February 16, 2022 — As the moon transforms into its full, rich, hunter’s form, so too does our biweekly bill of headlines with a bevy of new releases from folk and metal acts like Bjorth, Månegarm, Kjell Braaten, Sabaton, Danheim, Vinnie Camilleri, and Annie Hurdy Gurdy. Read on as James Paterson reports of the past two weeks most notable releases.
As always our favorite picks have been added to the Kurgan Compass™ Spotify playlists.
Let’s begin with a quick rundown of what the Full Moon has brought; Bjorth channeling the power of ‘The Sea’ in collaboration with Aethelwyne and Foresaga, Norway’s Kjell Braaten’s shapeshifting, shamanic single ‘Hamr’, the re-emergence of Danheim with new single ‘Skovblót’, Vinnie Camilleri’s era straddling cinematic neofolk release ‘Avaldsnes’, Germany’s Annie Hurdy Gurdy’s reworking of Witcher 3’s ‘Lullaby of Woe’ and a double dose of heaviness between blackened Viking-metal of Månegarm’s wolf-devouring ‘Ulvhjärtat’ and Sabaton who is back at the front with new single ‘The Unkillable Soldier’.
Bjorth’s ‘The Sea’ With Aethelwyne, Foresaga
A gentle swell of instrumentation and vocalizations builds to a crest and crash with a surging sway of spacious, beautiful, and evocative neofolk in the latest track from Germany’s Bjorth, The Sea.
Bjorth is a dark folk & medieval music project strongly inspired by Norse and Central European folklore founded by German producer Björn Hoppen. The newest single from the band, released on February 11, is an international effort. In addition to Bjorth’s Chilean vocalist Daniela (Dani) Alverar, the track features collaboration from Bjorths fellow German compatriots, Celtic folksters Foresaga’s Franziska, and Greece’s Aethelwyne, prolific folk singer and female vocalist of the Uruguayan-based Shamano-Nordic project Munknörr.
Both energetic and eerie, Bjorth captured the imposing expanse of the sea in all its beauty, dread, and abundance of life and opportunity for conquest. This latest in a frequent flurry of singles from Bjorth deftly flows between gentle and fierce, rolling back and forth like the ebbing of the tides.
Released early on Bandcamp, The Sea is Bjorth’s first single release of 2022, and it is now available also on all major music platforms. In addition, spurred on from the collaboration with Franziska, Bjorth has released a ‘Foresaga Edit’ of their 2020 track Fýri, as can be seen (and heard) on YouTube.
Kjell Braaten Drops ‘Hamr’
Horns and rattling bones usher us into the throat-sung opening of Kjell Braaten’s latest single, ‘Hamr’. Much like the rest of the Norwegian artist’s work, Braaten’s latest takes on a cinematic quality that in the space of only five minutes changes forms again and again, driven by its dialogue of horn and drums.
Not explicitly a name for shapeshifting, but rather the form one takes on after completing a transformation, “hamr” is an Old Norse word that literally means shape or skin, as in “changing hamr”. In Norse culture, hamr is considered an aspect of one’s consciousness and personality, one that ties into how we are perceived by others — and how we want to be perceived.
Braaten’s expansive, ritualistic ‘Hamr’ has a delightful interplay of the wider atmospheric tones of horn and drums and the tight, rough, more singularly focused transformative sound of its throat-sung and rattling percussive elements.
This is the latest addition to an impressively broad back catalog for Kjell Braaten that includes compositions for stage, screen, live performances, and collaborations with the likes of Wardruna, Kati Rán, Rúnahild, Astralseid, and many more.
Danheim Reawakens the Forest With ‘Skovblót’
Danish folk artist and super-producer Mike Olsen’s Danheim project has been seemingly dormant lately, with the recent release of ‘Skovblót’ being the first sign of Olsen’s Nordic folk returning to life.
‘Skovblót’ (Bandcamp link) literally translates to forest blood, though a blót can also refer to the act of a ritual sacrifice that does not necessarily include blood sprinkling, to give thanks to or commune with ancestors, spiritual elements, or the old gods themselves.
