Common wisdom would have you believe that most bands approaching their third decade, and / or seventh album, will have found either a comfortable groove, or a furrow that they like to plough, and that the desire to challenge themselves and their supporters, to expand or revitalise their sound, has probably been dissipated to some degree. The cycle begats the (album) cycle and the artist, conscious of the desired output, sates the audience even if they do make token refinements to keep their own creative beasts content. For while there may be tweaks and tinkerings, there are, deep-down, a forest path of a woodland much explored, not often adventures anew.
On a brisk fall evening we arrive at SPACE Gallery in down town Portland and await the avant-garde Black Metal explosion that was set to begin. Emma Parsons and my self make a home stage left where we can sit comfortably and still see the bands. All around the room are the banners that have been closed while all the other bands play as not to ruin the experience that Wolves In The Throne Room delivers.Continue reading
The brainchild of Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna), Skuggsjá was a project created to celebrate the Bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution, and ‘A Piece For Mind and Mirror’ (Season of Mist) is the result.
Of course, as everyone outside of Norway is well aware, the country’s two hundredth anniversary was actually back in 2014, and that was when Bjørnson and Selvik were initially approached to perform a collaborative piece at the Eidsivablot Festival in Eidsvoll, Norway (where else?). Going by the name Skuggsjá (which translates into ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection’), the pair decided the project deserved pursuing further. They performed together again at Roadburn Festival in 2015, with them secretly slipping into studios in and around Norway over the year to record material whenever possible.
Joined by the likes of Grutle Kjellson and Cato Bekkevold (Enslaved), Lindy-Fay Hella (Wardruna), and folk musicians Eilif Gundersen and Olav L Mjelva, the band have attempted to contextualise their brand of ‘harder’ music in the country’s two hundred years of history, looking at the cultural traditions and ideals of the nation and how relevant aspects of the past connect with the present. So, nice and easy then.
The band use traditional instruments (most of them handmade by Selvik himself, the multi-instrumentalist even going so far as to skin the hides of animals to make drums) such as the Birch-bark lure, Hardanger fiddle, bone-flute, Goat-horn, Kravik lyre, and Tagelharpa as well as all the usual instruments associated with the more contemporary genre of Black Metal. There are some modern electronics in there too, while the lyrics are a combination of early Scandinavian, Norwegian, and Norse.
This isn’t an album to be dissected track by track, but rather one that should be enjoyed as a whole, ideally listened to in a single sitting and free from distraction in order to fully absorb its magic. While relaxing during its more atmospheric parts, it’s easy to allow yourself to be transported to the edge of a cold Norwegian shoreline, looking out to sea as longboats silhouetted against the moonlit horizon move silently inshore, shrouded in a thick, ethereal fog. Er… well, anyway. It all sounds very, very Norwegian.
The heavier sections, most noticeable during ‘Rop Frå Røynda – Mælt Frå Minne’ and the ten and a half minute Bathory-esque ‘Skuggsjá‘, complement those instrumental, occasionally narrated parts perfectly, dropping in at the right moments, hitting you hard and never outstaying their welcome. Sometimes though, like with songs such as opener ‘Ull Kjem’, or closer ‘Ull Gjekk’, it’s the traditional instruments and different vocal styles, rather than the distorted guitars or blastbeats, which create the greatest, most lasting impact.
None more Norse.
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