Freaky Polish neo-folk from 23 Threads on their Conspicuous Unobstructed Path (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 093-2) album…this marginal Polish combo first surfaced in 2001 with a record called Magija, which had been recorded in 1995. At that time, the band were effectively the duo of Marek Marchoff and Dorho Marchoff, with guest players appearing under mysterious aliases such as Animal’94 and Industry AW. The resulting CDR appeared on the obscure Furia Musica label in Poland, home to other intriguing avant-rock acts such as One Million Bulgarians, Mannequin and Serpent Beat.
Some 20 years later, they managed to get this new album recorded in New York. Core member Marek remains, and appears to play most of the instrumentation himself, joined by Rafal Janus with his upright bass and djembe, and the band’s new secret weapon – the chanteuse Ingrid Dawn Swen. I’m assuming, just by looking at her photos on the cover and hearing her voice, that she has quite a strong personality. She doesn’t exactly dominate the album, but when her creepy breathy whispers and implacable utterances arrive on the tape as if by stealth, all cats in the neighbourhood arch their backs and their fur stands up on end. She isn’t really singing, either – it’s more in the nature of a poetry recit, half-sung half-spoken pronouncements, with every turn filled with hidden significance. The lyrics are derived from the writings of MJ Caroline Rider, and Swen’s contribution to the project has involved a certain amount of editing to deliver only the choicest nuggets of mysterious fate.
At this point, it may not surprise you to learn that 23 Threads have an interest in the esoteric – Marek Marchoff is photographed wearing an Egyptian medallion across his bare chest, holds a rooster (a symbol persisting from their first album) in an ominous way, there’s the mystical number 23 in the band name, and the album apparently abounds in “references to esoteric tradition” as it endeavours to tell the story of “a woman moving through mysterious forests”. The genres of pagan, neo-folk and dark folk are a closed shop to me, and my interest in the works of Current 93 or Tony Wakeford is virtually nil, but 23 Threads still holds a good deal of interest even to the non-initiate. Marchoff is very skilled at creating, and sustaining, a genuinely unsettling mood with his very subtle musical arrangements, eschewing cheap drama and theatrics, and does it mainly through acoustic means – his mesmerising acoustic guitar becomes an instrument of dark magick, and each track ripples with understated atmospheres.
Further esoteric thrills to be found with the inside photos of the band posing with various symbolic devices (and hats); Ingrid certainly looks very pleased with her ceremonial dagger. For those of you intending to delve further, you may be pleased to learn the label has also reissued their debut album this year. From 5th May 2015.