An exploration into the Viking psyche? Or just folky chanting?
Skuggsjá was originally a commissioned musical work written by Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna), and performed by Enslaved and Wardruna for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution. Bjørnson and Selvik ended up recording their work, to present Skuggsjá to a wider audience. It’s meant to represent a fusion between past and present.
These guys are listed as pagan metal/prog/folk/black metal – now there’s a combination! I did wonder how this was going to sound.
The opening track Ull Kjem sounded very folky with slow, tribal drums, with male and female spoken vocals (all in Norwegian). After thinking to myself ‘this guy sounds like a Norse Till Lindemann’, I then thought ‘this wouldn’t sound out of place as the soundtrack in a Vikings episode’. It turns out that Wardruna were signed up to compose the score for Season 2 of Vikings with Trevor Morris (who was responsible for Season 1’s score).
Track 2 seems to continue on with the folk theme, with a slow, eerie flute. This make me think I should be lying on a massage table in a day spa, but then some drums kick in and the voice of ‘Till’ is back speaking exotic Norse words to me (he could be reading the phone book for all I know). Both Bjørnson and Selvik provide vocals, so I’m not too sure who is responsible for this deep voice. The tempo of this song shifts into something faster, repetitive and slightly chaotic.
Just when I’m wondering where the metal is, track 3 starts with more of a rock sound, with some decent guitar riffs and a rock beat. Then these multi-voice chants kick in, and this becomes a recurring vocal theme for most for the rest of this album. This tack also gets some metal drumming and metal vocals. Interspersed with the chanting, it’s quite enjoyable.
The rest of the album tends to have the mostly folk instruments (like a Harding fiddle and a bone flute) within each song, and they are combined with modern drum and guitar sounds. Track 5 Rop Frå Røynda – Mælt Frå Minne has some heavier rock/metal sounds that yet again, sound just right for a Vikings scene.
The standout track was Bøn Om Ending, Bøn Om Byrjing, which starts off quite slow, but then kicks into rock/metal gears and sounds almost Opeth-like. I really enjoyed this one. More tracks along this vein and I’d be converted. I did question whether I’d have found this to be as listenable if it had been sung/spoken in English. I somehow doubt that I would. The Norwegian element made it slightly more intriguing and slightly less dismissible as just folky chanting (although there was still plenty of that).