Last month, we received a message from this band from the Alsace in France. In October, they released their first EP, Unserland, with four beautiful pieces of music. The songs are inspired by regional history and its oldest legends. As soon as you start listening you are in a distant and ancient world. Low voices, dark tones, historical instruments, and primal forces can be felt immediately. This EP is a good start. If you love
it’s a good possibility you like
too. We at CeltCast are looking forward to hearing more of this band! And, maybe on stage in the near future? and My favourite song on Unserland? That is: Sterne.
Musical greetings, Ilona CeltCast
Once there was, and once there wasn’t.
One thing comes to pass, and the other doesn’t.
Two families fought before men walk the earth.
Out the peace they then wrath, followed unlively birth.
After many moons bloodshed, spears set aside.
In a great hall, they met to turn the red tide.
A cauldron was set in the midst of the thing. The anguish went out and the spittle went in.
From saliva of all, the wisest became, destined to fall and Kvasir his name….
With these words Grima,
new album, starts. A rather unconventional way for a Nordic folk band, but Sowulo was never meant to be a conventional band in the first place. Starting out as a musical project founded by Faber Hornbach to celebrate the pagan holidays, it developed into a musical journey deep into our pagan heritage. (Which for me as a dutch person mean the times of the Batavi and the Frisians, part of the west- and North Germanic tribes that inhabited western and northern Europe around the Roman times). And we are doing it through Faber’s eyes, traveling with him to the days of the Northern Germanic tribes. The times were stories were told of the worlds flanking Yggdrasil. Storys of the plights of the gods and their interactions with dwarves, giants, elves, and all the other mythical creatures living in the nine worlds
Just a year ago Faber surprised us with Mann, a personal Nordic folk album, really powerful and tribal, in which he searched for his inner warrior, lover, king and musician, in a way discovering his own person and his place in the ever-turning circle of life. Mann ended up being a very intense and beautiful pagan folk album, sung in Anglo-Saxon. An album that took me a while to fully understand, but I now count as one of the better Nordic folk albums in my collection.
Fast forward a cycle of the sun and we have a new Sowulo album. Part of it already came out as a digital album on Bandcamp, and again it was a huge surprise as it consists of stories, not songs! And not just any old stories. No, Faber and storyteller Niek van Eck traveled back in time to the days of Asgard, when Odin ruled the nine worlds, and Ragnarok was just a small ripple in the future to come. Stories that ended up being written down in the
the basis for all our knowledge of the Nordic myths and legends. Three of those stories made it onto Grima. Three stories based around the main theme of faith and destiny. Especially the futile struggle to escape your own destiny, be you a giant, man or god.
Triumph Over Tears, the third story for example, tells about the faith of Baldr, the son of Odin and his wife Frigg. It starts with the discovery of the Gods that Baldr was destined to die, and in their futile attempt to stop this from happening, they actually became responsible for his death! A death that otherwise may not even have happened.
Spātle Ǣghwās, the first single inspired by Grima is based on the ‘Saliva of all’ storytel-trackGungnirs Gap, the fourth story on Grima, is even clearer in its message. It tells of Odin who discovers that the Norns, the ones weaving and breaking the threads of life, manage to laugh at faith while doing so, totally bewildering Odin, who in the end discovers that even for him, the mightiest god there is, trying to avoid faith is futile.
The opening track Saliva Of All and Beguiled By Blood Brew together form the longest story on Grima. It tells about the faith of Kvasir. The wisest of all, whose fate was to be killed by greed, and whose blood was turned into the mead of poetry, the mead that even to this day gives us the beauty of poetry, music, and stories.
It is clear that Niek van Eck (left), our narrator in this world of ancient sagas did indeed ask Odin for a drop of inspiration, as did Faber because Grima is as impressive an album as Mann is in its own unique way.
