January 28, 2021 — Germany is by no means unfamiliar with the principles of dark Nordic folk music. Though the country’s folk offerings have most often skewed towards medieval aesthetics and execution — giving rise to the folk metal subgenre known as medieval metal in the process, the country’s engagement with wider folk subgenres and scenes has fostered its own sense of cultural engagement designed to ensnare the imagination. It is exactly in this spirit that the artist Björn Hoppen bore their artistic interpretation of the world of Nordic folk via Björth.
The German artist began creating his take on the cultural music of the Northmen in 2020. Drawing on the inspiration of acts like Danheim, Forndom, and Wardruna (the gold standard of folk acts). His website proudly proclaims:
“Never claim[ing] to be authentic, but always creative…”
An admirable sonic vision that sets the stylistic boundaries out in no uncertain terms for purists. Inviting the listener to explore the wider world and lore of Viking culture. From the perspective of somebody utterly enthralled by it.
Though Björth has not currently released a debut record (something that can perhaps be attributed to the ongoing global pandemic) this has had no impact on their ability to create. The collection of eight songs bundled together on the official website indicating what a full-length release may yet hold. One of the most immediately striking things about this collection is that over half of the available tracks are collaborations with other international folk artists. From Italy’s A Tergo Lupi to Chilean YouTube pagan-folk wunderkind The Pagan Minstrel. Björth has assembled an impressive global cast of collaborators that truly illustrate just how far the influence of Northern European folk stretches.
Equally, the approach undertaken speaks to the artistry of a musician who is well-versed within Norse aesthetics. Staking their own path in the process. Where much of the genre will incorporate a cinematic level of ambient sound (animals, crackling fires, wind), the music of Björth comes from a more sterile recording environment. The stirring opening notes of Nornir feel closer to the rich textual offerings of a modern jazz act like Gogo Penguin or Mammal Hands. Which serves to highlight the vivid tonal diversity on display as strings, percussion, and powerful vocal battle in the mix.
Shimmer, by comparison, is a much more fragile and delicate composition. Drawn around simple, meandering notes and a clear vocal from The Pagan Minstrel. The track’s usage of English indicates a clear willingness to break from more rigid cultural guidelines. To find the most effective way to communicate. Swedish group Ursprung offers another more fleshed-out interpretation of the folk format. Alternating between brighter wind notes and blaring low-end to evoke a sense of foreboding. A tonal duality that illustrates how the dynamics of instrumentation can completely change the interpretation of a piece.
Elsewhere, Nine Daughters of Rán is one of the collection’s more traditional pieces. While Björth may never claim to be authentic, there is a sense of actual engagement with wider folklore and culture. As the song refers to a popular piece of mythos in the Old Norse poetry collection, the Poetic Edda. Although each of the eight compositions is in and of itself a representation of Norse culture, it is Nine Daughters that most indicate the near-reverent way Björth interacts with the wider culture. Using it as a canvas to paint ever-more fascinating portraits. As opposed to imposing his own artistic identity.
As a collection of isolated tracks, it would be unfair to analyze the sequencing and tonal disparity between this collection. The fact that each track is a single release is indicative of its single-serve purpose to explore a wider musical backdrop. It is an excellent primer for the stylistic approach undertaken by Björth. Which gives a taste of the journey yet to truly begin. Yet shows great promise.
Björth is an independent, self-released folk music act. Head over to his website for some excellent material.