What does culture sound like? What does mythology sound like? These two questions are what folk music attempts to answer. Neofolk, the rebellious, angry child of folk music has been able to come up with some answers to these questions by going toward the shadows rather than the light that traditional folk music focuses on. Bands like Paleowolf, Ugniavijas, and Wardruna are often the best examples of neofolk these days that looks through the shadows. These artists tend to ritualize the music, framing their sound around events that might not have been ritualized during the time but have come to have a very special meaning to us in the present. Another artist that I would like to put forward is Gaetir, the Mountainkeeper and their album “Ór Ymis Holdi.” What they lack in Wardruna’s presence and history they make up for in pure atmosphere.
Most of the time I don’t like to directly compare artists. I know I often do for the same of a visible (or audible, however you look at it) example. In this instance I feel that I have to directly compare the two because they are linked in so many different ways. One, both of them look hard into Nordic mythology. Wardruna’s work famously focuses on the runes and their magical power while Gaetir’s work primarily focuses on the actual mythology, accepting it, for the purposes of the album and the atmosphere, that the stories contained in the Eddas and elsewhere are true. Wardruna’s work has made its way into the mainstream with Vikings but Gaetir is relatively new and cannot depend on famous connections to build their base. Nordic folk music has its own chapter in the history of folk music because of the saturation of the mythology in our daily lives (thanks to somewhat inaccurate TV shows and wildly incorrect comic books) is very high right now.
Two, both artists focus on the ambience their music is surrounded and the cultural (if not historical) accuracy to Nordic mythology. Each artists’ albums are steeped in traditional instruments from Scandinavia rather than the causal guitar and drums used by many other artists. This sort of authenticity lends their music credibility, when the listener sits down to hear Ór Ymis Holdi they can do so with the confidence that the music is truly symbolic of the music that was played hundreds of years ago and therefore can accurately portray the myth of creation and the death of Baldur, the two stories that play very deeply in Ór Ymis Holdi. It’s this credibility, this believability, that gives the album its strength, Without the frosty, cave like atmosphere crafted in production the album would not be as special, the myths and tales within the album would not the meaning that they do.
Neofolk’s purpose is not to supplant the oral tradition of storytelling but to enhance it. That is why, I believe, Ór Ymis Holdi has no vocals to speak of. Yes, it has some narration in Old Norse and some chanting but these elements are not specifically for storytelling as they are to accompany and augment the altered state of reality the music is meant to create. Gaetir does this effortlessly with their album. One could say that Wardruna’s albums take place by the fire, their story being told by a skald to his audience but not so with Gaetir. No, this music is told in a higher dramatic fashion. It’s told by a narrator on the cold, snowy slopes of the mountains that border Jötunheim or in the primordial chaos that was Ginnungagap. These tales are not mere recollections of the elders, but the stories of the gods themselves. That alone gives Gaetir a lot of power of the listener, I myself was truly transfixed by the power of the music.
Many times, Ór Ymis Holdi actively strays into dark ambient territory, relying on a soundscape of noise rather than music to enhance the vision given to the listener. This is significant because that breaks with neofolk’s normal way of telling stories. Ór Ymis Holdi can be seen as the total package almost, using every type of music there is to convey the deep meaning of the story. The production, too, of such an album would be very different I think from the production of a straight neofolk or a straight dark ambient album. One focuses on music and the other on all the things not music. Combining them in a way that both are presented to the listener as central to the storytelling is important and could have failed miserably. Thankfully each sound is in its place with its own significance.
I would recommend Ór Ymis Holdi and Gaetir, the Mountainkeeper in a heartbeat because of the gravity and depth of the album. It’s rich with sound and significance. It’s rare that I would recommend an underground album over its mainstream counterpart, normally I’d recommend both of them, but in this case I think Gaetir takes the cake. Ór Ymis Holdi has something special and pairing it with another album would do a disservice to it. Listen to Ór Ymis Holdi, listen to it by a fire or with a mug of your favorite beer, listen to it in the dark so your mind can paint on its canvas. Above all though, listen to this album.
Listen and support!
Gaetir, the Mountainkeeper’s Official Facebook Page – Show them your support!
Gaetir, the Mountainkeeper’s Bandcamp Page