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Gjallarhorn - Sjofn CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.25 | 12 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars No album deserves five unconditional stars at first exposure, but the second (and best) effort by Gjallarhorn might prove to be an exception. The acoustic folk quartet inhabits a place where myth and music overlap, but don't expect to hear another unwashed folk art anthropology act. In textbook Prog fashion the group sits easily astride opposing worlds: the contemporary and the traditional, playing in a style far too modern for the Folk Music tag but too authentically ancient for any strictly Progressive cubbyhole.

It's a great combination, arranged here in perfect balance: part medieval austerity, part toe-tapping finesse, locally sourced but with a much wider appeal. The Hardanger fiddles and mandolas give the music its rustic flavor, conjuring images of distant boreal forest under heavy snow. And the didgeridoo (!) provides the unique pagan aura..."the constant shamanistic pulse of the old tunes", as noted in the extensive CD this instance recalling the drone of a malfunctioning Celtic bagpipe but still evoking backwoods Scandinavia (the group hails from western Finland, but has strong cultural ties to nearby Sweden).

An arsenal of discreet but ubiquitous percussion further enhances the band's global reach, extending far beyond their winter homeland toward India, central Africa, and back-of-beyond Australia. But the real attraction here is the dulcet voice of Jenny Wilhelms, to this Anglophile sounding not unlike a Nordic Annie Haslam, with the same transparent clarity and astonishing octave range. Her multi-tracked choral harmonies are things of mesmeric beauty, whether intoning a pre-Christian hymn to the spirits of air and earth ("Kom Helge Ande"), recalling playful age-old fables ("Tova och Konungen", given extra bounce from some funky upright double bass), or invoking the healing wind deity Suvetar in the song of the same name, which rises from a simple kalimba intro to an ecstasy of elemental power, all the more impressive considering the lack of electronics.

Wilhelms was also the album's primary composer, usually integrating lyrics borrowed from traditional sources, sung in Swedish but helpfully translated to English inside the CD booklet. Progressive Rock has often looked to folklore for inspiration, but rarely with this degree of legitimacy, drawn from songs and stories already embedded deep inside the band's collective psyche, about water sprites, Icelandic trolls, handsome kings and peasant girls, and...dolphins? The latter aren't exactly native to the Ostrobothnia region of Finland, but no matter: the otherworldly sounds (recorded in the South Pacific) only add more texture to an already atmospheric performance.

The album was named for the Norse goddess of love: "the guardian of these recordings", says the band on the CD's back cover. Fair enough, no wonder I'm smitten. If the music of northern European latitudes is like a lodestone to you as well, prepare to be compelled by the irresistible magnetic tug of this innovative group.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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