Sol Invictus, fronted by Tony Wakeford, is one of the “neofolk” scene’s best-known groups, alongside Death in June and Current 93. Sol Invictus emerged following Wakeford’s departure from Death in June — and later departure from controversial Above the Ruins — with a sound that progressively became lighter and more classically-inspired than most of what can be considered “neofolk.” In fact, “neofolk” is arguably an inappropriate descriptor for Wakeford and company’s sound; more befitting would be the occasionally-dropped “folk noir,” goth-folk, or post-industrial labels, which do better to describe the lush, albeit sparse instrumentation that characterizes the band’s output from the 90s onward. Sol Invictus makes use of small orchestras, thin guitars, and cryptic, occasionally morbid imagery to create soundscapes not found anywhere else within popular music.
Wakeford’s talents do not exclusively lie in his composition and lyricism. No, Wakeford is also very good at being hated by nearly everyone! Antifascist types insist that he is some kind of Nazi sleeper agent — still angered by his former membership in Britain’s National Front, his associations both present and previous with individuals deemed to be racist by various Leftist loons, and his unabashed use of fascist or traditionalist themes and imagery. Some of these influences include the poetry of Ezra Pound and the writing of Julius Evola, despite Wakeford’s own admission that he finds Evola to be broadly incomprehensible and more useful for song titles than anything else. One can infer from this why Wakeford is also detested by those among the more serious Right. Wakeford is married to a Jew — Renee Rosen-Wakeford, Sol Invictus’ violinist — he has repeatedly taken to cucking or backtracking on his previous political involvement and statements, and he has angered some with his semi-flippant attitude towards the work of those he claims to be inspired by. If there is any lesson to be learned from the Wakeford story, it’s that Cucking Will Never Make You New Friends.
All of these are valid criticisms of Wakeford. The man is, for lack of any more appropriate terms, a fat poser. Acknowledging this, however, should be more than enough to appreciate his musical work — especially his earlier work — with a clean conscience. We can’t expect everyone to be Based™ and Redpilled™ at all times. Also, one can’t help but derive a small amount of Schadenfreude from the fact that a true Leftist would probably be driven to madness by the knowledge that their art has been appropriated by their sworn political enemies. I emphatically believe Sol Invictus simply makes good music, but the idea that my endorsement might infuriate Wakeford is a small bonus.
The music of In the Rain follows a consistent style sheet, but one that allows for broad variation in tones and messaging. Much of the album comes across as Victorian horrors put to music, while others could easily be played at the funerals of a loved one (or loved society). The band’s palette makes broad use of the string section, varied use of rhythms both modern and folkish in origin, and Wakeford’s plain, yet remarkably powerful vocals. In the Rain is also notable for Wakeford’s poetic use of juxtaposition and irony in his lyrics, his judicious use of non-sequitur vulgarity and mismatched mystical elements keeping a listener on their toes.
In the Rain is opened with the short instrumental “Europa in the Rain I,” a haunting, but serenely beautiful piece of music that blends quite nicely into the beginning of “Stay.” “Stay” is a bittersweet love song in the fashion of those that break a person’s heart before they mend it. Wakeford toys with themes of jadedness, hallucination, and confusing ideals with reality in a track that gradually builds in tension towards its conclusion. In traditional English fashion, however, that conclusion is one tinged by doubt and dictated by the laws of gloomy weather. Wakeford’s ephemeral lover stays with him, but seemingly only because it’s pouring down rain outside.
“Believe Me” is just as gloomy as “Stay,” but with a touch more brightness to found in the piano. Lyrically, Wakeford tells a tale of a world on edge: metaphors of children skating on thin ice, speculation on the destination of a deceased woman’s soul, and the eternal imagery of supernatural forces locked in conflict over worldly matters create the backdrop for Wakeford’s thesis. In a world marked by uncertainty and mere games of fate, there’s little else to pursue but love for its own sake. How charming! Fortunately, Wakeford and company don’t dwell on the subject for too long, nor too romantically; like much of the album, the tropes of “Believe Me” benefit greatly from the band’s overall glumness.
“Down the Years” lays on the rhythm section more heavily than previous tracks. It is a remarkable track for its precise use of harmonization between Wakeford and Rosen’s violin work — “down, down the years” — and its deft handoffs between its bleak, funeral march-like verses and downright serene chorus. Lyrically, “Years” seems to be occupied with the notion that history doesn’t end. Wakeford carefully weaves constants of human interaction — take valor, cruelty, and faith — with contemporary and ancient frames of reference. “Years” has some of the most poignant imagery on the album. Something about rusting armor just speaks to the white man, I suppose.
