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The Joy of Nature - The Empty Circle Part 1

The Empty Circle Part 1, subtitled 'Swirling Lands of Disquiet and Catharsis' is the first part of a trilogy, corresponding to the three main alchemical phases: Nigredo, Albedo and Rubedo. The Empty Circle Part 1 relates to the phase of Nigredo, a stage of blackening associated with reflection and self-examination. It's perhaps not surprising then that the latest rlease from this Azores based project is imbued with a feeling of melancholy. On The Empty Circle, Luis Couto, the principal player and multi-instrumentalist employs a vast array of instruments (acoustic guitars, flutes) to Alpine zithers, Irish harps, gemshorn, kantele. A number of guests are featured including vocalists and pianist Ana Salome.

The Empty Circle tends towards an atmospheric folk sound, largely derived from zithers and bowed psaltery, bells and chimes. Guitars, flutes and drones feature heavily too. It's particularly organic in its approach; the entire album evolves through a rich tapestry of sounds, woven with the assorted instrumentation and field recordings that underpin many of the tracks. It's not particularly song based, but is adept at creating an atmosphere that is archaic and mystical and given the death march performed early on with zithers the mood is serene and ominous.

The use of field recordings is prevalent throughout, and, in particular, on 'The Womb, Pt. 1', 'And Then The Clock Appeared' and 'The Womb, Pt. 2'. Both versions of 'The Womb' edge towards ambient atmospherics with Part 1 taken to a more eerie mystical realm largely as a result of Conceicao Raposo's wailing ritual tones over plucked harp strings, while the frosted atmospheric hum of Part 2 is accompanied by the sound of rainfall amidst acoustic guitar, piano and bunched melodies.

'The Dew From Erased Days' features lightly effected whispered voices over faint acoustic strum and tin whistle returning to layers of unaccompanied treated voices, closing with massed chants. 'Dissolving Memories Into Grey Skies' similarly, foregoes rhythm for flurries of shakers and chimes with a soft flute melody.

On 'The Cyclical Return of Wolves and Blacksmiths' the archaic strings, and heavy guitar droning that coalesce around the strong hand percussion and murmured vocals comes across like Mother Destruction and Waldteufel. The same goes for 'In The Kingdom of the Blind' where forceful percussive rhythms give way to lightly sprinkled strings and horns and brief vocals. The flute, guitar and drum patterns of 'Absinthe, Tea and the Memory of Autum Leaves Falling' carries a feeling of mediaeval processional music that segues into brass band festival music.

The main thrust of The Empty Circle stems from the zithers, chimes guitars and percussion that beat at the heart of these compositions. Elements of folk, experimental and ambient can be found amidst the music of The Joy of Nature but the esoteric content puts them on a par with C.O.T.A. or Waldteufel but given their Portuguese heritage the main comparison The Joy of Nature will elicit is, as others have noted, with Sangre Cavallum. There's a shared love of Portuguese tradition and while Sangre Cavallum appear more traditional The Joy of Nature draw in a far broader range of influences to their open-ended and loose compositions. Things may become clearer as the other two volumes surface but, for now, my preference lies with the other acts mentioned. For more information go to or