From the first sentences of Saliva Of All, it is clear that Niek is a gifted story teller. He has a pleasant, deep, strong voice that fits these old Nordic stories perfectly. All told in English, his stories manage to captivate me time and time again. Even now, after listening to them for a fifth time, writing this review. He knows perfectly well when to slow the pace of his story, or when to speed it up to keep you captivated, and also when to change his tone of voice to emphasize a certain phrase or sentence.
Faber in his own right complements Niek very well. He took the stories and composed music under it, creating a perfect soundtrack to support every story Niek is telling. The best compliment I can give Faber is that the music never takes the foreground. While listening you tend to forget about it although you know it is there. The drums; the nyckelharpa; the strokes of the jouhikko; the gentle touch of the lyre; and the mythical sounds of the synth play some lovely repetitive themes that fit the stories very well. They lay a beautiful carpet on which Nieks words find a perfect resting place, changing rhythm and tune to emphasize every new chapter Niek is starting in his stories, but they never take over.
Only at the end of the last story, at the end of Gungnirs gap, Faber finally lets the music flow freely and lets the instruments tell their own story of fate, destiny and human nature.
A perfect ending to a lovely storytelling album.
Now Grima, in the form it was released on April 2020, would never have made it to the CeltCast review pages, as we are an acoustic music station. But luckily on the digipack, there are two bonus tracks, and they deserve just as much attention as the four beautiful stories I told you of above.
With Spātle Ǣghwās and Fæcele, Faber took the musical themes he used in the stories and transformed them into two lovely songs, sung in old Anglo-Saxon. That might sound a bit odd for a nordic folk album at first, an old English language? Not if you know the history of it. Anglo-Saxon was the language spoken by the Germanic tribes living in the north of Germany all the way up to the top of Denmark. It was those tribes who, together with the Frisians, from 375 AD onwards made the jump to east England after the Romans left there, driving the original Celtic inhabitants of England outwards to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, where Gaelic still lives today. So it is actually a north Germanic language
The first thing you notice when listening to Spātle Ǣghwās is the truly stunning voice of
best known as the backing vocalist of
She lifts the already very powerful, atmospheric folk of Sowulo into new heights, her voice effortlessly shifting from angelic hights to intensely piercing, she puts the crown on this historic folk ballad, inspired by the story of the birth of Kvasir.
Fæcele is a faster song that’s perfectly in line with the music we heard on Mann. It shares the strong male vocals, the nyckelharpa, and drums from Mann, but adds a certain feminine touch to it, especially through the classical influences and atmospheric vocals halfway in the song.
While the music under the four stories is played by Faber alone, on Spātle Ǣghwās and Fæcele he is joined again by his fellow bandmate and Celtic harp player Chloe Bakker. Furthermore, we hear Rikke Linsen
on Violin and Heleen de Jonge on Cello.
Faber has written yet another chapter in the story of Sowulo, a story that is as exciting as it is unexpected. I can’t wait for what the next page of their story will bring, I guess I will just have to wait till the wheel of life turns once more. But until then I will keep enjoying the ancient myths of the north, and the ancient sounds of the Northern hemisphere, clearly touched by the meade of poetry, the blood of Kvasir himself.
(For those who can’t get enough of the old Nordic saga, here is one more, recorded in 2016, just before Sol was released. In this case the narator is Eugene, and it is told in Dutch, but with English subtitles.
Cover art:Tim Elfring
Cliff de Booy (1)
Rebeca Franko Valle (2)
Samantha Evans (3 and Grima video covers)
Credits Ginnungagap Story video:
Video production by Jasper van Gheluwe | Deer and Wolf Productions
Soundtrack by Faber Horbach | Auroch Audio Productions
2020m05 – Myrkur – Harpes Kraft
The Power of the Harp
New month, new monthly marker!
Many songs tell us about the magical beauty of harp play and the powers a skilled player can wield under the right circumstances. Previously I was captured myself by
which upon investigation turned out to be one of many renditions of the same tale that has been traveling throughout Europe, shapeshifting and scope-creeping, evolving in time to well-known versions like
The Twa Sisters,
The Bonnie Swans and
Harp of Death.