Title track “In the Rain” is the most strictly “neofolk” track on the album, in the sense that it relies heavily on a Pearce-like guitar track, with the band’s other instruments generally being mere embellishments. Like much of Rain, the title track dwells upon the pain of a love that was not meant to be. “Rain” is also a great example of Wakeford’s ability to turn a trope on its head, like the oft-used Cupid myth:
Cupid’s leering, let the game begin
He shoots the arrow, and our lives spin
Poison flows through our viper hearts
Put down our knives and raise a glass
“Fall Like Rain” begins with an infectious riff that will repeat throughout the track’s verses. This is the album’s second-longest track, and necessarily so, for it contains much of the record’s dramatic ebbs and flows. There is a blackened sort of comedy to be found in “Fall,” as Wakeford’s flowery descriptions of the natural world become mere backdrops for the inevitable ashes to ashes, dust to dust fate of the people who teem about them. The central principle of the track is that death, whether gruesome or pacific, will come for all — the foolish and the wise, the brave and the scared. What differentiates this song from endless others that dote upon the Reaper’s scythe is the poetic way in which Wakeford describes the course that billions of dead souls will take. Rather than being damned or saved, they drift on the same winds that blow leaves across forests and the same tides that send waves crashing into cliffs. This broadly “pagan,” or perhaps more appropriately animist, view of the world dyes the motions of nature with the color of those we have loved, lost, and long for. The same sentiment moves many of us on the Right to action, as we see in our homelands not just a delineated section of the planet we live on, but the very lives of our ancestors reflected in their marks left upon Earth and the machinations they set in motion that have long outlived them. Perhaps “Fall” might inspire some to look at headstones a bit differently.
In contrast to the eternal nature of lives explored in “Fall,” “Oh What Fun” concerns itself with the endless tales of mischief and mayhem that make up human life in sum. The imagery of dancing skeletons — our ancestors being thoroughly entertained by our exploits on earth — drive home the point that Wakeford is trying to make. Life is often fraught with difficulty and sacrifice, but when you reach the end of your days, a reflection on your myriad experiences will probably lead you to a comforting conclusion, one reflected in the last line of the chorus: “Oh, what fun we have when we exist!”
“An English Garden” is the most popular track on Rain. This distinction is wholly deserved; a Victorian horror rolled into a 4-minute track, “Garden” is capable of sending chills down just about anyone’s spine. It is also peculiarly heavy for a composition that relies — presumably entirely — on unamplified instruments. This musical weight makes the near-cracking, thin voice of Wakeford all the more unsettling, as he details the story of a cursed forest and the child-snatching creatures that dwell inside of it. “Garden” is also a prime example of Wakeford’s ability to make the most out of minor tweaks to each track’s language; “Victoria sits upon her throne” becomes “Victoria squats upon her throne” in the final incarnation of the chorus, nailing the death of decency into the track’s message through a mere play on words.
“The World Shrugged” riffs on the heavier side of the record to a greater extent, rumbling satisfyingly in the low-end. There are also more discernable shreds of amplified guitar grumbling in the background. “Shrugged” also seems to be where Wakeford lets his anger loose; the same Cupid he solemnly damned for his poison, he now threatens to shoot with his own bow. Where much of the album is preoccupied with lamentation, “Shrugged” is about divine punishment for sin, whether by the hands of Man himself or Nature pulling the crumbling facade out from under him.
“In Days to Come” jumps between two very different patterns for its length, beginning with the rhythmic cacophony of every instrument in the band playing on the same strokes. The second pattern is based on a surprisingly hopeful violin melody and Wakeford’s prophecizing of an unnamed savior. Unfortunately, Wakeford at his most positive is also Wakeford at his most nasally, making “Days” a bit of a rough listen at its melodic heights.
“Europa in the Rain II” is a reprise of “Rain I,” using its greater length to dispense a hair more drama.
“Hedda Gabler,” the album’s final track, is built atop a simple piano melody. Its lullaby-like quality is due to Wakeford’s melding of his voice with the string textures and chimes that join the mix in the track’s final half, though the track’s nursery rhyme quality is corrupted by Wakeford’s lyricism in true Sol Invictus style, being based loosely on the eponymous play in which titular Hedda Gabler is trapped in a marriage she hates. In the play, Gabler convinces her former lover and rival of her husband to kill himself, before she also ends her own life. Wakeford ends the song with the repeated refrain of “Sleep, Hedda Gabler,” spinning the macabre tale into an unsettling bit of musical irony. Wakeford’s Gabler is also portrayed as far more complicit in her old flame Eilert’s death than she is in the play, with Wakeford using her story as a small microcosm of the wickedness he believes dominated the times of the Third Reich. Spooky stuff, indeed.
In the Rain, while far from being one of the eternal classics of the neofolk genre, makes for a solid example of what the genre got right and wrong. Like many other bands in the genre, criticism can be made in good faith of the lead vocalist’s nasally rasp. This usually works out just fine with other artists, like Douglas Pearce and David Tibet, who play into their vocal style and make it work for them. However, this approach has limited applications, something made clear by Wakeford’s lackluster performances on some of Rain’s tracks. Rain is also another incidence of neofolk taking on a life of its own outside the wishy-washy ramblings of its author. Wishing for music so esoteric, so European, and so obviously white in its antecedents and influences to be universalized and devoid of political significance — even that which is unintentional — is a pipe dream of the man who either has no convictions or has lost a solid grip upon them.
Wakeford can wax apologia about his politics all day long, but when your art strikes a chord among a very specific group of people, it’s dishonest to claim that they were never your target audience.