June 30, 2021 — Munknörr’s latest record Shaman continues the sonic journey of neofolk duet Damian Schneider and Aethelwyne, with their new material seeking to discover a unifying essence of primal spirituality through ancient sounds, instruments, and symbols.
Shaman is a ten-track release that makes magnificent use of the Native American flute, Peruvian Siku, male and female vocal chants, and a variety of soothing drums that manages to achieve a unique tonality while calling on shared natural totems, the forces of nature, and wild animals — especially in songs like ‘Wind Spirit’ and ‘Wolf Spirit’.
“Shaman is not an album jammed with hooks and infectious lyrics, but the full experience is a satisfying slow burn and skillful amalgamation of two cultures worth immersing oneself in.”
Fully integrating the knowledge and expertise that Munknörr has been building upon since their EP release Vinland in April of 2020, Shaman binds together the spiritual music of Norse-inspired neofolk and the sounds of the indigenous North American tribes Icelandic Vikings came into contact with and called “Skrælings”. While the roots of the word Skræling lie in an Old Norse term meaning “little men” or “barbarians”, Munknörr’s approach seeks to learn from and find shared ideals between the two cultures, soulfully aiming to unify their sensibilities in each album track.
A Journey to the West
As history, and Munknörr’s Vinland EP, tells it, Viking sailors made landfall in what is now Canada (L’Anse aux Meadows being one confirmed location) on their way westwards across the Atlantic, settling alongside the native tribes of North America some 100-150 years after Norwegian Vikings first settled Iceland around 870 AD (as semi-refugees fleeing the violent Christianization of Norway) with Greenland, discovered circa 985, becoming home to more colonies from whence the Norse sailed on to the Vínland mentioned in the sagas, in other words, to North America.
While the Old Norse word for the indigenous tribes of North America does not say great things about the relationship the Norse Greenlanders had with their new neighbors, Vikings have been treated harshly by history themselves, often seen only as blood-thirsty berserkers without much nuance.
A Shaman Standing Firm On Far Apart Shores
The approach on this 41-minute record, and indeed, throughout the Munknörr discography, is one of totemistic and nature-focused spirituality, seen through the lens of Viking history and Norse mythology. The shamanic chants of Munknörr, bolstered by a range of traditional acoustic instruments — including the likes of the Norse talharpa and Native American flute and siku — reach out for a shared sense of primal and spiritual connection to nature and the world around us.
From Munknörr’s first teaser ‘Wolf Spirit’ which released on YouTube in March of this year, to the entirety of their new LP; singer, musician, and composer Damian Schneider has crafted an engrossing, ambient experience that truly feels as if it fits into a mutual shamanistic niche that sits firmly between two continents. The German-born, Uruguay-based Schneider who debuted with Seiðr only a little over two years ago has made an impressive journey with his unique take on folk music inspired by Native American instruments and chants while also influenced by the distinct “Norse sound” that folk bands like Wardruna and Heilung helped lay the foundation for back in 2009 and 2015 respectively. A pinch of throat-singing also features on Shaman, sounding not entirely unlike Russo-Nordic folk trio Draugablíkk’s own, darker take on shamanism as per last year’s Verjaseiðr.
Aethelwyne, who truly excels on this record, provides a compelling, dramatic, yet melodic counterpoint, her vocals soaring alongside the hypnotic, bassy, shamanic chants of Schneider’s instrumental fusion — on every song. As established on the drum meditation of pre-album release track ‘The Beat of the Earth’, percussion plays a strong role on this album, more often layered with vocal textures than sung lyrics.
From the outset on ‘Wakan Tanaka’, the Munknörr duo deal in complimentary vocal performances showing more variety on the few tracks that deal in distinct lyrics like ‘The Calling’, which also plays more to the melodic tones of Aethelwyne. These more textural tracks are still strongly expressive, if not a little hard to pin down. The song ‘Sól’ (meaning sun in Old Norse) typifies the emotive rise and falls throughout the album; a mostly ambient, non-bombastic release, but certainly one with a lot of range and diversity in its sound where droning drums, drawn-out chants, throat singing, and higher sung notes combine to consume the listener and pull you into a swirling world of mysticism.
Shaman covers a range of ethnic sounds, including chanting, and deep but ambient, tribal flute instrumentation. The cross-cultural influences become even more clear on ‘Huginn & Muninn’, named after Odin’s pair of ravens that represent “thought” and “memory” and together bring wisdom. ‘Huginn & Muninn’ is one of the album’s standout tracks and introduces strings, talharpa, the occasional, subtle “caw” of a raven, and a playful but tensely beautiful flute hook.
Out of 10
- An evocative listening experience of shared spirituality portrayed through a diverse range of vocalizations.
- Live instrumentation skillfully layered and performed by Schneider and Aethelwyne.
- A likable and impressive culmination of past work, namely 2020’s Vinland EP.
- The rich mixture of vocals and instruments makes gleaning any deeper meaning difficult.
While the record incorporates Native American sounds, weaving them well with Western neofolk to a very deliberate and effective end, Munknörr interprets these in tandem and a fusion with Norse spirituality in keeping with his search for commonality. The result is something approaching a mix of Lisa Gerrard’s neoclassical Dead Can Dance vocalizations and a minimalist take on Heilung’s wall of spiritual sound. Shaman is not an album jammed with hooks and infectious lyrics, but the full experience is a satisfying slow burn and skillful amalgamation of two cultures worth immersing oneself in.
Munknörr’s Shaman is available to stream now on all music platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and all the rest. To support Muknörr directly, visit their Bandcamp page. We have added our favorite Munknörr tracks to the Kurgan Compass™ Spotify playlist — flip the in-app date switch to see new songs on top.