In the YouTube version of ‘Skovblót’, Danheim has included educational subtitles detailing the practices and significance of a blót and the diverse ways in which these can be performed. As part of the description, Danheim explains;
“You can talk about anything. Recite a poem written for the occasion. Sing a relevant song, or grab a horn to pour a bit on the ground to thank “Vætterne” for allowing you to blót where you are.”
“Vætterne” in this case means small, gnome-like beings of Nordic folklore that act collectively as a guardian spirit, and who are also mentioned in the German literary work Grimms’ Fairy Tales as “Die Wichtelmänne”. Through the hollow rattle, rustle and sway of branches, the cawing of woodland birdlife, and familiar yet fantastical flute work we are transported into the midst of the ancient wilderness in the thick of a blót rite.
Olsen’s production is brilliantly bolstered by the choral vocals of Janus Pedersen, better known under the musical moniker of Heldom, and a frequent collaborator with Danheim in the past. This outstanding balance of sounds is the first of Danheim’s releases for 2022 and a welcome return for both the band and Olsen’s collaborations with Pedersen.
Cinematic Soloist Vinnie Camilleri’s ‘Avaldsnes’
Vinnie Camilleri has a storied history as a guitarist and composer alongside his work in dark Nordic folk music, and this depth of experience is evident in the evocative pieces he releases as his solo work. Producing what can best be described as cinematic Neofolk, Camilleri’s work isn’t consistently ancient or raw in the way some projects approach the sound, nor is it wholly modern and synthetic.
‘Avaldsnes’ encapsulates this duality from the very first droning swell of horns and drums, which, following a rousing kick of strings is blasted with a drumbeat so rapid-fire that even a stalwart warrior of old would have struggled to keep pace. These elements come together in a way that doesn’t make the other feel anachronistic but rather operate in that niche where disbelief is suspended, the grand embellishment that comes with the cinematic.
The muffling, muting, and counter swelling of sounds brings that tension and satisfying drop made familiar by more modern music, while not obfuscating the ancient. Suffice it to say, the sonic tapestry of ‘Avaldnsnes’ (Bandcamp) builds a strong charge that will rouse your inner warrior.
Annie Hurdy Gurdy Covers ‘Witcher 3’ Lullaby
German multi-instrumentalist composer, songwriter, and vocalist Annie Hurdy Gurdy is an astonishingly talented artist who performs all her instruments acoustically to a richly layered effect.
The latest song from this spellbinding performer is ‘The Lullaby of Woe’ from the soundtrack of The Witcher 3. Performed on the eponymous hurdy-gurdy and nyckelharpa, the track has been a long time in the works but has finally found its way to YouTube with a haunting video, filmed by torchlight in the forest and the creaking wood of a Windmill in Lechtingen, Germany.
“We shot the video in two different places. The nocturnal scenes were taken near the Varus battle and Kalkriese. For the other scenes, I was allowed to film in a beautiful old windmill (windmill Lechtingen). The atmosphere there was amazing! It was stormy that day and the wood in the building creaked from every corner. Just fitting for the song”
Released early on Patreon, here is ‘The Lullaby of Woe’ video by/with Annie Hurdy Gurdy:
Speaking at the time of the video’s release Annie explained that she had begun recording the song some three years ago, shortly after her first Witcher soundtrack cover, ‘Ladies of The Woods’ in 2019. The new track is a ghoulish tale of a Witcher coming to hunt down, murder, and consume those being sung softly to sleep by the ‘Lullaby of Woe’.
With a fair body of her own original work, Annie chose to work on the new release as she was recovering from operations on both her wrists. Commenting on her choice to complete the Witcher cover she explained;
“In my current situation, the song was the best way to slowly get back into it after my operation. I know it’s not my own song (I want to present them to you as part of my album release, and some before), but it’s an incredibly important step for me.”
