JOACHIM WITT - RÜBEZAHLS REISE
Reviewer Score: 8 out of 10
Rübezahl's 5-year journey…
…comes to its end. Here we have the third album of the conceptual trilogy that started in 2018 with the release of the first album of the "Rübezahl" series. At that time, as I believe, Witt was on some kind of creative decline, having released albums that were not the most successful ones in his discography: “Ich” and “Thron”, although each of them, of course, had some more than decent tracks. But, obviously, some kind of creative booster is sometimes necessary even for such big musicians. And in the case of Joachim Witt, Chris Harms became such a booster, together with whom they formed the sound of the album “Rübezahl” and, as it turned out, its sequels. Witt's new sound turned out to be the heaviest… No, that's not the word ‒ it turned out to be the most guitar-oriented album in his entire career. As far as I know, not all Witt fans appreciated such a metamorphosis, but personally I was completely satisfied. Of course, because I consider Chris Harms to be one of the best producers of the modern German stage, and the collaboration with Witt was bound to result in something interesting. And so, we've got a monumental Gothic Metal project, where dynamically sounding guitars were giving their way to atmospheric keyboards, and long melodic passages giving their way to almost industrial riffs. In the same vein, the second album of the trilogy “Rübezahls Rückkehr” (“The Comeback of Rübetzal”) was recorded that was released in 2020. It also had enough hit tunes and catchy moments, but, in general, the album already came out slightly more lyrical than its predecessor. And now, almost 2 years later, Witt and Harms have presented to us the third and, obviously, the final part of this series of albums called “Rübezahls Reise” (“The Journey of Rübezahl”). But in order to better understand this album and the general idea of the album series, it will be useful to find out who this Rübezahl is and what he has to do with Witt.
Rübezahl is a hero of German (and later Czech) folklore. The first mention of him appeared in the 15th century in Silesia. Rübezahl is the guardian spirit of the mountains and nature in general. Like all the heroes of German folklore, this is not a good or evil being, capable of doing both good deeds and some kind of scheme. This character is quite noticeable and significant in German culture: more than a dozen of operas were written on the plot of the tales about Rübezahl. Thus, it becomes clear why Joachim Witt drew attention to him during the work on the first record of the trilogy. Rübezahl is both the personification of German folk art and an important character of classical German music what makes him an excellent contender for the main role in such an ambitious project. In addition to that, Witt's Rübezahl received many of author's traits, according to Joachim Witt himself in an interview, so the work can be considered especially personal. Now, having plunged a little into the context, we realize that the trilogy “Rübezahl” was actually conceived and created as a kind of a rock opera in three acts. And it is the third act of this opera that fits this definition perfectly, being the most monumental and symphonic of all the works. Evaluating “Rübezahls Reise” from this angle, you understand the idea of the authors of the project and give them a standing ovation at the end of the last act. But if you look at the album in isolation from this entire conceptual idea, just like a collection of tracks, it becomes a little boring…
Yes, in my opinion, Witt and Harms got a little carried away with the idea of a classical production, which is the reason why the album listens too stringy and mournful. This is, actually, some kind of Symphonic/Doom Metal, and then this definition sounds more interesting than the actual music itself. We have one hour of good, but very slow and pretentious music. The most “driving” song on the album is, perhaps, the album's opening song called “Rübezahl”. And even it looks more like the introduction to a story than an independent track. Next comes pure Doom Metal, performed by Joachim together with Chris. In the song called “In Einsamkeit” I can again marvel at Harms' ability to mimic almost any performer. When he was recording track with Dero, it was sometimes hard to distinguish between Harms' and Dero's part. Here, too, an unprepared listener sometimes may not understand where the main vocal and where the guest part is… Moreover, Witt and Dero are not particularly similar in their vocal abilities, but Harms can successfully imitate any timbre and manner of performance or so masterfully records vocal parts… Anyway, “In Einsamkeit”, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful compositions of the album. It is followed by “So Fern” that reminded me of Unheilig with its introduction, and to be even more precise, those instrumental tracks that opened (or completed) the latest releases of the Graph. Not bad, but this song is a passing one, I think, but the following track called “Shandai Ya”, performed with The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices choir, is already much more interesting because of its oriental flavor. And that's right, if Rübezahl is the spirit of the mountains, then why should he be the spirit of only European ones? A very successful eclecticism of national motifs and a tune that instantly settles in memory makes “Shandai Ya” a contender for the main hit of the record. It is followed by a Nordic gloomy ballad called “Die Wölfe Ziehen” that has the opposite atmosphere. Here I have already had associations with some shamanic rituals and ancient pagan forces, but after all, this is exactly what Rübezahl belongs to, so everything is logical… A powerfully performed track that brings you almost to a trance state. The next track ‒ “Abendwind” ‒ does not have such an impact, unfortunately. Just another ballad, nothing special. But the next track ‒ “Das Leben in mir” ‒ was released as one of the singles, and I don't quite understand why. On the one hand, it pretty well reflects the mood of the entire album in general; it is as viscous and epic as the entire record. On the other hand, I don't see much hit potential in it. However, the song is definitely not the weakest one on the album.
I completely agree with the choice of the next ballad as a single ‒ it is “Dein Stern”, performed together with Claudia Uhle. Actually, she can be sent to Eurovision song contest. A beautiful, melancholic ballad that you want to listen to again and again. No doubt that this track is one of the decorations of the album. The electronic intro and rhythmic drums of the next track already inspire hope for something more dynamic, but “Die Seele” ruins this hope with its monotonous chorus. You can compare this track with “So Fern”, in other words, you can listen to it, of course, but it's not particularly interesting. Musically, it looks more like some kind of soundtrack. But I'll make a reservation here: all this works if you evaluate the album as a part of a single conceptual work, but here and now you often want to switch to the next track. And there we have “Bernstein” that turned out to be something like the act of a certain musical on a pagan theme. But if “Die Wölfe Ziehen” created a real atmosphere of a pagan ritual, then “Bernstein” looks exactly like a theatrical production on the same topic, which is also interesting in its own way.
That's how we slide into the last two tracks on the album, the first of which called “Ich Spür Die Liebe In Mir” is, oddly enough, another ballad on the album (who would doubt it). Again, a good, but again not an outstanding one. And finally, the album ends with “Mein Leben”, for a short time, literally for 3 minutes, returning us to Witt's hit past. It feels like “Mein Leben” is that final song of a musical, when the story is already over and all the characters run out on stage and perform something cheery.
That is how interesting, unusual and original the third collaborative album of Joachim Witt and Chris Harms turned out to be, on which there was a place for hits, Doom Metal passages, and pop ballads... Besides to that, of all three albums, it is “Rübezahls Reise” that seems to me the most suitable to be put on stage. This is a very theatrical work, which is sometimes difficult to perceive in isolation from its stage ambitions. Musically, compositionally, lyrically this is a very competent work, but I, as a listener, lacked some dynamics, at least. The album is quite worthy of one of the highest scores, but I am not so objective and will only give it 8 out of 10.