If you consider yourself part of the post-industrial music scene, listening to noise, industrial, dark ambient or drone, and somehow don’t know who Nordvargr is, I’m not sure where you have been hiding all these years. Henrik Björkk is one of the most well-known and prolific artists in the Swedish underground. For roughly three decades, Björkk has been peeling off pieces of his soul and feeding them to us through his music, which is constantly changing and evolving in its approach, style, and sound.
It seems that the Nordvargr machine never stops. From harsh noise to chilling dark ambient, from possessed drones to pure industrial madness, Björkk has done it all. More impressively, however, is that he has perfected the art. This is evident as the man has brought us many of the best acts in the scene, even beyond Nordvargr, through projects like Folkstorm, Mz.412, Toroidh, Hydra Head 9, and All Hail the Transcending Ghost just to name a few. Björkk was also somewhat involved in the black metal scene, having collaborated with Thee Maldoror Kollective and made an appearance on Forgotten Tomb‘s masterpiece of agony, Love’s Burial Ground (sadly, after that album, Forgotten Tomb became little more than a parody of themselves). This doesn’t even begin to discuss his own project, Vargr, which is blacker than black if you’ll excuse the cliche.
Looking back on this now thirty-year-old body of work, one thing is clear: Nordvargr manages to dominate the industrial arena by reinventing himself every time anew. He is not doing the same shtick over and over again, but instead delivers something new each time. That’s part of the reason why he doesn’t stick to one genre and instead is all over the dial, but it’s also within each different sub-genre. He simply keeps it fresh, constantly searching for new methods to deliver his inner voice. On The Secret Barbarous Names, he’s really done it again, and it might very much be his most atmospheric album to date.
What’s different about The Secret Barbarous Names from the rest of Nordvargr’s previous work is that, on this album, his voice is the main instrument on which the entire musical structure leans and builds on. The vocals don’t necessarily accompany the rest of the instruments, but rather those instruments (which remain rather in the background and somewhat on the minimal side throughout the album) appear to follow the vocals, which clearly take the lead. Yet, this time, Björkk is not spitting his wrath unto our ears as he’s done before on Vargr, nor is he using the distorted ‘propaganda vocals’ that characterize Folkstorm. On this specific occasion, we are being led trough a Shamanic trance filled with guttural Oms and hums, mantric chants, whispered groans, and meditative breathing, which all go hand-in-hand with some very light-handed minimalist, ritual dark ambient and soft repetitive drones that draw your conscious mind deeper and further.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton once said, ‘Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.’ I think this is doubly true for music coming directly from one’s soul (and into another’s). And while there is truth to the claim that ‘all music is coming from the soul of its creator(s)’, not all music is ‘spiritual’ in its essence, message, or even aesthetics. Well, The Secret Barbarous Names surely is. This album is, without a doubt, a personal spiritual journey, a diary of the worldly and the unworldly that surrounds Henrik Björkk and his complex labyrinth of projects. It is to no surprise, then, that I discovered that he recorded most of the fundamental tracks of this album while practicing meditation and just leaving a microphone open in the room.
Of course, he later went on to process and mold the vocals by adding effects (mainly delay and reverb, so it seems) and daub them into his his liturgical voices, which intensified them and made them more powerful, as they should be, since they represent more than ‘just words’. The concept of The Secret Barbarous Names (inspired by the Draconian and Typhonian traditions) deals with, ‘The hidden meanings of the countless manuscripts that have been kept secret for millennia—their supposed effectiveness resting in their utterance, not their meaning’ (according to the official Nordvargr website). Those esoteric words and sounds, when preformed and pronounced correctly, create specific vibrations with the ultimate power to manifest just about anything: the power to destroy and annihilate and the power to create and to give birth.
These manuscripts can be found on the Malignant Records website, and the album proper comes as a digipak with artwork designed by Margaux Renaudin (of Anima Nostra). For best results: play loud, so you can absorb the full vibrations.