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Gjallarhorn — Sjofn
(NorthSide NSD6052, 2000, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2001-03-01

Sjofn Cover artFans of the progressive strain of Nordic music pioneered by Hedningarna and Garmarna now have another genre-bending band to latch onto. Finland’s Gjallarhorn take some of the elements of those two bands and add some intriguing new twists to make one of the most fascinating sounds of 2000. Nordic music is noted for drones under the ornamental melodies, usually provided by a stringed instrument (violin, hurdy-gurdy and so on) or Jew’s harp, or, in modern cases, a synthesizer. Gjallarhorn incorporate a drone instrument from a very different part of the world – the Australian didgeridoo. Strange as it may seem, it’s an inspired match. The beautiful voice of Jenny Wilhelms floats over the low drone, joined by fiddle and mandola and other acoustic instruments. A wide variety of percussion from around the world, including African djembe and Latin congas, provides a driving pulse on most tracks. Given the incredible power of the music, it’s hard to imagine there are no electric or electronic instruments. Between the expansive tone of the didgeridoo and the percussion, which ranges to spirited but subtle shakers to pounding toms and frame drums, synthesizers and electric guitars become quite irrelevant. For their source material, the band take inspiration from traditional tunes of Sweden, Iceland, and Karelia, but the interpretation is all their own. Other band members Christopher Öhman (viola, mandola, fiddle, kalimba, and vocals), Tommy Mansikka-Aho (didgeridoo, slideridoo, Jew’s harp, and percussion), and David Lillkvist (more percussion instruments than I care to type out) provide a superb level of musical imagination backing Wilhelms’ voice (multitracked in luscious arrangements) and fiddle. It is only with great difficulty that I tear myself away from this disc to review anything else.

Filed under: New releases, Issue 21, 2000 releases

Related artist(s): Gjallarhorn

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