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Garmarna - Garmarna CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.47 | 5 ratings

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Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars In what is probably a misguided attempt to get back to the ‘roots’ I never actually knew I’ve been dabbling in Scandinavian folk music lately, and particularly Swedish which is where my ancestors somewhere in the distant past extricated themselves from when they headed west across the big pond to Kansas. And being a proglodyte it seemed like progressive folk was a good place to start.

Unfortunately I can’t find a whole lot of information about Garmarna’s debut EP, at least not much that is in English. The liner notes of this Northside Records reissue isn’t much help either, as it lists the tracks in Swedish and English along with the player credits, but little else. It’s not surprising that a Minnesota label would be the one to reissue this considering the huge numbers of people of Scandinavian descent in that area.

The band has apparently been successfully in and around their homeland with their more recent records that blend sequenced digital sounds with traditional instruments and a sort of pseudo-medieval sound. But this first record isn’t that: in fact, all the instrumentation is acoustic, and many of the tracks are instrumentals. Most of those appear to be some variant of traditional Swedish polskas, or folk dances. The rhythms are smooth and even and the meters fairly simple but the strings are strident and rather harsh, evoking a mood of the stark and cold Nordic countryside in winter.

Not that this is a bad thing; indeed, the earthiness and pallid emotion becomes quite seductive, but I have to admit it took several spins for this music to start to grow on me.

Of the first seven tracks from the original 1993 Massproduktion EP release three are traditional polskas that sound quite similar, rather short with those harsh strings (violin, viola, lute and bouzouki) along with sporadic jew’s harp and some acoustic guitar. “Jordbyggarlåten” (Earth-digger’s Song) is also a traditional tune, but is a bit softer with strumming acoustic guitar and more violin, almost classical; while yet another folk tune “Herr Olof” features wide-ranging vocals from guest musician Emma Härdelin (who would join the band following the release of this EP). The final track from the original EP is “Klevabergselden” (Kleveberg's Fire), another dance-inspired instrumental written by lutist/guitarist Gotte Ringqvist and multi-instrumentalist Stefan Brisland- Ferner who also employs a hurdy-gurdy here.

The rest of the reissue CD apparently comes from 1992 demo recordings by the band. These tracks are much more animated and upbeat, with noticeably more percussion, some sequenced programming sounds, and extended hurdy-gurdy and violas passages. Most of these were written by Brisland-Ferner or guitarist/bassist Rickard Westman according to the liner notes, although the last two (“Skenpolska” and “Klevabergselden”) are not attributed on the album and sound as if they too are traditional tunes. All the bonus demo tracks are instrumentals, and the production quality is a bit less lush than the original EP tracks, but overall they seem to add to the old-time folk feel of this album.

What little else I’ve heard of these guys is closer to the mainstream of modern folk, and much of it even crosses into an almost dance music area; but this first recording is very conservative, traditional, and quite beautiful. As a folk music fan I am quickly growing to love this record, although as a prog nut I have to say that these guys are probably an acquired taste and may not be for everyone, and especially not for neo or metal fans. If you fit those descriptions you probably won’t be impressed; otherwise, I’d highly recommend this one and give it four stars without much reservation.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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