October 17, 2021 — Today’s weekly roundup may look sparse on the surface but is, in fact, abundant as the past few days were graced by releases from two highly competent neofolk artists pulling some lesser-known inspiration from the roots of Nordic culture and in doing so deliver two tracks that both have fascinating stories to tell — coupled by great performances.
On a slow week like this, the Kurgan is reminded of the ‘ole adage “quality over quantity” which is just like we want it. Gåte (meaning “riddle”) is a Norwegian band from the historical Trøndelag area of Norway that plays local folk music — sometimes bred with metal and electronica. Gealdýr is, as many Kurgan readers will be aware, a Nordic folk/Viking-inspired project created by Dutch multi-talent Jonathan Barendsma who is on a musical journey to “Bringing the Old Norse wisdom back to life.”
Gåte Surprise-Drops ‘Solfager og Ormekongen’
There is much to unpack the moment Gåte launches into ‘Solfager og Ormekongen’ — the song provides a strong audio cue right from the opening. Bewitching is perhaps the best way to describe the performance of the band, which features the wondrous vocals of founding member Gunnhild Sundli. She is joined by her twin brother, Sveinung, and bandmates Magnus Borkmark, Jon Even Scharer, and Mats Paulsen to tell the legendary tale of ‘Solfager and the Serpent King’ — the latter word translating to “Ormekongen” in Norwegian (often erroneously translated to “Snake King”.) Intrigued fans should definitely read the Kurgan Compass™ review of Gåte’s most recent album Til Nord.
“Bewitching is perhaps the best way to describe the performance of the band, which features the wondrous vocals of founding member Gunnhild Sundli.”
‘Solfager og Ormekongen’ refers to the tale of Solfager, a beautiful maiden bound to her significant other, David, who is unaware his fiancé is pursued by the Serpent King. Infatuated with the gentle Solfager, the Serpent King slips her into a deep, Cinderella-like sleep, hoping to trick David into thinking she is dead. Once buried, the Serpent King visits Solfager at her grave and gives her a choice: die where she lay or join the King for eternity. Not wanting to be buried alive, the maiden agrees to join the Serpent King, but, alas, David is not one to be fooled. Upon learning that Solfager is alive, he pursues the Serpent King and slays him, freeing his love from the wriggling lizard.
Although the story of prince charming rescuing his princess from the clutches of evil is as old as time itself, it is rarely told with the passion felt in Gåte’s phenomenal ‘Solfager og Ormekongen’. Gåte’s performance does not only weave the fable with genuine passion but in doing so conjures visuals in listeners’ heads as they are brought along to a genuinely fantastical and Romantic age of heroes, love, and chivalry.
‘Solfager og Ormekongen’ is out now and has been added to the Kurgan Compass™ neofolk playlist on Spotify for immediate listening (flip the date switch.)
The World Tree Informs Gealdýr’s New Single
‘Solfager og Ormekongen’ is not the only new track that sings of myths and legends, as Gealdýr’s latest release ‘The Three Roots’ draws inspiration from the sacred tree of life, Yggdrasill.
The rhythmic and repetitious sounds of Gealdýr’s ‘The Three Roots’ are hard not to get sucked into as you patiently wait for the vocals to kick in. And when they do, it’s evident that there’s a tale to tell, and Gealdýr is here to tell it. Yggdrasill is said to have three primary roots that snake through the soil, piercing the realms of mankind, the giants, and the underworld.
According to legend, which is the focus of this ceremonial Nordic track, the tree’s roots were planted in Midgar, Jotunheim, and Hel, and upon all of them, a serpent chews at the very existence of life. As is evident in slow but powerful vocals, Yggdrasill is all very figurative, and the serpent represents the inevitable as man imposes his weight on the root at Midgard.
Jonathan Barendsma leads his project Gealdýr on a quest to turn Old Norse wisdom and mythos into snippets of audio that help reinvigorate these fascinating traditions. To lend a unique sound to the track, Barendsma turned to throat singing for the first time, a practice that has become more popular recently and was first introduced into Nordic folk by way of acts like the Russo-Nordic band Draugablíkk and Siberian shamano-specialists NYTT LAND (of course, there are Mongolian bands like The Hu that exist outside the neo-Norse space that has practiced various forms of throat-singing for decades.)
‘The Three Roots’ can be found on Gealdýr’s official Bandcamp page and as per usual we recommend fans purchase a digital copy to support the artist directly.
The meager payments Apple Music and Spotify and the likes “spit out” is an insult to independent artists (rest assured Odin is not happy about it either) so make sure that talents like Gåte and Gealdýr are heard by more people by following the Kurgan Compass™ neofolk playlist on Spotify or why not recommend folk artists you enjoy listening to by some old-fashioned word-of-mouth?