Album: Norwegian Gothic
Label: Pelagic Records
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Written by James Sweetlove
The two-piece hail from Norway and have been active for two decades at this point, with an extensive release catalogue under their belt. The duo is Kjetil “Tall Man” Nernes and Karin “Dark Diva” Park. The team work with a number of colorabtive artists on this release, such as Lars Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist), cellist Jo Quail, Tomas Järmyr (Motorpsycho), Anders Møller (Turbonegro,Ulver) and Massimo Pupillo (Zu). The album was produced by Jaime Gomez Arellano(Black Eyed Peas, Paradise Lost, Hexvessel, Oranssi Pazusu).
For a little bit of history about the band and some context regarding the album and its art, the band state that “It is basically an amalgamation of all of our influences here in the church where we live. Musically it is inspired by all the albums of our record collection and thematically by the books we have in our shelves. More specifically it is our special brand of rock’n’roll music mixed with fin-de-siecle decadence, surrealism and even a pinch of old German philosophy to boot… After five albums, a few Grammys, writing a Eurovision entry for Norway and hits for other artists and performances with Lana Del Rey and David Bowie, Karin returned to the village of her youth and bought the church where she first sang in front of an audience as a child. The church is where they rehearse and record, surrounded by pianos, organs and hundreds of old bibles that the church left behind when the congregation stopped. The clerical environment has proven to be an excellent creative tapestry for a band whose lyrical focus orbits around sex, death and defiance.”
Just like anything put out by Årabrot the album has an iconic blend of gothic, new wave/post-punk and alternative rock. However, on this release the band has really refined their sound to epitimise everything that they have developed over the span of their career, particularly the last 10 years. There is something familiar about the music, in that it conjures up memories of 80s post punk/gothic rock that we all know and love, but at the same time its fresh and unique and has that much more of a raw edge to it. That edge comes to some extent from the noise rock elements incorporated into the album and the handful of grunge elements also thrown into the mix.
People can still refer to this as simply being rock music if they wish, due to the fact that despite it being highly alternative and truly unique it still comes across as very accessible for the most part. This is something that you could play for a group of friends who aren’t really into alternative music and they would still most likely enjoy or at the very least wouldn’t mind. At the same time, those who like their music to be more on the unusual side and like a bit of boundary pushing and weirdness will still find plenty to love about this album. The music sits on that sweet spot between being true art and being objectively enjoyable music.
The album for the most part has a brooding sort of energy to it and an edgy undertone that keeps things fresh and exciting. I would also say that it gets relatively heavy in parts, but never so heavy that it would turn off many rock listeners. The guitar work has a fantastic tone to it, it has just enough downtuning and distortion in many parts to keep things exciting. It really picks up on that gothic/new wave energy, but keeps things rock focused. The bass work on the album is fantastic and rumbles through as a thick and audible tone for much of the release. Due to the guitar generally sitting at a lower tone, the twang of the bass at times rolls across the top of it. Both the guitar and bass work do at times sit a little on the technical side of things with some unusual time signatures and unique riffs and hooks.
We also have to give some credit to the drum work on the album which while being somewhat minimalistic really completes the album’s overall sound and sets a base level of rhythm for the string instruments and vocals to exist upon. We also get some interesting electronic textures layered into the mix in parts to fully pad-out the sound. The contribution of the guest musicians and the unique elements that they bring to the mix also needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.
Lastly, we have to talk about one of the most important elements on the album, the vocals. The semi sung, semi shouted vocal style of Tall Man perfectly suits the energy and tone of the release. It adds to that alternative and somewhat dark energy on the album and re-enforces those gothic undertones. It has as unique a sound to it as the instrumental work on the album and stands out as truly distinctive. Dark Diva’s vocals on the other hand are a thing of true beauty and her powerful voice is something that sticks with you long after listening to it. While she features far more rarely on the album, when you do hear her voice it is extremely impactful, and it becomes clear why she has so many music accolades and achievements.
Overall, this is a fantastic release and one that should be listened to by anyone who is a fan of alternative or gothic rock. For me this was my introduction to the band but after falling in love with the album I had to go back and check out their previous releases and discovered a catalog of music that I am truly sad to have taken so long to uncover. So, do not waste any more time and give this release and this band the attention that they deserve.
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