Gjallarhorn, Rimfaxe (Vindauga Music Ltd., 2006)

The Finnish/Swedish band Gjallarhorn named their fourth album Rimfaxe ("Rimemane"), in honor of the horse of the Norse goddess of night and dawn. Among other things, Rimfaxe served as Tolkien's inspiration for the two named horses in The Lord Of The Rings, Gandalf's Shadowfax and Theoden's Snowmane. While singer/fiddler Jenny Wilhelms has been the only constant in Gjallarhorn's decade of music, the frequent personnel changes have made it easy to avoid repetition. Joining Wilhelms and Adrian Jones (viola, mandola) on Rimfaxe are percussionist Peter Berndalen and wind player Göran Månsson. Berndalen's active percussion guides the band towards jazzy improvisation and impressionism. While Månsson plays plenty of flute and recorder on this recording, he most distinguishes himself when he plays a Baroque instrument called a sub contrabass recorder. This instrument replaces the droning didgeridoo as Gjallarhorn's bass instrument, and its tonal flexibility and percussive timbre add new dimensions to the band's sound. Gjallarhorn also for the first time add some orchestral accompaniment into the mix, with mixed results; sometimes the orchestration really enhances the musical tension, other times it just sounds intrusive.

A few things remain constant in Gjallarhorn's music, though. For one thing, the band still base their music around Medieval ballads from throughout Scandinavia, seamlessly combining Norse mythology with Finnish runo songs and Swedish folk tales. The closing piece "Gråning (Dawn)" does include an Irish love song sung by Wilhelms in Gaelic, though. Wilhems also once again shows off her skill at kulning, a very high-pitched style of singing based on cow-calling, on "iVall (@Ley)". This piece breaks into a jazzy instrumental after the kulning, but Wilhems' kulning has been most effective when it's been stark and blunt, like in the "Kulning" piece that closes Gjallarhorn's previous album Grimborg, or the explosive ending to the song "Dejelil och Lagerman" off their 2000 sophomore effort Sjofn.

Three tracks on Rimfaxe stand out for me. The first is the modernized arrangement of "Kokkovirsi (Bonfire Song)" a Finnish free verse runo song. "Sylvklar (Silverbright)," a ballad of a Swedish prince who journeys to the bottom of the sea to rescue his sister from an evil mermaid, gets interpreted by the band as an energetic jig. On "Taklax 1034," Gjallarhorn breathe new life into a Finnish polska first recorded on a wax cylinder a century ago. On the whole though, Rimfaxe doesn't quite match the primal fury that made Sjofn one of the classics of the New Nordic Folk genre. The freer, more improvised style in the arrangements requires some patience to get used to it. Still, there is enough quality music on Rimfaxe to justify the purchase.

Overall Grade: B

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1 comment:

Scarlet119 said...

YOU reviewing a Nordic band?! Come on....