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Garmarna - Förbundet CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.75 | 3 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

4 stars Every now and again, as a reviewer, it's fun to take chances on bands you've never listened to, or even ever heard of, before. Sometimes it does not end up too well as it turns out you really do not like the album you randomly picked from the pile of promos. But other times you end up discovering little gems that you would have never come across otherwise. I am glad to report that Swedish band Garmarna are one of the "happy chances" of my life as TMO reviewer: Forbundet, their seventh album in a career that spans across nearly 30 years, is a spellbinding album that offers an intriguing blend of folk and electronica (a genre sometimes dubbed "folktronica"), where traditional chorales and medieval ballads are sung in a musical language made of beats, loops and drones as well as traditional acoustic instruments like the moraharpa (a relative of the hurdy gurdy), the Kantele, or the Hardanger fiddle (similar to a violin).

It's a fascinating mix, made even more interesting by the traditional tales of loss, death and murder that the band puts to music. The lyrics are in fact based on folklore and legends from Sweden and the Swedish speaking Islands of Estonia, and include a 16th-century tale of the battles and adventures of warrior Ramund, stories of sisters and brothers slaying one another, and somber meditations on life and death. All lyrics are in Swedish. This may be a barrier for some, as it prevents from fully immersing in the storytelling. On the other hand, the native language remains faithful to the concept of the album and adds to its mystique.

Musically, the songs are constructed around folksy melodies borrowed from the corresponding traditional ballads and chants, beautifully sung by vocalist Emma Hardelin. Her dark and smooth voice is certainly one of the highlights of the album, and the center around which the music revolves. The vocal arrangements are also very beautiful, with Emma's multi-tracked backing vocals creating thick melodious background choirs to the leading melodies. Occasionally, male vocals are also used, as on the splendid murder ballad "Sven i Rosengard". All in all, this is a very vocal-driven album, as in the best tradition of folk and traditional music, which will appeal, for instance, to those who appreciated the latest offering by Danish post-black metal band Myrkur.

The captivating twist on the folk canon proposed by Garmarna is the use of electronica to complement the more traditional acoustic instrumentation of the songs. Opening track "Ramunder", for example, starts with a dramatic low-tone synth loop that will transport the listener into a smoky, underground dark/goth/industrial club. The contrast with the folksy melody sung by Emma and the accompanying moraharpa and fiddles couldn't be starker. Yet it works beautifully, giving the track a dance-like vibe that is both modern and classic. Elsewhere the electronic influences are more subdued and suffused, acting more in the background to provide subtle undertones of darkness to the music. These are the tracks of the album I actually prefer, where the music becomes less dance-like and more ethereal. The trio of songs in the middle of the album is particularly beautiful and where I truly felt transported to a parallel dimension where past and future intertwine to create a dark hybrid reality.

At times, the repetitiveness and circularity that are typical of folk narrative style tend to become a little monotonous ? especially in songs based on melodic lines that are a bit too linear and arrangements that are not very dynamic ("Dagen Flyr"; "Lussi Lilla"). Nevertheless, for the most part Forbundet provides an utterly absorbing journey through legends and lore that will keep the listener locked in for the duration.

In conclusion, I am really glad to have given Garmarna a chance. Forbundet is a beautiful, atmospheric album, combining in a classy, tasteful manner modern and traditional influences to create something truly different and unique in the crowded panorama of rock/metal releases. This may not appeal to everyone though ? particularly to those who like their music heavy and fast. In fact, if it wasn't clear from the review, the only thing "metal" on this album is the dark subject matter of the lyrics. However, if you want to give your ears a break from the bludgeoning of the last Benediction, this album may be for you. It is also highly recommended to readers who dig acts like Myrkur, Wardruna, Heilung or the neofolk project put together by Ivar Bjornson and Einar Selvik (Skuggsja / Hugsja).

(Originally written for The Metal Observer, TMO)

lukretio | 4/5 |


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