Beginning with the Record Store Day 2017 release of Cobra Verde, One Way Static has been busy reissuing some of Popol Vuh’s lesser known yet highly regarded work on both limited color and black vinyl. For a primer on Popol Vuh and Florian Fricke, check out our review of Cobra Verde from earlier this year.
If you’re looking to see what Popol Vuh’s “sacred music” period is all about, this would be a great place to start. The album begins with a choral-led song titled “Hand in Hand,” a short and somewhat strangely recorded piece of music that seems to suffer from either some tape degradation or mic placement problem. It’s nice and well sung, but the fidelity is a little off-putting. Maybe it was just recorded in an actual cave? Either way, it’s ok, mostly because it fits with the Byzantine theme of the album.
This leads to one of my favorite tracks, the pulsating guitar-driven (I think) “They Danced, They Laughed, As Of Old.” This could easily fit on a post-rock mixtape beside Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, the song slowly building while it allows the high octave solo to take center stage for the last few minutes. “Love-Love” follows a similar trajectory, the electric guitar solo being a bit more overdriven than on “They Danced..,” but equally as captivating. At times it feels reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, especially when the ambient percussion kicks in.
The album ends on a strong yet somber note with the gorgeous “Why Do I Still Sleep.” Much like what Brian Eno did with his Ambient series, it feels like Fricke is squeezing the maximum amount of emotion out of a track while using a minimal amount of notes. I can’t help but be reminded of Thomas Newman’s score to American Beauty in the way they both use single piano note melodies to convey both sadness and hope.
As a bonus, a short track titled “Circle Dance” is included at the end of Side B. This was not in the original 1983 release, and while it’s an awesome prog rock track, it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the theme of the record. Still, it’s a fun way to cap off a very introspective and heady experience.
The record comes housed in a single jacket with artwork that matches the original 1983 Norwegian release. Inside is a double sided insert with info about Fricke and Popol Vuh as well as the band’s discography. For my review, the black vinyl release included an outer OBI strip with info about the band and album, while the limited color release did not.
Listening to both, the green/brown colorway did have more noise present, though not enough to be a distraction; you can really only hear the slightly higher noise floor during the silent sections between tracks. The black vinyl was extremely quiet, though the reverb saturation on some of the tracks makes it tough to distinguish noise from music. All in all it’s a great sounding release and very listenable.
Much like AGAPE-AGAPE LOVE-LOVE, Spirit of Peace opens with a choral piece. It’s quite a moving song, connecting major key melodies with the Byzantine chant structure Fricke was so fond of. It was also used in Werner Herzog’s documentary The Dark Glow of the Mountains. Next, we have the subtle piano notes of the title track “Spirit of Peace (I-III).” The song moves like a meditation, creating a strange yet spacious world through the use of single notes ringing over bass accents. I found myself getting blissfully lost in the simplicity of it all. This leads into Side B closer “Song of Earth,” a song deeply reminiscent of the title theme from their score to Cobra Verde. Once again, we get layered choral patterns over light strumming, one of their trademark sounds. I like Cobra Verde a bit better, but it’s nice here too.
Side C is devoted to the extended piece “Take the Tension High.” It stands as one of the most uplifting tracks on the album, the major key guitar strumming and vocals creating a real sense of calm and peace. That being said, the length of the song and lack of chord variety make it a slight endurance test. Still, it’s a wonderful song and a high point in their catalog.
Like AGAPE-AGAPE LOVE-LOVE, Spirit of Peace come in either limited color or black vinyl. Each is packaged in single cardboard sleeves that match the original European pressing, while the black vinyl release has an OBI strip on the side with information about the band and album. The sound quality is solid on the pink/silver variant, with just a little more surface noise than the black but hardly noticeable when the album is playing. The black vinyl has a beautiful white etching of the man from the cover art featured on Side D, while the pink/silver vinyl is blank.