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Gjallarhorn - Rimfaxe  CD (album) cover



Prog Folk

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3 stars Gjallarhorn’s fourth album is their most polished by far, and in some ways their least interesting (possibly for the same reason). The most noticeable difference is the relatively less pronounced use of widely varied percussive instruments that marked the band’s second and third albums. Petter Berndalen, who boasts an advanced university degree in folk percussion, still outpaces most every other prog percussionist I know, but he tends to rely a bit too much on hand drums here for my liking, and a bit less on some of the more ethnic and exotic hand instruments he experimented with earlier in the band’s career.

The other notable change is the much-reduced presence of didgeridoo drone, replaced for the most part with a recorder that doesn’t quite do the same job. That said, aside from drone there are some quite nice flute and recorder passages on “Systrarna”, the guttural “Hymn” and folksy “Staffan”. Jenny Willhelms seems to back away from her violin and hardanger fiddle as well, except for the two ‘Taklax’ tracks (1037 and 1034), both of which are instrumentals centered on her trademark strident fiddling and vaguely Celtic trills.

My favorite tune here is the all-acoustic and guitar-picking centered “Staffan” with its sparse hand drumming, Willhelms’ soothing chants and just a touch of mandola for effect. A modern Scandinavian folk classic, fer sher. The other song worth mentioning is the dark and pulsating “Blacken” with its heavy violin progressions, loosely syncopated acoustic drums, tense breaks and WIllhelms’ turgid singing. This one will likely end up on the inevitable ‘Best of’ album the band will release some time in the near future.

The most impressive thing about this album is that it was produced by American Bruce Swedien, five-time Grammy Award winner and sound engineer of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, the biggest selling music album in history.

This album won’t come anywhere close to that, but it is a decent hour of Scandinavian folk with African, Arab and European folk nuances. I’ve enjoyed playing it several times, particularly on quiet evenings; but I can’t say as this is a CD that is ever going to be in heavy rotation on my disc changer. In fact I’ll probably toss it on the shelf next to the rest of the band’s CDs in anticipation of a cold winter night when an ambient Swedish record fits the bill. Good enough for three stars but not much more than that.


Report this review (#232161)
Posted Monday, August 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars The fourth and last album from the dynamic Scandinavian roots music ensemble improved on its predecessor ("Grimborg", 2002), but fatally trapped the band in a pitfall of their own making. Progressive Rock aficionados know the story all too well, how the challenges of coping with sudden acclaim prompted several line-up changes, which in turn undermined the band's unique chemistry, and so on...

New percussionist Peter Berndalen introduced a conventional drum kit to a rhythm section previously known for its eclectic ethnicity. And that distinctive didgeridoo/slideridoo, as much a key to the Gjallarhorn sound as Jenny Wilhelms's striking voice, was excised entirely, replaced by newcomer Göran Månsson and his sub-contrabass recorder, a modern instrument lacking the same, compelling pagan buzz of the ancient Australian 'drone pipe'.

But the group truly crossed an aesthetic Rubicon by allowing the new album to be mixed (in the United States) by Bruce Swedien, multiple Grammy winner and producer to superstars, in what had to be a calculated bid for a wider slice of the World Music Pie. The finished product is easy on the ears, but the slick new sound upset the delicate equilibrium between traditional music and contemporary recording that made their first albums so timeless.

The music itself at least shows more vitality than on the moribund "Grimborg", and was performed with admirable professionalism, albeit tainted by a nagging sense of commercial detachment. A happy exception is the song "Blacken", like the album itself named after another fabulous horse from Nordic mythology, and exhibiting all the deep Scandinavian passion and mystery missing elsewhere on the disc.

Listening to the album on its own terms can still be a pleasant experience. But the decision to elevate material ambition over the music was a mistake, and the genuine spiritual energy of early Gjallarhorn is missed. Think Global, Act Local, should have stayed the band's mantra, instead of the other way round.

Report this review (#1587100)
Posted Wednesday, July 13, 2016 | Review Permalink

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