With the hustle and bustle of our world, pandemic be damned, I find myself longing for a bit of the old way. Modern times are scary, and there are moments where it would be nice to strip back the silicon exterior of our day to day lives. In this sense, the new album from Swedish folk revivalists Garmarna was impeccably timed. Fittingly enough, said new album, the band’s seventh, is titled Förbundet, translating to “The Union.” The blend of Old World instrumentation with hints of modern electronic elements makes for an attention-grabbing listen, and the band’s interpretations of songs and hymns of the olden days stir up emotions like a bow across a violin string. The multiple-tracked haunting vocals of singer Emma Hardelin adds to the overall product, and gives us an outstanding overall effort.
Our opening comes in “Ramunder,” a ballad about a powerful warrior dating back to the eighteenth century. Ramund fought giants, monsters, and emperors alike, enjoying a large, if not laughable, advantage in nearly every fight he ever had. It’s stompy, unconventionally heavy, and buffered by excellent production by Christopher Juul and a mora harpa performance by Anders Noruude of Hedningarna that cuts through the mix. It’s a strong, anchoring single that kicks off the record with fire.
Next is “Två Systrar,” which sees Hardelin joined by Heilung’s Maria Franz for a medieval ballad of two jealous sisters. One sister drowns another to get her way to her fallen sister’s betrothed, only for the dead sister’s hair to be used in making a harp which, once plucked, sings out the evil deeds done by the still-living sister. There’s a sway and a swagger to the track, with the vocals of Hardelin and Franz complimenting each other incredibly well.
Following that is “Dagen Flyr,” an old Estonian chorale about the longing for death and an end to life after the work has been done. With the upbeat nature of the song, it’s a celebration and not a funeral, a call to revel and not to mourn. It is dramatic, almost end credits scene in nature, a fitting way to send off the persona to the next life and what awaits them there.
“Sven i Rosengård” is another dark tale, this one of a brother who’s killed his kin and fled, only for the mother to discover what has transpired and wish for her son back. This is driven along by the acoustic guitars, the woodwinds, and the frenetic percussion. The boy has run off, leaving at least one body in his wake, and while Mother hopes that he will return, she knows deep down that he’s not returning. This song chills as much as it dances along.
“Ur världen att gå” comes next, as a chorale in the same vein as “Dagen Flyr.” Where that track was celebratory and welcoming of death, this one is a bit more foreboding and uneasy. Acoustic guitars ring out below Hardelin’s reflective vocals, with the drums taking a simpler approach, a bit more restrained than they’ve been up to now, at least till the track gets between verses. Another beautiful acoustic melody drives this song forward, even if the destination is the grave. What follows is a somehow even more cinematic-sounding affair in “Vägskäl,” with its emphasis on the crossroads of life and where one can go after a significant loss. This is one of two original tracks on the album, and one that employs more electronic elements than what we’ve heard so far. Even then, it is the strings that get to shine, as the track is largely void of any percussive elements.
“Lussi Lilla” is almost playful in tone, a departure from the drab and din we’ve experienced thus far. That said, the vocal harmonies here are unlike anything else on the record as well, and given what we’ve heard, that is a statement. Adding vocal harmonies to this track are Ulf Gruvberg of Folk & Rackare. In this tale, the titular Lussi is attacked by the king’s men, of whom she dispatches dozens. As a reward for her courage and tenacity, the king rewards her with a golden crown.
“Avskedet” follows in with an imposing percussion line, before Hardelin’s vocals ring in to tell a story of saying farewell. Of the songs of death we’ve had on the album, this is the most mournful, heart-wrenching one, with its deliberate pacing, translating to difficulty in letting go and saying goodbye. There is an affecting quality in this song that just doesn’t compare to what has been offered to this point. The song bleeds over into the album’s closer, “Din Grav,” a testament to the grandness of humanity, even as the world is falling apart around us. It is ominous and harrowing, but the electronic bits and Hardelin’s voice serve to be a light in this darkened world which the music has painted for us.
Förbundet is available now via Season of Mist. Order the album through the label’s store.