Creative, interesting and most definitely odd
For the better part of 15 years or so Norway’s (Oslo based) Solefald and its enduring duo of Cornelius and Lazare have consistently thumbed their noses at convention and, in the process, have created some extremely interesting material. Back in the days of tape trading I was able to get my hands on the band’s 1997 debut album, The Linear Scaffold, from a mate and still to this day find so much to like about it. While clearly influenced by the populist black metal movement of the time the band was also extremely ballsy due to their complete lack of fear in taking their music to weird, unexpected and avant-garde places. Though The Linear Scaffold made a very positive impression on me, in all honesty, I can’t say that I’ve really kept up with the band’s output since that album, having only heard bits and pieces over the years, so when Norrøn Livskunst made its way into my inbox I couldn’t wait to see what had become of the band.
Album opener, Song Til Stormen, with it’s soaring, sprawling melodies and stunning clean vocals kicks the album off beautifully and has quickly become one of my favourite tracks from recent memory. The distinct lack of black metal influence proves to be somewhat deceptive as the calming feeling this track gives off is swiftly dashed when the blast beats of the titular track roar through the speakers. Thankfully this track, and none of the others on the album for that matter, ever strays into the realm of pure black metal (I mean, this is Solefald after all) but the shift in feel between the first and second tracks alone is rather jarring and is a recurring theme throughout the album.
Having no access to the album’s lyric sheets (and having done no research on my own, I must admit) I can’t say with any amount of certainty that Norrøn Livskunst has any overarching themes though, in light of the band’s last two albums, the two part Icelandic Odyssey, it would seem reasonable to assume that there’s something tying the whole thing together. If we are to assume that there is some kind of thematic link between the songs on offer then just what tracks Tittentattenteksti and Stridsljod (Blackabilly) are meant to signify becomes all the more baffling. While certainly enjoyable in their own right, both songs feel slightly out of place in relation to the others and are most likely why I’ve listened to this album close to a dozen times before I attempted to write this review; the flow and intent of the album just hasn’t been overly clear and it’s been bugging me while I’ve been trying to work it out.
The last real surprise of the album comes from the oddly titled Eukalyptustreet with its heavy reliance on the saxophone, accompanying piano and mixture of male and female vocals. It’s part folk song, part ballad and, well, lots of other parts as well. It was, along with the opening track, one of the real highlights of the album for me.
From this point there isn’t anything too far left of field thrown at the listener but there is most definitely a more obvious and continuing vibe shared across the remaining five tracks. The pace is generally faster (and relatively consistent) and an eye is turned towards the balance between the harsher elements of Solefald’s sound and their quieter, more avant-garde tendencies.
An avant-garde album can sometimes be a hard thing to appreciate in its entirety as a listener and equally hard (if not harder) to produce as a musician but, setting aside my minor quibbles with the overall flow of Norrøn Livskunst, Solefald has crafted a fantastically interesting album with plenty of variety and influences thrown into the mix. Their ability to incorporate elements from their culture into their, shall we say, eclectic musical tastes without being too heavy handed in application belies the true talent shared between Cornelius and Lazare.
(Indie Recordings/Riot! Entertainment)