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Gjallarhorn Sjofn album cover
4.24 | 13 ratings | 3 reviews | 8% 5 stars

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Studio Album, released in 2000

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Suvetar / Goddess of Spring (5:14)
2. Tova Och Konugen / Tova and the King (4:20)
3. Dejelill Och Lagerman / Dejelill and Lagerman 3:23)
4. Minuer from Jeppo / Polska (1:05)
5. Minuer from Jeppo / Polska (3:12)
6. Kom Helge Ande / Come, Holy Spirit (3:29)
7. Ncken Och Jungfrum / The Water-Sprite and the Maiden (3:15)
8. Su Ru Ruskadirej (3:55)
9. Berhfäst / Mountain Haunted (7:41)
10. Orvais Minuet (3:33)
11. Lille Dansa / Dance a Little (2:46)
12. HjaõNingaríma (2:25)
13. Sinivatsa / Dolphin Calling (10:09)

Total Time: 52:00

Line-up / Musicians

- Jenny Wilkhelms / vocals, fiddle, hardangerfiddle
- Christopher Öhman / viola, mandola, vocals, kalimba
- Tommy Mansikka-Aho / didgeridoo, slideridoo, Jew's harp, udu, djembe
- David Lillkvist / percussion (udu, djembe, darabuka, congas, bongos, shamantrumma framdrum, shakers, snaredrum, tomtoms, bassdrums, cymbals, triangle, surdo, cowdrum, chimes, tambourine, kalimba)

Guest artists:
- Sara Puljula / double bass on 3 tracks

Releases information

CD NorthSide 6052 (2000)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Neu!mann for the last updates
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GJALLARHORN Sjofn ratings distribution

(13 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(8%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(83%)
Good, but non-essential (8%)
Collectors/fans only (0%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

GJALLARHORN Sjofn reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by The Prognaut
5 stars "Sjofn" is undoubtedly the sort of album that deserves not only your complete attention when you're listening to it, but more than a couple of ears to let it flow into your depths. All you need to do is sharpen up your senses by turning them into one at the time you're closing your eyes and kicking back to the music. This is the band's second album, and yet it sounds particularly strange, like nothing we have heard before by the Finnish quartet led by the celestial voice of Jenny WILHELMS; which to my concern, is one of the most revealing female leading voices of the nowadays prog scene and the one that has been eternally consistent. Sometimes it's quite inevitable to think of Emila DERKOWSKA (who stepped out of Polish band QUIDAM last year as many of you might know) or Magdalena HAGBERG of PLP when listening to Jenny's voice, but each one of them sound off absolutely different when compassed with the very own instrumentation put together by the band to bring out their voices and charisma. And speaking of instrumentation, when I recently discovered GJALLARHORN, I resembled their work to the one accomplished by legendary Swedish band ÄNGLAGÅRD in the early nineties, but surprisingly to me, the Finnish band was also formed during that decade, so maybe it could've existed some kind of feedback in between the Nordic bands due the proximities and the remains of culture both countries share and since GJALLARHORN is part of the ancestral Swedish community settled in Finland. The symphonic arrangements in "Sjofn" are practically impossible to tell apart from the "Hybris" and "Epilog" ones, so you might as well, listen to them separately.

The perfect blend of acoustic instruments and beautiful nature sounds make Jenny's voice carry the whole album away magically with the anticipation of African rhythms or mythical didgeridoo as in "Suvetar" and "Näcken och Junfrun" respectively. In "Su Ru Ruskadirej", Jenny exploits her voice so beautifully that makes the entire album worth-listening and entitles this song as the one standing up for the rest. Apart from the musical numbers I just described, there are many others that deserve special attention because of the difficulty and inconveniences of making instrumental passages convincing; particularly medieval suite "Bergfäst" and "Orvais". As I suggested, the arrangements are exceptional, the instrumentation is sweetly performed and the sensitiveness is in the air ready to be absorbed, even by the most exigent ears. There's nothing but flawless songs on this album.

So original, impressive and fresh, that incites to be imitated; the Finnish band style is as pure as polished that some other folkloric/art rock bands could easily look up to them. I think DJAM KARET or NETHERWORLD could learn a thing or two from the Nordic quartet as well. This production is, fearlessly to be wrong about recommending it; impeccable and a must to unpredictable and audacious proggers. You'll get hooked on their music.