‘The Lullaby of Woe’ could first be heard in a 2015 trailer for the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt which told a short story about the game’s lead character, Geralt, hunting a Bruxa (a kind of vampire-like creature, inspired by the Bruxsa of Portuguese folklore.)
Månegarm Drops Viking Metal Single ‘Ulvhjärtat’ Ahead of New Album
Looking towards the heavier takes on Swedish history and lore, the Viking-metallers in Månegarm strike straight at the wolf’s heart with their new Single ‘Ulvhjärtat’. Streaming now, the first track from the band’s upcoming 10th album, Ynglingaättens Öde (The Fate of the Ynglings), is a fresh taste of black metal growls and the boisterously swaying violin strings of folk metal that typifies the Månegarm sound.
The single’s title “Ulvhjärtat” translates to “The Wolfheart”, a motif seen in both the album’s art and music video.
While ‘Ulvhjärtat’ remains the only tantalizing taste of the coming album available so far, Månegarm’s Bandcamp page details the inspirations behind the record, track by track, laying out what to expect from the full album. The blackened folk metal of Månegarm this time around will follow the fate of the Ynglinga dynasty as told in the Old Norse poem Ynglingatal. The music video for this new track sees a frail young boy stalking a wolf through the woods before eventually slaying the beast and eating its heart. It would seem this is a central theme of the coming album. Speaking about the story of the new single Månegarm said,
“Ulvhjärtat is about Ingjald Illråde, who was the last king of the Ynglinga dynasty that ruled over Uppsala and Svetjud. As a young boy, Ingjald was weak and frail but during a great feast, the midvinterblot, Ingjald was advised by his foster-father, the blind man Svipdag, to eat a wolf´s heart to gain strength. Ingjald followed the old man’s advice but the outcome was not only that Ingjald became hardened and stronger… he also took on the mind and temper of the wolf.”
With an epic story of treachery and brutality as severe as the band’s own sound, Ynglingaättens Öde seems set to be an incredible opus from the Swedes, itself set to drop on April 15th.
Preorders for Ynglingaättens Öde are open now, with ‘Ulvhjärtat’ currently available to stream on all major music platforms.
Sabaton Returns With ‘The Unkillable Soldier’
Historical power metal of Sabaton returns on their brand new single ‘The Unkillable Soldier’. An anthem of defiant endurance for a lone soldier who carries on despite his injuries, “at the edge of madness”, to keep coming back for more; this slice of energetic metal charges on with Sabaton’s signature-galloping guitars and glorious group vocals.
Sabaton is a band that at this point in their career are synonymous with war and battle, be it throughout their unique brand of historically inspired power metal or their electrifying live shows that frequently see the Swedish five-piece decked out in camouflage, and in the case of singer Joakim “Jocke” Brodén — his infamous metal-plated vest.
Since 2019 the band has been following a conceptual arc for their releases, beginning with the album The Great War, which revolves around the events of the First World War, a theme that is set to be continued on the upcoming album The War to End All Wars.
Remarkably (though played to some comic effect in the official music video), ‘The Unkillable Soldier’ is inspired by the legendary, historical figure of Adrian Carton de Wiart; the son of a barrister who fought in the Boer War in South Africa, as well as in both World Wars, endured injuries to his face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, ear, amputated his own fingers, survived two plane crashes, and at one point, even tunneled his way out of a prisoner-of-war camp.
An astounding character, the unrelenting attitude of Adrian Carton de Wiart makes for an apt pairing with the tone of Sabaton’s soaring sound. This approach follows the more grounded but similarly devoted ‘Soldier of Heaven’ as well as last year’s ‘Christmas Truce’, both with their own varied tones, but telling that same story of a band of brothers fighting to survive and win, in a war on a scale that, until then, had never been seen before.
While ‘The Unkillable Soldier’ is far from the most solemn song about war, Sabaton has shown on recent singles and throughout The Great War, that there is more to their music than cries of glory and grandeur. A lot more.
Sabaton’s ‘The Unkillable Soldier’ is available now on all music services with their next studio album The War to End All Wars due for release on March 4.