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Gjallarhorn - Ranarop / Call of the Sea Witch CD (album) cover

RANAROP / CALL OF THE SEA WITCH

Gjallarhorn

 

Prog Folk

3.97 | 6 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Gjallarhorn are a band that have shown a strong interest in percussion since their beginning, and there are several such exotic sounds on this (their debut) album. Turkish jazz musician Okay Temiz appears as a guest and is credited with playing the tabla, darabouka, finger cymbals and “slagverk”, which I think is a generic term referring to any combination of instruments that one happens to pound on with a stick or mallet. This gives the album a world music sound and a musical range that the band themselves didn’t quite have the expertise to pull off at that point in their career. But they would remedy that by adding master percussionist Petter Berndalen to their lineup by the time they recorded the follow-up to this album.

I guess there’s a central theme here focused on Norse mythology and folklore, as is most of Gjallarhorn’s music. In fact, the album was named as Finland’s 1997 folk CD of the year, and the group was named folk band of the year. That’s really what established them for the rest of their career. But unless you know Swedish, Finnish and whatever obscure regional dialects some of the lyrics are printed and sung in you will have to rely on translated song titles and your imagination to figure out what Jenny Willhelms is singing about.

As with their other albums Ms. Willhelms’ voice is striking, wide-ranging and expressive without becoming shrill (for the most part), as sometimes happens with female Nordic singers. She also seems to sing more on this album than on the subsequent three, perhaps because there is noticeably less instrumental variety here than on those records. The band seems to be working to find their sound and doing an admirable job, but with not quite the sense of purpose that ‘Sjofn’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Grimborg’ would have.

I’ve compared these guys to Garmarna before and probably will again since it’s a valid comparison, and even more so with this album on songs like “I riden så...” where the Turkish percussion is not so noticeable and the band’s more fundamental Nordic folk sound comes to the forefront.

There is one tendency on this album that I found a bit annoying, and it surfaced again on ‘Grimborg’ so is worth mentioning. With some of their more mellow tunes (relatively-speaking of course – this is folk music after all), the band offers up nothing more than one or two instruments (typically some sort of hand drum and some bleats from their didgeridoo), then Ms. Willhelms languidly chants out some old Nordic folk tale. The real problem is that the instrumentation is so sparse that not only is the mood of the album lost, but those songs are actually quite hard to hear so you’ll want to be close to a volume knob as you listen to this record. “Sjöjungfrun och konungadottern” is the most noticeable song like this, but “Kulning” suffers from this as well. Speaking of “Kulning”, Willhelms does some of her trill pagan chanting on that one – that’ll make your hair stand up.

I’m sure this album is more important to Swedish and Finnish folks than to someone like me. I like this band, and although some of their later albums suffer from overproduction and what seems to be too much focus on mass appeal, this debut is a great snapshot of a band in the process of becoming something cohesive, articulate and special. Progressive folk fans will undoubtedly find this record enchanting, as will most world music fans. Four stars for an excellent debut, and well recommended to those types of people I just mentioned.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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