The latest new album that I have found myself immersed in comes from the meeting of minds of Ivar Bjørnson, founding member of Norwegian progressive black / Viking metal band Enslaved, and Einar Selvik, founding member of fellow Norwegians, folk metal band Wardruna.
Apparently commissioned as a piece to be performed at 2014 Eidsivablot festival to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, the two men decided that they wanted the piece to be heard more widely and thus entered the studio to record “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” under the banner of Skuggsjá.
You would perhaps expect Skuggsjá’s music to sound like a cross between Enslaved and Wardruna, given who the creative forces behind the project are. Bjørnson contributes vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards whilst Selvik provides vocals, taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, goat-horn, birch-bark lure, bone-flute, percussion and electronics.
In addition, Enslaved men Grutle Kjellson (vocals) and Cato Bekkevold (drums) and Wardruna vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella also feature on the record. The final additional musicians involved are Eilif Gundersen (birch bark lure) and Olav L. Mjelva (harding fiddle).
The project’s website states that “Skuggsjá translates into ‘mirror’ or ‘reflection’ in the Norse language, and the piece not only contextualizes harder music’s role in the democracy in Norway in 2014, but also joins threads from the country’s ancient musical history and solidifies harder music’s position as Norway`s most important cultural export.
By highlighting ideas, traditions and instruments of their Norse past, Skuggsjá tells the history of Norway and reflect relevant aspects from the past into the present day. In light of this we reflect on ourselves as a people and nation. In a magnificent tapestry of metal instrumentation, a wide variety of Norway´s and Scandinavia’s oldest instruments, and poetry in Norse and Norwegian, Skuggsjá is a fusion between past and present, both lyrically and musically.”
Not speaking Norwegian, or having a lyric translation, means that I’m not qualified to comment on whether or not the lyrics manage to comment on music today and on the country’s history. Kjellson was quoted as saying that the piece is “…very hostile to many aspects of the constitution… very much against the way Norway was Christianised…” Musically, however, this is a very evocative album and a fabulous soundscape.
Kicking off with the brief introductory track “Ull Kjem” (translation “Wool Giant”) the gentle guitar notes underpinned by an insistent drum and with pipes and narration all serve to transport the listener’s mind to ancient times, a feeling that persists with the six-minute-plus title track “Skuggsjá” (“Mirror”).
Next up is “Makta Og Vanæra (I All Tid)” (“Power And Disgrace (For All Time)”), a ten-minute epic which brings to mind Enslaved’s excellent “In Times” opus from last year and manages to be both catchy with melodic vocal lines and stark and brutal with some old-school black metal rasping.
Instrumental track “Skuggeslåtten” (“Shadow Haymaking”?) is a nice hybrid of trance-inducing folky motifs, harmony guitar playing and some staccato riffing all building to a double-time conclusion.
Other highlights include “Vitkispá”, seemingly adapted from an ancient Norse poem, and the other ten-minute-plus sonic treat that is “Bøn Om Ending – Bøn Om Byrjing” (“Prayer For Ending – Prayer For Beginning”).
This is a unique sounding album, taking the best of the two composers’ day jobs and coming up with something distinctively different, even from one track to the next. The running order is beautifully balanced and the whole thing is evocative and uplifting, a superb album from start to finish and a potential for my top ten of 2016 already…
“A Piece For Mind & Mirror” tracklist:
1. Ull Kjem / 2. Skuggsjá / 3. Makta Og Vanæra (I All Tid) / 4. Tore Hund / 5. Rop Fra Røynda – Mælt Fra Minne / 6. Skuggeslåtten / 7. Kvervandi / 8. Vitkispá 9. Bøn Om Ending – Bøn Om Byrjing / 10. Ull Gjekk