I first encountered Sol Invictus around 1990, through a friend with eclectic music tastes; perhaps the only way (well, barring reading about it on E2) to find out about any band on the mostly "weird British music" World Serpent label. The genre SI plays was known at the time as "apocalyptic folk" (neofolk and neoclassical are the other two appellations), most likely because it relies on simple, unamplified instrumentation, often repetitive patterns in the music, and chords used in traditional music. The apocalyptic part comes from a variety of themes and influences: the World Wars, rise of global capitalism coupled with wanton exploitation of the Earth's resources, misinformation via media manipulation by the powers that be, and overall descent into madness sort of thing.

Dresden burning in the night, Coventry is still alight
Above the pain the blood and fire
Comes the sigh: we're ruled by liars
--- Fields, from Lex Talionis (1989)

It's not cheerful listening, but it's evocative and powerful.

The tools

There's far more to Sol Invictus than that, however. From the band's start in mid 1980s, band founder Tony Wakeford pursued a persistent vision, strengthened by the fact that he is the composer and sole constant performer - the supporting musicians come and go with each album, although there are several (notably Karl Blake, Matt Howden, Eric Roger, Sally Doherty - all of whom have their own musical careers) repeat offenders.

I do not believe creativity's a democratic pursuit.
--T.W. in Thoughtbites from 'Above us the sun' (1994 Tursa 009)

Being the sole creative driving force for Sol Invictus presumably lets Wakeford stay true to his creation, joining with suitable outside talent when necessary but not needing it to create. Over the years, Sol Invictus has recorded plain acoustic guitar and vocals albums, other times that simple ensemble is augmented by violin or cello work; an older album features harpsichord, flute and possibly timpani. Newer works see the introduction of multi-layered classic instruments, synthesizer effects and even a departure into jazz structures. All of this augments Wakeford's grim and gravelly (but passionate, often bard-like) singing, the appeal of which he still professes incredulity at.

"And I've worked out a way to get the live performances more like the record, as I originally intended with my first ideas about the production—cloning. We only need three Karls, four Sallys, five Erics and possibly sixteen of me… for that big string sound on 'The Thrill Has Gone'. Fifteen of me can go to the bar for most of the rest of the set. Oh, and a Tony too."
--Producer and violin player Matt Howden on the production of Thrones (2002)

Whether the slow rise in complexity is natural band evolution or sheer tangential experimentation is a little hard to decide, and fairly irrelevant. However, the fact that Mr. Wakeford has released a few albums under his own name (not as Sol Invictus) to explore new sounds implies that perhaps evolution is the correct answer. Sol Invictus concerts are purely acoustic and mostly minimal affairs of fairly high production: in fact the albums Trieste (1999, released 2001), Brugge (1996, released 2001) and Paris (1994, released 2002) were released on the strength of the performances in those locations.

The imagery

As mentioned, several of traditional apocalyptic folk themes are in use, but far it be for Mr. Wakeford to pigeonhole himself into treating a limited topic spread. On a typical album you may find songs praising the ancient gods side by side with the ballad of Sawney Bean. A homage to the idea of Europe, as well as a ritual bemoaning of that idea's dissipation are also frequently present.

Q: So what do you see as the great threats to the European culture?
Wakeford: I would have to say America, although it's a cliché. The ideology and the culture that is seen, simplistically, as under the banner of the dollar. It's a very pervasive culture, an invasion of hearts and minds.
--Per Norstrom and Johan Birgander interviewing Tony Wakeford, 1994

An ironic depiction of Christian devoutness (see Crusades) - Kneel to the Cross - is only a few songs away from ballad Fields, which speaks of the horrific loss of life in World War II.

While the earlier albums feel far more vitriolic in their criticisms of Christianity, commercialism and warmongery, the trend abates only slightly to the present day, turning towards pagan imagery and the triumph of the old powers (not quite Cthulhu, but definitely pre-Christ) over the new (that being newcomer Jesus and his recent rival, dollar). Interspersed are grim stories of human cruelty over the centuries, from murder, incest and insanity, to wars, both ancient and modern.

