December 9, 2020 — Herknungr’s professed love for industrial and ambient music is front and center on his sixth record Langfeðgar. Established by English multi-instrumentalist Alex McCree, the entire Herknungr project has exhibited a steady yet undeniable progression in both production and compositional efforts, removed from the usual neofolk practices by pure dint of his approach to Nordic and Germanic influences. Sure, the standard historic instrumentation and vocalizations are present. Still, the approach has always closer resembled that of the industrial world. A combination of percussion instruments, metallic clangs, and — on a surface level at least – looped instrument samples creating small-scale sonic symphonies.
Percussion is key to the Herknungr sound. Propelling the music along whilst grounding its more ethereal elements. As if serving as an anchor for godly goings-on happening just above the awareness of the listener. That said, Langfeðgar does show some signs of deviation from this formula. Not least in how prominent other instruments are to the current sound and how everything is incorporated. Indeed, debut Norþæn felt almost sparse in its approach, its sound slowly emerging from a fog of ambiance. Whilst follow-up Ráða made use of consistent bass notes to create a consistent wall of noise which the music could play against. Langfeðgar opts for neither of these extremes, its incorporation of ambiance measured more within the instrumental compositions than as a force in its own right.
In this way, the release also stands at odds with Herknungr’s more recent output. Including this year’s earlier releases Hugleikinn and Vinna (Herknungr clearly having kept himself busy throughout lockdown!). On these, percussion was often front, and center of the composition, the influence of industrial felt keenly in the structures. Langfeðgar takes an approach more in tune with purist Nordic folk artists. Wherein he wholesale creates compositions around the instrumentation rather than subsuming it into a more modernized approach. ‘Intro’ is just that – a gentle introduction to the record’s sound. That quickly takes off once ‘Hólmgöngumaður’ sets off with a conflict of nimble tapped percussion and awning blares of bass-noted wind instruments. Fulfilling the role of ambient sound for this latest release.
“In fact, it isn’t until three tracks in that we get closer to the more recognizable side of Herknungr. Where experimentalism takes over, and we begin to see ambient sounds incorporated more noticeably into the compositions. As breathing and scrabbling sounds create a soundscape on Divided Jarldom like a Viking-era STOMP.”
Fittingly, Langfeðgar loosely translates as ‘ancestors on the father’s side’. Giving this record’s inclination towards both the primal, Warband-like beats and general historical approach a fresh veneer. In fact, it isn’t until three tracks in that we get closer to the more recognizable side of Herknungr. Where experimentalism takes over, and we begin to see ambient sounds incorporated more noticeably into the compositions. As breathing and scrabbling sounds create a soundscape on Divided Jarldom like a Viking-era STOMP. Interestingly, this also serves to distance Herknungr from the usual inherent humanism prevalent throughout folk. Lending his music a detached, other-worldly feel that interacts with the folk we know and recognize but otherwise keeps it at a distance.
Guests are in short supply for Langfeðgar, but where they do appear their presence is felt keenly. The pairing of Herknungr and Danish neofolk artist Fuimadane is a natural fit. Especially considering both approaches their shared Nordic influences from the more modern spectrums of electronic and industrial music. His appearance on Orrostumaðr powers a rhythmic trudge that matches the tale being told in the lyrics. That of a warrior pursuing his enemy with ‘relatives and countrymen’. Blaring horns make the war and violence in the air near-tangible, and but for a single misstep where a loop awkwardly begins again the song retains a remarkable sense of narrative that makes the song almost danceable in quality. The record’s final track also features its only other collaboration, this time with
Finnish musician Amanda Aalto. Making full use of Aalto’s sublime vocalizations, the track once again makes use of Herknungr’s ear for a synthesis of darkness and light, contrasts of bass and treble creating a distinct and powerful backdrop for Aalto to soar above.
Just two years from formation, Alex McCree has made Herknungr into a prolific source of progressive neofolk. Taking the aesthetic and instrumentation of the old and bringing it firmly into the 2020s. Langfeðgar expands his skill set even further, shifting elements that have been a staple of his sound from the beginning so they can still be utilized whilst creating stronger bonds with his sonic counterparts around the world. If such progression continues, it is fair to say he represents a true symbiosis between historic and contemporary approaches to the vast and influential landscape of Nordic folk music.
Langfeðgar is independently self-released by Herknugr and can be bought directly from his Bandcamp store.