Flaxen Hair Maidens & White Mares: Nordic Songs of Gjallarhorn

Gjallarhorn  Rimfaxe

Rimfaxe (Westpark Music/Vindauga Music LTD., 2006)

Gjallarhorn‘s previous releases, Sjofn and Grimborg have been enchanting my ears with their weave of magic and music for some time now. The Finno-Swedish quartet’s latest recording, Rimfaxe acts as an installment for a series of fairy tale-primal recordings. A mystical white horse also appears on the cover with the group’s vocalist Jenny Wilhelms who herself could be confused with a flaxen-haired maiden that often appears in medieval Nordic songs.

Fans of traditional Nordic music, especially the stuff that hails back to Medieval times are in for a treat and the group also seduces our primal roots with stories about horses, such as the story about a king’s remarkable horse, simply called Grey who swims across the waters to be with the king and dies in the process. Well, the tales usually end tragically on this disc such is the nature of Scandinavian lore. We are introduced to a vengeful sister who reaps karma in the Finno-Swedish medieval ballad, The Sisters. Perhaps that one comes with a happy ending…

We dance around a bonfire to what sounds like electronic beats and bass on track 2, but the song is actually performed on acoustic instruments as far as I can tell. The end result reminds me of another Finno-Swedish traditional group, Hedningarna. Surprisingly the opening and titular track resembles early Kate Bush’s soaring work (Lion Heart comes to mind). Similar to Bush, Wilhelms’ vocals reach lofty heights, often climbing to the stratospheric range, especially when she performs Swedish cow-calling, (kulning). Bruce Swedien’s sonic design and Ralf Nyqvist’s lush orchestral arrangements (performed by the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic), also recall Bush’s repertoire.

And speaking of Bush, an Irish element is also present on this recording. The closing track, Dawn features Wilhelms singing in the Irish Sean-nòs style and new Gjallarhorn member Goran Mansson playing a Swedish pastoral piping tune. The previous light-bearing spiritual track, Stephen highlights a vocal style not unlike Gaelic mouth music. But none of this comes as a surprise since Gjallarhorn plays medieval traditional music hailing throughout Scandinavia and the musicians decorate all their repertoire with a global view. This remarkable group takes us back to our ancient primal roots, reminds us of the stories of our ancestors while never allowing magic or mysticism to fade into history.

Whether we know it or not, we need groups such as Gjallarhorn to keep us in touch with the wonders of the natural world and our mystical connection to all those glorious creatures, both real and imagined. And you’ll find everything here from horses to mermaids to Gregorian chant-inspired vocals rich in chromatics. You might feel that the musicians cast a spell over you. And they do.

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This review was originally posted on Cranky Crow Whole Music.

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