Neo-Pagan and Dark Folk fascinate me, in a geeky kind of way. It’s an archaic multiverse of sorts that seeks to recreate long bygone times that were – supposedly – aligned to Gaia’s consciousness. You know, those times when we were all dancing around the fires and painting weird symbols on rocks.
You got the amplifiers of Heilung for instance, the folks that weirdly howl around the stage claiming they got a grip on all that history thing. RMR covered Gåte not many moons ago for their newest folk piece.1) Wardruna, Einar Selvik’s (not so) new outlet, garnered some serious attention, even if he has a tendency to align with questionable characters. And, this particular band (almost) always loses the attention of the RMR deckhands after a while. But – perhaps – we’re just not earthy enough over here, right?
Now, Nanna Barslev has roamed around those waters for a while. The RMR office suite fondly remembers her involvement with the now-defunct Huldre and their leafy ways. So, much to our surprise, we saw her newest solo piece – Lysbærer – appear on our review pipe that comes in a frugal pagan robe full of Viking vibes and tribal sounds.
An interesting choice of name for an album, by the way. It translates directly into Lightbearer. And this is another name for Lucifer, one of the major daemons and a fallen angel of the Christian faith. Good and evil, light and dark, that kind of thing. So, here’s to the nailed god’s lore all over again with all its stolen entities? Perhaps. And that – again – confirms this interconnection between virulent Black Metal and all those Pagan Folk entities that popped up over the years. Need an example? The aforementioned Selvik comes from Gorgoroth, Gaahl’s alma mater. The latter was also a founding member of Wardruna but left later to form Wyrd.
Nanna Barslev‘s chosen genre truly is an eclectic one. Its protagonists often have an unholy urge to drone you to death with more or less unmelodic humming and drumming.2) In other words, it’s easy to lose your fanbase on a fare that’s difficult to digest. And its nature will limit the size of its audience. In a way, that kind of music ardently tries to avoid being caught in the vile mainstream and it thus constantly engages in an almost impossible balancing act of modern commercialization and archaic abandon.
Barslev here seems to understand that. Lysbærer takes off with Skjoldmø, seemingly a tribute to the shieldmaidens of bygone times. A hot debate still rages today if or if not these female warriors actually existed or not. The fact is that they are mentioned in a variety of sagas and counts. But we leave that to the specialists, right? RMR is just here for folk instruments and war drums. And you’ll get a lot of that in that well-constructed first track with Nanna Barslev‘s expert wails.
Now, Runebundet‘s more melodic approach really reminded me of Tvinna‘s late offerings. It’s a song that artfully includes all sorts of archaic instruments, juicy rhythms that balance perfectly with the vocals. As of the third offering, Mod vrede, things kinda drift off into the more ethereal department. This might very well appeal to Faun’s old fans that still bemoan that latter band’s defection into the mainstream. But I fear that too much airy howling might very well lose Ms. Barslev here a ton of those scarce fans she may otherwise gain.
That said, the band still knows how to expertly up the ante on those tracks. If you survive to the end of Jagtmarker, you get some juicy progression of sorts. Lysbærer also contains a number of pretty cheeky references to Myrkur’s Folkesange era. Yet another rescued Black Metal artist. Although you’ll never know what she will do next, the urge for more of the darkest BM might already be ablaze.
I guess, the juiciest surprise of the rhythm section of the record is Sunna Sol. A simple melody that comes on subtle prehistoric beats and a subdued choir. A track that ran on repeat for a while on our music machine.
Ultimately though, Nanna Barslev truly nailed it, and it shows that Fieke van den Hurk (Tvinna, Eivør) acted as producer. Lysbærer contains Folk for everyone with a taste for ancient sounds and antediluvian lore. The record savvily mixes well-chiseled and rhythmically excellent songs with those dateless tribal sounds still played out there to this day. And all that comes with an equally expert delivery of vocals and wails that never collide with whatever melody currently plays.
That’s yet another record that should get your full attention for the duration. And you’ll need a few spins to truly get all those juicy details sprinkled across its misty and mysterious soundscape. The Lightbringer indeed, huh? Neat guy, it seems.3)