lamb
3. Into The Dust Of The Earth
4. I Am A Flower Of Sharon And A Rose In The Valley

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