June 1, 2021 — Mainstays of the neofolk scene, Norway’s Gåte may have been around for over twenty years but that does not mean they aren’t able to produce thrilling surprises when the mood takes them.

Gåte-way to wonder

Stripping away the mixture of folk, electronica, and rock that has been at the heart of their sound for over two decades, Gåte reinfuses their sound with a sense of space and air to craft an intimate, powerful atmosphere. Gentle, twinkling acoustic guitars play against mournful strings on opener ‘Kjærleik’, coalescing around Gunnhild Sundli’s vocal melodies until the instrumental can burst forth into a rhythmic climax that soars without over-dramatizing the core melody.

“Such is Gåte’s capacity for creativity; adopting the traditional whilst executing it in a modern way to ensure the best of both worlds.”

This framework establishes the direction Gåte takes on the EP. Drifting towards the more mournful, ethereal, and classical history of Nordic folk, the band strip away all frippery until all that remains, is a fragile melody. In turn, this evokes a sense of almost sacred lightness — as though the heavy percussion that punctuates other neofolk compositions would spook the melody into flight.

Folk reborn

Considering the bombast and experimentalism that has repeatedly run through Gåte in the past, Til Nord is perhaps a risky experiment for the band. But while undeniably tapping into the traditionalized folk sound that can be traced elsewhere through Wardruna, Heilung, etc. the band also infuses a strong sense of self and intimacy into the execution. This stands at stark odds with some of the original versions of songs — the clattering percussion and blaring guitars of ‘Horpa’ are almost unrecognizable as the song pares everything back until only minimal tapping-percussion and violin remain.

While the lines between neofolk/folk-rock and Nordic folk are often blurred, Gåte makes a commitment with Till Nord to explore the traditions of their countrymen and ancestors. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Rideboll og Gullborg’, Gåte’s own take on a Norwegian medieval ballad. Even across the language barrier, the sense of tragedy is conveyed purely through Gunnhild’s captivating vocals, while swelling, insistent string-work ensures the song employs a sense of dramatic tension and crescendo as the song builds. Such is Gåte’s capacity for creativity; adopting the traditional whilst executing it in a modern way to ensure the best of both worlds for the final song. In doing so, they (ironically) also infuse a fresh perspective on their music and its place in the world, lending it fresh vitality.

Verdict

6

Out of 10

The Good

  • Til Nord crafts an exquisite and atmospheric sonic journey that feels incredibly intimate and tied into the core of what Gåte does.
  • In embracing something different from their core musical direction, Gåte continues to prove itself as an expansive creative force in neofolk.  

The Bad

  • Away from their electronica/rock experimentation, Gåte feels like latecomers to a style of Nordic folk that has already produced massive names like Wardruna and Heilung.

While perhaps not as dynamic as the band’s earlier output, Til Nord nonetheless offers a sense of rebirth for the veteran Norwegian folk-rockers. The compositions retain a mournfulness that heightens the beauty of the underlying melodies, ringing out as though from beyond the veil and beckoning the listener to immerse themselves deeper and deeper. At less than 25 minutes, the EP also stands as an indicator of the path Gåte may take in the future. An encapsulation of the marriage between traditional and modern folk approaches, Til Nord is a taste of distinctly Norwegian Nordic folk offered by one of the nation’s modern long-term champions, undoubtedly inspired by the massive resurgence of neofolk in recent years.

 

Gåte’s five-track EP Til Nord is brought out by Indie Recordings who also offer fans a physical edition for around a tenner. Til Nord is available now on all major music services. Visit the band’s website for more information.