Now, once more I am mesmerized by a harp-related song (or should I say ‘sange’? ) and this time as well, I simply had to know what was behind the softly sang lyrics brought across by the tempting voice of none other than
Amalie Bruun, a.k.a
Though mostly known for her Metal albums, Amalie has been diving deeper and deeper into the richness of Scandinavian traditional songs and clearly she came up with some pure Danish gold. As early as January of 2018, some of you may have been lucky enough to witness performances of Myrkur having struck new ground, touring together with other great artists of our scene, like
Christopher Juul (
) and… you guessed it: Kati Rán. Fortunately her collaboration with Christopher did not end when the tour did. In fact, she stepped into his famous Lava Studios and recently proudly released her latest album Folkesange.
This work of art is a 100% match with our station’s format, which means we will be able to play each individual track and what’s more: we have chosen Harpens Kraft as our new Monthly Marker, meaning we will be playing it 5 to 6 times a day for the month of May!
And this brings me back to the story:
dates as far back as (at least) 1570 and is a ballade about Villemann and Magnhild. Whilst playing a game, the bride is clearly distraught and Villemann inquires about the reasons for her distress, offering up several possibilities, which all are refuted by Magnhild. Instead, she reveals a premonition that she will fall (to her death) into the river Blide, like her two sisters did before her. Although the lyrics of Harpens Kraft end here, the story does not. Despite Villemann’s reassurances promising her the protection of many of his men and the building of a very strong stone bridge, she is not comforted and as it turns out, rightfully so. When Magnhild crosses the bridge, her horse rears up on its hind legs and she falls off into the river. The moment Villemann hears of this, is where Myrkur picks up lamenting in the song Villemann og Magnhild, the Norwegian part of this tale, which is also part of the repertoire of bands like (amongst others)
After her fierce
singing, Amalie continues to tell how Villemann took his golden harp to enchant the troll that was holding Magnhild, by draining the power from his arm with his harp play. As is often the case with Nordic tales, the (here unsung) ending isn’t a happy one, as she doesn’t come back to life, but he can at least provide a proper burial.
The story of this tale actually doesn’t end here and so, I will finish with the beginning. In the variations that could be heard in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, the troll was the villain, yet in Iceland, there was none but fate itself. Something happened halfway on the Norwegian Sea and clues can be found exactly there: on the Shetland Islands, wherein
the Scandinavian versions were predated by a very similar song from the 14th century:
This song has a happier ending, the Celtic influences are clearly recognizable in the character of the Elven King and the clue to the last part of this trip, lies in the naming of the hero of it all: Villemann is called
King (or Sir) Orfeo.
This is where my wonderings went full circle for me:
was one of the first Balfolk bands I danced to, back when the scene was just sprouting in the Netherlands and it was the personal CD collection of Erica, the flutist of that very band, that laid the foundation for CeltCast’s musical arsenal not much later.
There’s even more to this story:
Let me offer you the chance to go even further back in time and have a listen to
King Orfeo, a rendition of the late 13th century version of the Westminster-Middlesex area. This version was introduced via Breton poets in Medieval times and it contains a mixture of Celtic mythology, such as the faeries, the Greek myth of Orpheus.
Yes, you read that correctly: this tale brings you all the way back to Greek mythology when in 438 B.C. Euripides wrote the first known version of this love story of
Orpheus and Eurydice
And that to me is the true power of the harp: this instrument once again welcomed me to travel far beyond the confinement of my home and through 25 centuries to show how we are all connected, supported by the tales that travel through time, preferably put to beautiful music.
Sowulo releases a new album GRIMA
Cliff de Booy
Last Monday Sowulo announced that their new album GRIMA will be released coming friday, the 3th of april.
according to Faber: “In the last past months I worked on the upcoming Sowulo album.
