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Garmarna - Forbundet Award winner

by Kira Schlechter at 07 December 2020, 7:09 AM

In the most capable hands of GARMARNA, “folk music with electric elements” is a pairing that would have naturally occurred had the technology been around back in the day. It just makes that much sense. The Swedish band’s latest album, “Forbundet,” is their seventh. The title translates to “Connected” in English, and that could well refer to the organic connection between the ancient and the modern. The tracks are said to be adaptations from traditional themes, and you’ll see a few that definitely are if you do a little research. It’s fascinating stuff altogether.

“Ramunder” (a rather short-tempered warrior in Swedish sagas; this is based on a Danish folk song) is sung in Swedish, as are all the tracks. Emma’s voice is a warm lilting monotonic purr, and when overdubbing is added, it fleshes out the sparsity of the vocal arrangement (the band’s skill with overdubbing is virtually unmatched). It gradually grows in volume, then the instruments take over – fiddle, keyboards, the drums giving it real propulsion when they are added to the vocal. A brief section strips everything down to Emma’s voice, with a chilling higher descant added, then the drums begin again, adding tension. The solo segment featuring all the instruments is excellent, especially the heavy drums that give it heft and power and the mesmerizing drone of the electronics and the hurdy gurdy.

The main melodies here are easy to pick up on and you find yourself humming along, easily catching on to the very slight adaptations and evolutions of each one. To draw a comparison, if you took the metal out of something like MANEGARM, this is what you’d get. It’s completely accessible because the melodies are irresistible. “Tva Systrar” (the tale of the ill-fated “two sisters”) picks up seamlessly from the previous track, with electronica and wafts of what sounds like mandolin. Emma’s voice is lighter here, airier; the overdubs come and go, like a single voice, then multiple ones. Folk singing is straightforward – no vibrato, no flourishes, no showing off – and the words must be enunciated precisely, and Emma is well up to the task, with her perfect diction and deftly-rolled Rs. The lower-end instruments develop the pace into a throaty syncopated swing; Jens’ drumming is tasteful, never obtrusive, the fiddle swelling in and out like breaking waves. A pause midway changes the tone to sparse and foreboding (thanks to the electronics), then it segues to the initial swing and Emma’s atmospheric, echoing vocal. As it progresses toward the end, her voice waxes and wanes, the electronics sending it out chillingly, icily.

“Dagen Flyr” (or “the day is flying by”) is a chugging, hectic rhythm of electronics and soft drums leading into fiddles, then Emma’s chanting vocal. The vocal overdubs are just masterful, adding texture with that barely separated, droning harmony. The rhythm builds ever so gradually with the drumming – like a held breath, the tension is terrific – before the fiddles and drums are allowed to give it free rein when the drums kick them off in earnest. “Sven i Rosengard” (or “Sven of Rosengard”) adds a male vocal in unison with Emma’s and an undercurrent of electronics, then acoustic strumming gets the rhythm started. A barely audible fiddle then strums along before a tense, driving instrumental portion with hurdy gurdy, fiddle, and percussion, then electronics. Again, that juxtaposition is so natural – it’s as if it was always meant to be that way, as if traditional music was just waiting for electronics to be included. The band’s use of the 8-stringed hardanger fiddle (four of those strings resonate under the four that are played like a standard violin) beefs up the appealing droning quality of the songs – and I can’t say enough about the drumming, it’s just stellar. There is little melodic variation every time the lyric is gone through here, a trademark of folk music of course, but it’s never rote – it serves as a foundation for the instrumental flourishes that go on behind and through it. In traditional music done in this way, each time the lyric and refrain is repeated, the story evolves and progresses the tiniest bit; many traditional songs have multiple verses as this one does. This is a tragic story; Sven is besieged by misfortune and bad decisions (visit Northern Lights - Sven I Rosengård lyrics + English translation and see).

“Ur varlden att ga” (or “leaving this world”) is tender and mournful, as you might expect, with a lone fiddle, barest percussion and acoustic guitar, and Emma’s heartbreaking vocal melody – even if you don’t understand the words, you can feel how deeply sad it is. The drumming gives it nearly a rock quality, and the fiddle alongside the drums, with that counter rhythm, is extraordinary. The second instrumental breakdown is as heavy as any doom metal, with that imperceptible electronic buzz underneath and Emma’s wordless, overdubbed vocals – just stunning. “Vagskal” (or “crossing”) is a bit more loosely structured, more freeform. It’s decidedly a ballad, the “verse” and “chorus” repeated, but it’s given a space-age, almost abstract quality with a faint sampled percussion loop heavy on cymbals. The gorgeous overdubs, the way the fiddle so beautifully echoes Emma’s vocal melody like another voice, the almost atonal fiddle, the endless melodies working at intriguing cross purposes – your ear is given an embarrassment of riches here.

“Lussi Lilla” (or “little Lussi”) has a sprightly, bouncy rhythm rooted in the instrumental drone, the resonant low end of Emma’s voice, and the overdubbed male vocals that gradually work their way in as each verse progresses. The syncopated, unornamented fiddle, with the air-tight drumming pushing it along, after the first vocal section is just divine. It changes keys and gets beautifully dark just for a moment, as if something terrible happened in the story (and indeed it does – look up the English translation for this harrowing tale at Folk och rackare - Lussi Lilla lyrics + English translation), then goes back to the original key and the resolution of the action. It ends on that hardanger drone and the electronics, which seriously is the best thing ever.

“Avskedet” (or “departure”) is a slow plod, with primitive, almost hand-played drumming. Emma’s singular vocal is mixed so intimately in your ear, the pauses in her phrasing and enunciation delicately drawn, before the overdubs are added. The fiddle and drumming segments, or refrains maybe, in between the vocals are aching and poignant. The last time through, she’s backed by the electronics, which then go on a tangent of their own with kantele and the barest of suspense-filled fiddle riffing, and it ends with drumbeats and ambient sound.

It passes seamlessly into “Din Grav” (or “your grave”), the shortest piece on the album. Emma’s vocal echoes as if from beyond in what absolutely sounds like it’s a funeral dirge. There is no rhythm; this contemplation on grief just drifts until it ends. “Forbundet” bears no resemblance to metal at all. But modern folk music done well is as heavy and weighty and substantive as any metal, and this is done perfectly – it’s simply beautiful.

Songwriting: 10
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Ramunder
2. Tva Systrar
3. Dagen Flyr
4. Sven i Rosengard
5. Ur varlden att ga
6. Vagskal
7. Lussi Lilla
8. Avskedet
9. Din Grav
Emma Hardelin - Vocals, Violin
Stefan Brisland-Ferner - Violin, Viola, Hurdy Gurdy, Keyboards, Nordic Bowed Lyre, Kantele, Moraharpa, Mouth Harp, Electronics, Guitar, Mandolin, Vocals
Gotte Ringqvist - Acoustic Guitar, Hardanger Fiddle, Vocals
Rickard Westman - Guitar, Bass
Jens Hoglin - Drums, Percussion, Electronics
Record Label: Season of Mist Records


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Edited 09 December 2022

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