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Gjallarhorn - Ranarop / Call of the Sea Witch CD (album) cover

RANAROP / CALL OF THE SEA WITCH

Gjallarhorn

 

Prog Folk

3.98 | 8 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The first album by the celebrated Ostrobothnian quartet (named after the 'Yelling Horn' of the mead-drinking Old Norse deity Heimdallr) opens with a sudden burst of aboriginal revelry, sounding not unlike a band of night clubbers party-crashing a pagan fire ritual. It's a compelling prelude, not just to the album itself but for the career of a new and exciting group of musical time-travelers, embracing their antique Scandinavian heritage from inside a modern recording studio, without a trace of anachronism in sight.

Their debut is the most traditional of the band's four albums, but in truth the Prog Folk category is only a flag of convenience, hoisted over the Gjallarhorn page in these Archives because no one has yet defined a sub-genre called Progressive World Music. The group (now defunct) made its home in a Swedish-speaking corner of Finland, while cultivating strong spiritual ties to a much wider span of Nordic myth and history, expressed with a cultural integrity that bands like Dead Can Dance (fellow travelers, but tourists by comparison) only dream about achieving.

Thus, the prominent didgeridoo: an odd choice for instrumental support in a group so far removed from outback Australia, but not unheard of in Scandinavian folk music circles. Here the ancient aerophone functions almost like a second vocalist, in stark contrast to the soaring voice of Jenny Wilhelms, and capable of a growling, coughing virtuosity all its own, sounding like a barely domesticated animal recalling the freedom of its life in the wild.

I had to blush when re-reading that last observation, clearly made while under the album's almost transcendental spell. But I'm letting it stand, as a reflection of the music's hold over a sensitive listener. The delicate ballads ("I Riden Så..."); the urgent prayers for sun and thunder ("Solbön-Âskan"); the medieval folk tunes, minuets, and fables...all combine to keep the distant past alive and vital, in a form no less fresh than they were, centuries ago.

And, as a welcome bonus, the album was re-released in 2002 with an extra track: "Reindeer Dreaming", part of a soundtrack to a documentary film by Antii Haase. The movie follows a tribe of indigenous Australians invited to attend a local arts festival in Finland: a true meeting of far-flung kindred souls, concluding an album that also feels like a surprise visit from close friends you never knew existed.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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