Again I did my best to do something unexpected. I teamed up with Tumulus to create something truly unique.
The upcoming GRIMA album contains an immersive combination of Storytelling and Atmospheric music.
Tumulus aka Niek van Eck did what he does best: storytelling like a mad skald-wizard, and I had to honour to add some cinematic tune to it.
We recorded GRIMA from a place of deep presence, rooted in ancient stories of wisdom.’ The artwork, Faber told us: ‘Consists of drawings by Niek van Eck edited by Jasper van Gheluwe.
Friday the 3th of April, American time, GRIMA will be digitally released on all the major platforms and smaller platforms, including Spotify and Sowulo’s Bandcamp pagehere, where we can all listen the album for the first time.
Expect stories of Nordic saga told by Tumulus with compositions by Faber Horbachs hand under it. Indeed something truly unique.
The physical album release will take a bit longer. But just might be worth the wait. Of course will keep you informed on that.
picture by: Rebeca Franco Valle
Vilsevind – Dag O Natt (2019) Review
Cliff de Booy
At CeltCast we don’t often get post from South America. And if that envelope then also includes a Swedish folk CD, you can imagine the music team got a lot more than just interested. We were actually intrigued. The CD we got is called Dag O Natt, and the duo who sent it to us has the typical Argentine name of
A quick look at their Facebook page tells us a bit more:
-‘Vilsevind -Swedish for “wandering wind- is a Swedish-Argentine duo made up of spouses Sergio and Johanna Ribnikov Gunnarsson. As sound travels farther on water, their musical style can be described as North Sea music, a crossover between Nordic Folk and Celtic Music. Their main source of inspiration is Nordic history and folk life, superstitions and folklore and nature, especially that of the island of Öland, Johanna’s birthplace.’
And so I ended up with a North Sea folk album all the way from South America on my review desk. And I can already reveal, I am not complaining.
So Vilsevind is Swedish-born Johanna Ribnikov Gunnarsson on vocals and concertina, and Argentine-born Sergio Ribnikov Gunnarsson on vocals, Irish bouzouki, guitar, mandolin, hurdy gurdy, jaw harp and offerdalspipa (A Swedish flute based on a flute from the museum of the Offerdal Heritage Centre. It was bequeathed to the Heritage Centre in the 1960s by a man from Fiskviken, a village in the borough of Krokom.) Already an impressive list of instruments.
But the couple didn’t record Dag O Natt as a pure duo, not at all, it was a huge project with as much as twelve guest musicians involved, playing percussion, guitars, a Galician bagpipe, a Cretan Lyra, Strings and Irish whistles.
Vilsevind themselves already said that they play North Sea music, and from the first notes of Ingång: Dag you can hear this is more than just Swedish folk. This first song actually sounds more like film music with added sound effects. It sounds like a small vessel on the North Sea is washed ashore by the tides of time. In it are two musicians who wake up to tell their tale. I love the cello setting the tone in this song.
Ingång: Dag is followed by the upbeat song Fuego. Fuego is cool mix of folk influences. Think of a mix of the cabaresque sound of
Twigs and Twine,
the Swedish folk of
and a touch of medieval bagpipe.
The third song, Ödeblues, reminds me even more of Twigs & Twine. Not only in the way the music is arranged -a cabaresque, upbeat ballad that ends up as an acoustic power-ballad- but also in the vocals. Johanna has a pleasant voice that reminds me very much of Lian’s, one of Twigs & Twine’s female vocalists. Sergio has a nice warm voice that complements Johanna’s voice perfectly. As a singing duo their voices work very well together. During Ödeblues the different percussion and Irish bouzouki players join in. Where in Dag you could still say you are listening to a duo, during Fuego and especially Ödeblues it is clear that Vilsevind went for a full band sound. All in all Ingång: Dag, Fuego, and Ödeblues are a very pleasant start to this CD, that up to now is indeed more general Celtic sounding than pure Swedish.
