In the entrenched world of neofolk, it takes a unique commitment to an individual vision for the solo-project Sieben to have stood against the far-right for this long. Sieben is the work of musician Matt Howden, who is also behind the independent record label Redroom Records. Howden has always described Sieben as “one-man rawchestra” with a heavy focus on layering samples into a collage that builds on itself over a songspace. This is how we can best describe Sieben, as a musical painting that builds on its presence in a cycle of invention that you rarely find in an ensemble built on live performances.
In his new album, the rage-tinged crumbs, gets into his anger over the current state of Britain, primarily racist fake news, massively growing inequality, and the toxic xenophobia of Brexit.
“Do you want crumbs from the rich man’s table?”
“A hundred men with half the world’s wealth is a sickness.”
The title of the album comes from “Crumbs from the rich man’s table,” and it is this rage about the xenophobia employed by the rich to exploit Britain’s working class that creates both the moral and passionate center of the album. crumbs develops a looping tension that builds up steam, a feature that is common to Sieben’s entire catalogue, and with the shorter tracks it avoids the potential emotional burnout. This makes sense for an album on a mission, one that forgoes the fluff so it can get to the heart of the matter.
The lyrics for the track “Liberal Snowflake, “a reference to the common insult of leftists by the Alt Right, make it clear what Howden sees as important.
Thought I’d just lay down some basic ground rules, being that all I’ve done is moan so far…Treat all people fairly. Men and women respected the same. Be kind, decent. No poor. None with less than enough. No shareholder, but all. Let there be rich, that do not flourish on the backs of others, nor nature, nor resource. None with more than one hundred times another. Beyond that, fund a sustainable world; water, food and power for all. Nature respected. The Earth, our home. Breed less, consume less, work less, play more. No war. A million tribes and no tribe, but all. No religion but our better nature. Defunct practice dropped, the true root embraced: Good thoughts, words, actions. Laws that enshrine these, minds that do not seek to circumvent these. Break the destructive pattern of humanity’s history. Harness our collective drive and will, our life force, our creativity. Sustain and build a world that truly works. Develop ourselves. Explore the stars. As one tribe, our limits are endless.
Brexit plays its own character in crumbs, which Howden clearly sees as a rightist disaster. In “Sell Your Future” he lays out what the working class has been asked to do with Brexit, to sell out their dreams for petty nationalism
Leave guns and morals by the door. Here’s a heart, a spleen, a Brexit-ear in which to scream ‘sell your future’. Roll up, roll up, for cut-price stock. Govern-less, and out to hock.
Sieben’s motivation strays as far as possible from that of the obsessive and destructive nationalism of bands like Allerseelen and Spiritual Front, and instead rallies on a sort of left populism against racism and the ruling class, making it a universally left alternative to much of the scene. He avoids a lot of the neofolk cliches (anyone want a Nordic sigil on the cover of a dark gray album?), which has allowed him to constantly reinvent his sound, moving from something more in line with the diffuse melodies of Fire + Ice (a Nazi band if there ever was one) to a sound that interweaves everything from shoegaze to darkwave.
The entire breadth of Sieben’s work is impressive, with more than a dozen albums going back almost twenty years. We are particularly fans of The Old Magic (2016), which draws on 90s shoegaze and alt rock and mixes it with a true-to-form neofolk, a synthesis that feels sometimes like Smashing Pumpkins trying to play Rome songs.
Howden has been been quite open about his own politics, particularly in reviling the fetishism of “European culture” so prevalent in the scene.
What Sieben is best known for (at least in our scene) is their public declaration against the far-right in their folk drone anthem “Rite Against the Right” off of their 2007 album Desire Rites. This song was an intentional provocation to bands like Death in June, who are obsessed with their own pretentious Third Positionism and Strasserite Nazi symbolism.
You sad bands,
you poor Nazi boys,
I hope you get a history book
or lessons in consequences
Licking the dregs of evil-
You sad bands,
you poor Nazi boys Using symbols to shock
because your music is cock
Using symbols to shock because your music is piss-poor
Desire Rites may be the perfect neofolk classic album, baked deeply in the symbolic melody of ritual, magic performed for headphones and the kind of silent contemplation that is better when shared.
Sieben’s work requires a commitment and journey, and we encourage you to really dive in to what is an underappreciated grandmaster in the world of neofolk. It could be his perfect commitment to his own vision, both personally and politically, that has kept him out of the mainline neofolk scene dominated by brownshirts. We are putting several choice selections here, and have include “Rite Against the Right” above, and we have added several additional Sieben tracks to the Antifascist Neofolk playlist on Spotify.