Valravn (Tutl, 2007)

In the nineties, New Nordic Folk bands like Hedningarna and Garmarna combined traditional music with modern distortion and electronics, incorporating the most primal elements of Medieval and modern music in the process. Neither band has done much lately, and a void has been left in the Nordic folk vanguard as a result. With their self-titled debut album, the Danish quintet Valravn try somewhat successfully to fill that void.

Valravn consist of Anna Katrin Egllstrød (from, you guessed it, the Faroe Islands) on vocals, Martin Seeberg (previously part of Sorten Muld and Instinkt) on viola and flute, Søren Hammerlund on hurdy-gurdy and mandola, Ecuadorian native Juan Pino on percussion, and Christopher Juul on keyboards and electronics. A valravn in Nordic mythology is a man who has been transformed into a raven and must drink human blood in order to break the curse. This tells you everything about the band's sound that you really need to know; Scandinavian mythology is rife with sinister, ominous, often bloody tales, and Valravn take some of these tales and give them the dark treatment they call for. While the instrumentalists provide a firm backing, especially the drummer Pino, things clearly revolve around Egllstrød. Coming across in her best moments like Björk possessed by something evil, her vocals fit the band's material perfectly. A couple of songs on the album stand out, particularly the driving Icelandic ballad "Krummi" and the uncharacteristically bouncy "Ollavur Riddararos," a Faroese tale about a would-be groom who gets seduced by an elf maiden on the way to his wedding. There were points on the album, though, when I felt the band was holding back. They have the personnel to really cut loose in a furious way, but didn't do it nearly often enough. Even Egllstrød tended to get soft when hitting the high notes. Personally I thought some curdling of blood would have served the music better.

Valravn's music has a fair amount of the dark, primal Nordic beauty that characterizes much of the best folk music from Scandinavia. However, if they want to reach the same level that bands like Värttinä and Hedningarna have reached, they need to push the envelope even further than they did on this album. Their follow-up is due out soon, though, and it will be interesting to monitor their progress.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Valravn concert footage, set to their song "Krummi."

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