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Nordic elegance - 100%

Xyrth, December 17th, 2011

Solefald is sort of a strange case for me. After being blown away by their debut, The Linear Scaffold, which I found to be an extremely original piece of unorthodox and somehow wacky black metal, they where neglected by me for a long time. I just listened to a few songs here and there of some of their other albums and that’s it. I can’t explain why; they just fell under my radar for no apparent reason. Until Nørron Livskunst came out. It was love at first listening. I was immediately hooked, starting with the sophisticated album cover, which initially led me to believe that they had embraced a more streamlined viking metal sound. Not quite, since there are a lot of varied influences here, blended to create a magnificent piece of Nordic metal of the highest quality, an elegant grand design true to what the Scandinavian people are known to be able to create.

I’ve never been to Norway (some day I will). I’ve been to Sweden though, and as a Mexican, I can tell you I was amazed by the huge contrasts between our cultures and societies. And something that I didn’t expect at all was to find such hospitality, humility and candor. In conclusion, I didn’t find most Swedes to be cold at all, as they’re often thought of. I imagine it’s similar with the Norwegian, though don’t mean to insult anybody with the comparison nor ignorantly imply that they’re exactly the same. But this album is a proof of that northern warmness. I mean, this is still (avant-garde) black metal, though the music here reminds me of a not-so-known face of the Norsemen in the metal music context; that of a colorful and sophisticated folk. This is not grim and frostbitten, doesn’t feel dead and cold, nor savage, isolated and unreachable as some black metal act’s music. This record is brimming with life, intelligence, absurdity and humor, despite being aggressive and melancholic at times. And that makes it extremely original and unique.

Now, since there’s really A LOT of variation to be found here, I must delve into song description. This is the sort of album where each song has very distinctive features and all of them together create an outstanding whole. Almost every song here is a masterpiece of its own, thus the quality of this album is impeccable, starting with “Song Til Stormen” an Olav Håkonson Hauge’s poem transformed into an enormously magnificent epic ballad by the capable lungs and amazing pipes of Lazare. It just overwhelmingly blew my mind the first time I listened to it. Beautiful and potent indeed, yet the album’s mood shifts 180 degrees with the title-track’s whipping riffs and blast-beats. Total black thrashing violence, though not mindless, for this is catchier than the porcine flu, and way more enjoyable. Then, “Tittentattenteksi” arrives, sounding as crazy as you imagine… probably more. An amusing extreme metal tongue twister, it features the majestic and deranged vocals of Agnete Kjølsrud, better known for collaborating in Dimmu Borgir’s latest release. Here they’re plain brilliant, an absolute highlight.

Track number four is “Stridsljod/Blackabilly”, and as it is implied, it’s an amalgamation of black metal and rockabilly, with hilarious lyrics that seem to ironically mock some aspects of the typical black metal mentality. The merging of styles is more than a success; we are not talking about a failed experiment here. It sounds strange, yet fulfilling. Then, a mild calm before the Norse storm resumes, “Eukalyptustreet” carries us with its jazzy cadence and vivid saxophone melodies, while occasionally bursting into the pagan grandeur of the opener. After this nine-minute gentle giant, the thrice as short “Raudedauden” heralds the return of the elegant punishment with its chainsaw riffs and Cornelius’ harsh barking. “Vitets Vidd I Verdi” is less caustic yet equally compelling, sailing between the past two songs waters and boasting memorable keyboards and another excellent intervention of Agnete Kjølsrud’s voice. Then we hear the least amazing track, “Hugferdi”. It’s not bad, just not as distinct or engaging as it’s peers. “Waves Over Valhalla: An Icelandic Odyssey Part III” takes us back to the glorious viking metal of past efforts, serving as the concluding piece of said works, while the calm and reassuring “Til Heimen Yver Havet” closes the album in epic fashion not unlike the first track.

The two outstanding masterminds behind this masterpiece are on top form, musically and lyrically. Cornelius abrasive vocals and sharp riffs are an exquisite counterpoint to Lazare’s mind-blowing melodic vox, precise and rampant skin-battering, and lush keyboards and orchestration. The choruses and vocal arrangements alone are reason enough to listen to this, and Cornelius even uses a calm narrating approach in some songs to great avail. Production is virtually perfect, with a crunchy buzz saw yet crystal clear tone for the guitars and organic feel for the other instruments. Moreover, all the complex layers of sound and texture can be easily indentified and enjoyed. The addition of a varied array of resources, like the vocals of Agnete Kjølsrud, the saxophone and hardanger fiddle, demonstrates the ambition of these gentlemen to create an unique soundscape, influenced by the early 20th Century Norway, an ambition I think bears its fruits. Cornelius’ lyrics continue to amaze, though sometimes they’re hard to translate, since most are written in a Norwegian dialect known as “høgnorsk”, an antecessor of today’s modern Norsk, which they occasionally intertwine with English.

Ultimately, Nørron Livskunst serves as an invitation to look past the usual aesthetics of Norwegian metal music, and explore different tones and shapes while partaking an amazing sonic voyage. Though I consider this to be one of 2010’s top releases and I bet this is probably Solefald’s best by far, its music might be a bit “too beautiful” and weird for some to fully appreciate it. Just as Cornelius himself said in an interview:

“We make intelligent music for all kinds of people. But maybe only the intelligent or the weird bear with us...”