Dig a grave and put some people in
Shoot them dead, then fill it in
With our little banners and our little drums
Nothing changes, but I'm told that it's fun
--- The Watching Moon, from King and Queen (1992)

The man

It is hard to say anything about anyone without actually knowing them, so here's what I'll do. I'll post a few interview questions and responses, then let the reader go check out the rest. As to bio and such, this node is really about the band, so I'll just mention that Mr. Wakeford, along with Death in June's Douglas P. were both in the left-wing punk band Crisis before forming Death in June - Mr. Wakeford later left to form Sol Invictus on his own and has been doing that ever since. In 1990 he formed his own record label Tursa and has been pressing CDs that way ever since as well; this is easily confirmed by looking on the inside of the CD inner disk, where the label is stamped. World Serpent is also credited on almost every CD, so perhaps it is a collaborative effort (Tursa pays, World Serpent presses?). Anyway, on to the quotes.


Q: Can you tell me what interests you in magic? As I do not think your experiences involve Satanism, goats, long tunics and animal sacrifice, can you explain what magic can bring to you?
TW: Well at present I have next to no interest in magic as such. [...] In fact I can quite understand why chickens and goats are so popular in rituals. They are more interesting and have a lot more going for them then many of the idiots dancing round them in circles. I just wish the chickens and goats would get together and start sacrificing the magicians.


Q:What is your vision of Europe?
TW: I feel at home in Europe and have a number of good friends there. It still seems that people are happy to define themselves with flags and the dead weight of states. They probably always will. I prefer to see Europe as a collection of regions. I think on the whole they are healthier reflections of a people and its culture than the promotion of mainly eighteenth and nineteenth century nation states.


Q: Can you name some highs and lows of your career so far, music—or otherwise?
Tony: Well the baby-eating Nazi rubbish gets a tad boring.


Tony on Sol's name:
The name comes from a pre-Christian Rome-based cult. Many of its trappings were taken over by the church. The name means 'the unconquered (or victorious) sun', and it was brought back by the Legionaries returning from Persia. The sun has always been an important symbol and as the cult of Sol Invictus nearly defeated Christianity at one point it seemed a good name to use. I also love the sound of Latin.


Tony on religion:
My criticism of organised religion is the same as my criticism of other institutions. That in the end they are elements in a mass culture that on the one hand oppresses and yet also panders to the masses. But religion is dying which may be a good thing, but it is sad if it is only usurped by shopping.


Tony on his themes:
The victory of Industrial Capitalism has meant that we are now ruled in reality by a faceless and honourless plutocracy. As the sole basis for its existence is in the amassing of wealth and power this means the leveling of humanity into easily manageable units.

This perhaps explains why I became intrigued by Sol Invictus whilst starting college as a disillusioned neo-hippie (in Austin, which helps); I haven't really learned anything since that would make me stop listening.

There is a lot more material on FLUXEUROPA's site, good reading for those interested in what makes an iconoclast tick. Tony comes across as a very cynical, tongue-in-cheek artist with a lot of joy for the world - just not its current incarnation.

Discography

  • Against The Modern World LP (Eyes Media, 1987)
  • In The Jaws Of The Serpent LP (SVL, 1989)
  • Lex Talionis LP (Cerne 1989)
  • Sol Veritas Lux (Tursa, 1990)
  • Lex Talionis (Tursa 1990)
  • Trees in Winter (Tursa, 1990
  • The Killing Tide (Tursa, 1991)
  • Let us prey (live, Tursa, 1992)
  • King and Queen (Tursa, 1992)
  • The death of the west (Tursa, 1994)
  • In the rain (Tursa, 1995)
  • The blade (Tursa, 1997)
  • In Europa (compilation, Tursa, 1998)
  • All things strange and rare (rare tracks, Tursa, 1998)
  • In a garden green (Tursa, 1999)
  • Trieste (live, Tursa, 2000)
  • Hill of Crosses (Tursa, 2000)
  • Brugge (live, Tursa, 2001)
  • Thrones (Tursa, 2002)
  • The Giddy Whirls of Centuries (compilation, Tursa, 2002)
  • The Angel (compilation, Tursa, 2004)
  • The Devil's Steed (Tursa, 2005)
  • La Croix (Auerbach Tonträger, 2011)
  • The Cruellest Month (Auerbach Tonträger, 2011)
  • The Collected Works (27-disc box set, Auerbach Tonträger, 2011)
  • Cupid & Death (Auerbach Tonträger, 2012)

In God we trust,
But not too much.
--- In God we Trust, from Thrones (2002)


Sources:
http://www.funprox.com/bands/artist.asp?artist=Sol%20Invictus
http://www.fluxeuropa.com/solinvictus.htm
http://www.tursa.com/
My own CD collection, liner notes, lyrics
Lyrics used by permission from Mr. Wakeford

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