Gjallarhorn: Nordic Music for Your Consideration

We usually think of folk rock as being either of British or American in origin, say The Byrds or The Animals, both of which used folk sources in their music.

There’s also a lot of magic in the Finnish/Swedish music of Gjallarhorn. The didgeridoo, the percussion, the absolutely outstanding vocals, the lyrics. This is world music at its best from the land of fire and ice.

Finnish music is their forte, not Swedish, despite their origin in a Swedish culture dominated Finnish province. Most of their repertoire is the acoustic folk music of these Swedish-speaking Finns, from the unique minuets, waltzes” and ballads that have only survived in Ostrobothnia, their native region.

In Norse mythology, Gjallarhorn is Old Norse for yelling horn. It was the horn blown at the onset of Ragnarök, the end of the world. Gjallarhorn is mentioned in both the poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional material, and the prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson.

Gjallajorn is, I believe, now defunct which means they put out four brilliant albums. Their first, Ranarop in 1997, Set the tone of traditional material updated with a Nordic version of FHL (Faster Harder Louder) that even included one of the best uses of a didgeridoo as a drone I’ve ever heard. Musically, the band is a mixture of fiddle, mandola, didgeridoo, and percussion, with vocals provided by Jenny Wilhelms. Ranarop: Call of the Sea Witch is an amazing album, with a singular sound which makes the band appear to be larger than it is. The songs deal with magical events, witches, gods, and the not always kind forces of the sea.

Three years after Sjofn was released in 2000 their next album, Grimborg, would be released. like another great Nordic band, Frifot, Their music has a strong consistency across their albums that makes for superb listening no matter which recording you are playing.

Their last album, Rimfaxe (which I now note that we need to review as it escaped being done earlier), would be nearly a decade later. It sounds, not surprisingly, a lot like the first album — you see the video of the title track here. For pure visual impact, I prefer ‘Hjaðningaríma’ from Sjofn in which a naked gold painted Jenny dances and sings in a field of ripe grain.

Gjallarhorn proves that well-crated, super by played folk rock is not the sole endeavour of American and British groups!

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