Review by ClemofNazareth
4 stars There seems to me to be something about Swedish musicians (or in this case Swedish-speaking Finnish ones) that really demands attention. Maybe it’s because of my great-great-great grandfather Sven Peter’s bloodlines, not sure, but the attraction is very strong and persistent.

But some of the best folk-leaning music from that region also seems to have a tendency toward broad experimentation in instrumentation as well as both fanciful and regionally-traditional themes, all of which add to the appeal. Gjallarhorn are no exception. This album, though featuring only a quartet of musicians still manages to employ no less than two dozen instruments, many of them falling in the ‘world music’ category. There are of course regional traditional instruments such as the Norwegian (hardanger) fiddle, Celtic tenor mandola, viola and violin. But the band turns to both South America and Africa for their percussion, and this is where they manage to turn what might be otherwise unexceptional folk music into something vibrant and hypnotic. From Africa the band employs the sounds of a kalimba (thumb piano), bongos, djembe, kalimba hand piano, udu; from Arab lands the wooden-sounding darabuka; and from Brazil the surdo drum. The distinctive sounds of the Australian didgeridoo and slideridoo continue from the band’s first album, as does the mungiga (Jew’s harp), which I never noticed before but that instrument actually sounds a bit like a didgeridoo at times.

Lead vocalist Jenny Wilkhelms has a surprisingly soft and melodic vocal timbre, which I say only because most of my previous experience with Nordic female singers is that they seem to tend toward a certain level of shrillness, particularly in their native tongues. Gjallarhorn (and Wilkhelms in particular) have been compared to their countrymen (or is that countrywomen) Värttinä, only without the heavy trilling in the singing. Vocally I think that’s an accurate description, but musically Gjallarhorn are far more adventurous than Värttinä’s basically folk-infused pop music. Just a side observation, but worth noting. One other spurious observation: on “Dejelill och Lagerman” Wilkhelms’ chanting sounds strikingly like Kate Bush’s “Leave it Open” or maybe the title track from ‘The Dreaming’.

So back to the percussion, which really makes the music here stand out from other Nordic folk acts. Petter Berndalen is a classically trained percussionist who actually holds a university degree in Swedish folk music (who knew there was such a thing). When listening to these tracks I try to imagine them without the various drums, bells, whistles and shakers. Frankly they would end up being good music anyway since Wilkhelms is an accomplished writer and her vocals complement the strings quite well, but overall my impression is the songs would sound dated and rather pedestrian without Berndalen.

The vocals here are all (I assume) sung in Swedish; at least I know they’re not in English. The themes are fanciful (goddesses, water sprites, haunted mountains and fair kings), as well as with historical and cultural references. In several places Wilkhelms overdubs herself with her own vocal tracks, and this combined with what sounds like 16-track recording with several percussion tracks gives the impression there are a lot more musicians involved than there really are. It would seem that this album gestated for quite a while in the studio. The strings are also quite exceptional throughout, and especially because they manage to avoid that distinctly Nordic trap of sounding morbid and depressing. These folks get plenty of time in the sun and it shows in their music. The strings are at times languid, even sad, but never mournful and usually quite vibrant. A press photo of the band on their web site’s home page shows them standing in a sunny meadow instead of a dank, dark castle like so many other Nordic bands are cast, and the upbeat outlook also shows in their music.

I’m not sure there is a highlight on the album, but one other track worth noting is the instrumental “Berhfäst” which combines the Norwegian and traditional fiddles with a bit of viola into a really gorgeous string composition that seems altogether far shorter than the nearly eight minutes that it runs. I’ve played this several times over and can’t quite put my finger on what makes it special, but the effect of the strings is very hypnotic.

So I don’t know much about these guys beyond what’s on their web site and what I have read here and elsewhere, but I like their music and am already looking into the rest of their discography. This is an excellent, dynamic, upbeat and multi-layered modern folk album from a band with a bright future. Four stars without a doubt and very highly recommended to both folk and world music fans.


Review by Neu!mann
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.

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