Odin, the wandering god of the Norsemen, is quite alive in the world of post-industrial music, stalking the fields of viking metal, dungeon synth, and of course leaving his mark in the music of neofolkers such as Et Nihil and Awen. But even within the so-called neofolk genre, the original music of the people who now might be called “Nordic” seldom gets such serious treatment as on Kari Tauring‘s two companion discs Svart and Ljos.
While the music on these discs is certainly not neofolk, it does present an interesting counterpoint to neofolk’s concepts, intertwining traditions and modernity in a completely inconspicuous way, as if it were simply an obvious thing to do. Tauring’s knack for this is evident immediately on the first and third tracks of Svart. “VoluspaKariOla” presents segments of “Völuspá” from the Poetic Edda, sung in beautifully rendered Old Norse, accompanied by delicate electronica. Two tracks later, “Hvem Kan Segla” follows with a more subtle melding of eras. The Finnish folk song is performed in a basic voice-and-guitar arrangement, but the deft application of studio effects enhances the tune’s mood and frames it in the distant past by means of modern techniques.
New and old are brought together in this way throughout both discs. Effects are applied and modern instrumentation is used. Ancient lyrics are translated into English. All of this is done with a reverence towards tradition rather than attempts to “modernize” anything. The result is that the traditional elements feel not just alive, but relevant. The World Tree becomes real again, even commonplace, and one gets the sense that the Eddas could possibly compete with the latest popular television series.
Even still, a full appreciation of the music is only possible with the extensive liner notes that are available as free PDF files on Tauring’s website. Traditional origins of some songs are given, or the context of original works. Lyrics are provided in various languages including translations into English. Details, such as notes on the construction of willow flutes or instructions for performing a runic dance, help make the liner notes an interesting read as much as a helpful guide.
Because the music offers some challenges at certain points, especially when music is taken out of its original performance setting (or in the case of Svart‘s twelfth track, “World Tree Journey,” which might seem an inappropriate excursion into the new age), the liner notes are critical, as is a willingness to listen attentively over several sessions. With those things in place, however, interested listeners will enjoy exploring this dense celebration of Nordic folkways, which this review can unfortunately only begin to detail.