September 2, 2021 — Osi’s new album Stave aptly is not only inspired by the Appalachian mountains but also draws inspiration from “spell staves” — so-called “galdrastafir” in the Old Norse language, geometric sigils usually carved on wood for practicing “white hat” nature magic in medieval Iceland.
Unlike the more common rune staves, usually, a piece of wood carved with Futhark marks to keep track of goods or deliver a message, the Icelandic spell staves use far more intricate symbols. Galdrastafir facilitated communication between mankind and the Old Gods, allowing for a conversation with the hidden powers that animate the world, as well as other people. When a practitioner gains an in-depth understanding of its characteristic, s/he can start arranging them together to adjust their power and create potent magical spells to help oneself as well as others.
“Osi and the Jupiter’s foundation of moving and ever-curious combination of sounds — that bears the inscription of something ancient in the makeup of the outfit’s mountain folk — delivers above and beyond on all of the eleven songs that comprise Stave.”
On Stave, we are taken on an eleven-track journey through the forest regions of the Appalachian, to a place where Osi’s mark-making exercises of ancient staves provide inspiration for both sound and song — in a wholly unique fusion of neofolk and Appalachian mountain music.
For those interested in taking a look at the rear-view mirror, Osi’s sound can be heard in its infancy on the band’s 2016 ten-track record Halls of the Wolf. Since then, the duo has matured into a rich balance of folksy tones backed up by some rather fanciful, ancient-sounding instrumentation. Osi and the Jupiter’s multi-instrumentalist mastermind, Sean Deth (and his collaborators) have tacked this approach in the past, either to discordant or mixed effect in the likes of ‘Where The Wolves Dwell’, and every album since has edged closer to that ideal with Stave representing a new pinnacle that encapsulates the wistful essence of life in the wilderness, the old spirits of the new world, and the ancient cultures of Iceland, Scandinavia, and dare we say, to some extent Finland.
As all manner of strings, bluesy guitars, cello, and the unmistakable swampy sound of plucked banjo all come together, rise and swell throughout, the sound of Stave is forest folk made manifest with a slight country vibe, as it was always meant to be. This newfound harmony between the conflicting sounds of the new world and old traditions, beliefs, and music is elevated by finding common ground in the spirituality of nature. The new album’s first song ‘To Reap What Has Sown’ sets the tone while establishing a grounded, folkish mood for the entirety of Stave.
The forest-dwelling sound of strings being plucked by Osi mastermind Sean Deth meshes with the atmospheric cello of bandmate Kackophonix, punctuated by moody piano strikes and proto-blues guitar stings. Title track ‘Stave’ expands on this adding nuanced dread with eerie cinematic swirls, surprising listeners with a cello at its core, all the while Sean Deth vocal cries are heard beneath the song’s surface, an ambient vein also crafted on ‘Cosmic Creation Through Primordial Void’. While the highly likable and somber ‘In Death (Carry Me Home)’, featuring Polish forest folk artist By The Spirits, has more of a lyrical hook than the LP’s other songs. ‘Folk of the Woods’ captures the spirit of the full release most effectively, hence it is not difficult to grasp why it was chosen as one of the album’s pre-release singles.
It is also worth noting the guest appearance of Canada’s Jungian-inspired solo artist Anilah on ‘Wights’ adds an unearthliness that genuinely feels like a visitation by a transcendent being.
Transcendent Forest Folk
With Stave, Osi and the Jupiter not only find harmony in the union of disparate lore but voyage beyond a novel amalgam into a bold sense of identity that captures the spiritual power of neofolk, the raw emotional honesty of Deth’s lyrics, and that heady feeling of place in sound that is tightly woven into Appalachian folk. Whether you want to call it “Mountain Shamanism” or forest folk, Osi and the Jupiter are right at home with their iconic, unique sound — successfully bringing the mountain spirit to fans around the world.
On the whole, the record is a beautifully produced release that has a core that evokes a feeling of narrative intensity and ambiance all at once, though it is evidently a matter of two halves — on the one hand, soaring and sweeping instrumentals and on the other, self-exposing and painfully emotional songwriting. Both parts are managed with exceptional skill, showing substantial growth from Osi and the Jupiter’s earlier releases. Deth’s forest folk crooning on ‘The Old Ways’, for instance, is a world apart from 2019’s ‘Where The Wolves Dwell’ while the stings alone of Stave’s seventh, ‘Inner Flame’, are enough to move the hearts of listeners in a way that makes tears fall.
Out of 10
- Osi continues to hone their blend of neofolk and Appalachian sounds to great effect, as Sean Deth and Kackophonix craft moving and raw music with a well-integrated set of guest musicians.
- Perhaps due to the ever-increasing production quality on their releases, Stave appears nigh-on fully realized, and presents a constant sense of atmosphere and pace throughout.
- While Deth’s lyrics are expressive, there are few songs on the album, perhaps only except for ‘In Death (Carry Me Home)’, that have that memorable hook.
- Despite feeling like a full experience, Stave is an album that is split almost evenly between atmospheric, almost ambient instrumental tracks and more traditional folk songs, thus genre fans not looking for a cinematic narrative may be left wanting.
I Conclude These Hills
Ultimately, Osi and the Jupiter’s Stave is an examination of how location, soil, and the Earth itself shapes and forms anyone’s sense of being and the connection we all have to the “land”. The record can carve an indelible mark, but these marks, like galdrastafir white-hat staves, can also empower you — providing the magic of experience to channel into your outlook and deeds.
Stave is also a well-honed product of experience, bearing all the polish one would hope to see from a bands’ fourth LP. Its lyrics and song titles, discounting ‘Eihwaz (The Beating Heart of Yew)’ are all delivered in English, which itself is a progression away from their past work. It is telling, however, that Osi chooses to close on the couplet of ‘Eihwaz’ which is the rune ᛇ, and whose primary meaning is the yew tree — signaling deep roots of home, identity, and the album’s Appalachian-Norse spirit. Osi and the Jupiter’s foundation of moving and ever-curious combination of sounds — that bears the inscription of something ancient in the makeup of the outfit’s mountain folk — delivers above and beyond on all of the eleven songs that comprise Stave.
Osi and the Jupiter’s Stave is out now in physical form via Eisenwald and is, of course, available to stream on all major music services. Fans who wish to support Osi more directly can purchase a digital copy of their new album on Bandcamp. Kurgan’s favorite forest folk has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been added to our neofolk playlist on Spotify which can be listened to and followed here.