Flat White/Elfshot is an instrumental song that starts as an instrumental Swedish folk ballad with Flat White, with a high pitched string- and tin whistle melody in it, that gives it an ever so slight Japanese/Chinese feel (to my ears at least.) I don’t think it is deliberate, but once I heard it I couldn’t get the comparison out of your mind anymore. What IS intended, is that the song is a lovely Celtic instrumental ballad that suddenly jumps to an Irish up-tempo dance song. And jump is the right word here. It really jumps from a ballad into a cheerful upbeat dance song, including an extremely cool jaw harp rhythm, bound to put a huge smile on your face (As will the story behind this song. Read it, you will laugh your a** off) A lovely musical surprise and this will not be the last surprising twist on Dag O Natt.
Thorsten Fiskare is a nice ballad based on a work by the Ölandic poet and playwright
Erik Johan Stagnelius.
Most of the songs, written by Sergio, Johanna or both of them together are in Swedish. The only two exceptions are Oración and Kalabalik which are sung in Spanish, the latter by Sergio. As far as I can tell from Google Translate (which had a looooot of trouble trying to translate the Swedish poetic lyrics into proper Dutch) all the songs are island folk poems, telling about universal themes as love, longing, loss, myth, and… wait for it… Coffee! For those who master Spanish, they can read all about the background of the songs on Vilsevind’s webpage. For those non-Spanish speaking readers, try translating the synopsis in Google Translate, that works much better. (Or you can use the link the band provided.
Coming back to Thorsten Fiskare, it is definitely one of my favourite songs on Dag O Natt. A lovely ballad to start with, The voices of Johanna and Sergio blend beautifully with the Irish bouzouki, and it would not be a Vilsevind song if the music didn’t change halfway through. In this case, you get the feeling
entered the studio to join in for a bit. Totally fitting for the story Vilsevind are telling in Thorsten Fiskare. Majsol is the loveliest of the ballads on Dag O Natt. A beautiful duet between Irish bouzouki and voice. There are moments at the start where I mistake Sergio’s bouzouki for a harp. Just stunning. The violin and concertina gliding into the sound at the end or the staccato string section after that are just the icing on an already beautiful cake. I have to compliment
Manuel Villar Lifac
on his string arrangements throughout the album, and also
Marcelo Ismael Rodriguez
who recorded, mixed and mastered Dag o Natt to an outstanding quality. I love all the bits and pieces added to the music to make it interesting. Well done!
By now we are nearing the end of the album. Virvelsinn is the song the duo wrote to give the name Vilsevind and everything it stands for its own voice. And indeed it represents the band perfectly. Virvelsinn is a celebration of poetic, European folk music. It feels like Johanna has taken the memories of her musical heritage and, together with the love of her life, and the new friends she gained, she plays it in a new land, both to cherish those memories and to give the music as a gift to the people in a new land she clearly loves too.
Kalabalik is one of the two songs in Spanish and the only one with Sergio on lead vocals, but don’t expect it to sound Argentinian at all. It’s a wonderful blend of Irish folk and Swedish traditional music in the Spanish tongue, admittedly with a bit of accordion that takes me to the lovely Celtic folk made in Brittany, as
Wouter & de Draak
would play it. And in that way Vilsevind keeps mixing the best bits of the western European folk music together. And Vilsevind has yet more tricks up their sleeve, how about an Indian sitar blended into Swedish folk for instance? In Vilsevinds musical world, not a problem. Another example is the lovely folk-pop flute melody in Tusentals Färdas, a song that could easily have been on
latest solo album too.
And that sums up Vilsevinds music. Its positive happy music, made with a big wink and a huge smile. Dag o Natt is indeed what Sergio and Johanna claim it is on their website: “A celebration of Swedish and Celtic folk music combined.” A celebration that I hope to hear a lot more of in the future. The world can use more musical smiles like this. A lot more, actually!
Editor: Sara Weeda,
Sleeve art: Sandra Núnez Castro,