If you ever walked through a metal festival, you probably saw a lot of people wearing some kind of “viking” paraphernalia. Horned helmets (which, by the way, the vikings never wore), t-shirts with corny mentions of Valhalla, and pelts of questionable origin, all make clear that many metal fans have a fascination with Scandinavian folklore. This has become even more evident in recent years, with bands like Heilung and Wardruna reaching higher and higher levels of popularity, and playing in front of huge audiences. With this new interest in the genre, it made perfect sense for Season of Mist to become the home for the new album of Garmarna, a Swedish band that, since 1990, has been reinventing Scandinavian folklore.
Förbundet marks the return of Garmarna to traditional folk music, after the much more electronic-oriented 6, released in 2016. Despite the obvious differences in sound, however, this new album is not so much a cancellation of that exploratory work, but instead just the other side of the band’s interests. Indeed, at the time 6 was released, as Emma Härdelin recently told me an interview, the band already had material to produce another folk album, but still wanted to showcase those other influences. And though fans responded rather frigidly to 6, they didn’t stop supporting the band, as they were able to successfully crowdfund Förbundet through Kickstarter.
If you are a metal fan, and you are not already familiar with this style of more stripped-down folk rock, a good place to start would be the song “Dagen Flyr”, and which is quite reminiscent of the acoustic work of Eluveitie in their Evocation albums. This was the song that really got me interested in the band, as I really enjoyed the atmosphere that, in a way, I felt was being conveyed by the music. Emma‘s vocals are really perfect for the music, having a kind of “dark” feel to them that gives some of the music an ominous feel that is quite hard to describe unless you’re listening to it. I especially appreciated that “darkness” in songs like “Ur världen att ga” or “Avskedet”, where she seems to express an almost overwhelming feeling of sadness and longing.
What I particularly enjoyed about Förbundet is how the band managed to generate a full palette of emotions with the music, far beyond what the original songs intended. This is achieved by a really great mix, where all the instruments are given plenty of opportunity to shine, and add more and more layers to the music. It’s also made possible by the band’s desire to reinvent the songs in their own style, and not limiting themselves to merely “cover” folklore. While the sources might be fully Scandinavian, the band is not afraid to add different textures, with even something akin to eastern sounds making an appearance in songs like “Tva Sistar” and “Lussi Lilla” (a feeling shared by a belly-dancing friend who thought several of the songs would be perfect to dance to).
Though I believe that Förbundet is a good album and, in fact, I’ve listened to it quite a few times since I first got it, I do understand that its appeal can be limited. Those who want their music to be heavy, or who want their folk to be primal and raw (like Heilung) won’t really get anything out of this one. However, those who are willing to give this a try, and immerse themselves in the history of these traditional songs, will be rewarded for their effort. Förbundet gives us a great opportunity to see a different face of Scandinavian folk , one in which tradition mixes with modernity, and produces something completely new.