Sometimes a job as a reviewer is just too easy. It is a delight when a title falls in my lap from a band I already have huge respect for, and when the release is also top notch, the hardest thing for me to do is not to gush too much. Enter the noise rock prog post punk blending Årabrot with their latest work ‘Norwegian Gothic’.
A little history first. There was an odd evening in Hanley, Stoke on Trent a few years ago. An empty office block had been temporarily converted into an asylum, then to the attic space to watch a Japanese film from 1926 called ‘A Place of Madness’, then a Norwegian band I had not heard before played a gig in that same dilapidated space. That band was Årabrot and they were stunning.
For the uninitiated, Årabrot have existed for two decades in one form or another and this is their ninth album. At the core is stetson sporting Kjetil “Tall Man” Nernes and Karin “Dark Diva” Park. They create their art in a converted church that is also their home. If you need musical touchstones, take elements of Killing Joke, Swans, Nick Cave, Tool, and Neurosis as a starting point and then launch into territories unknown.
‘Norwegian Gothic’, released by Pelagic Records, sees the band collaborate with Lars Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist), cellist Jo Quail, Tomas Järmyr (Motorpsycho), Anders Møller (Turbonegro, Ulver) and Massimo Pupillo (Zu). Production is handled by Jaime Gomez Arellano (Black Eyed Peas, Paradise Lost, Hexvessel, Oranssi Pazusu). With such an eclectic and lofty team, something special is born.
Opener ‘Carnival of Love’ lays down a Sabbath-like riff and vibe as a foundation for Nernes to exercise his vocal cords, utterly undiminished by his battle with, and overcoming of, throat cancer. As the song progresses, melodies and structure both cement and soar, the layers of the songwriting revealing themselves further on repeated listens. The grunt at 3:44 is a magic and primal touch that nudges the track into a heavy overdrive. ‘The Rule of Silence’ follows, ushered in by a solid drum rhythm before a dense and sweeping tapestry of art rock unfolds. The tempo is a tad more subdued, music to sway to, yet there is an urgency too. The melody carries a touch of eastern mystery, and more than a smattering of the gothic suggested by the album title. The track culminates in a heady dirge and a flourish that beckons in the unquestionably catchy ‘Feel It On’. Pop music this isn’t but the chorus is quite the ear worm, conjuring up the dark flamboyance of alternative eighties.
Artfully crafted rock music with both depth and immediacy
The bar has been set high yet Årabrot do not waver. ‘The Lie’ is another from the top drawer. Artfully crafted rock music with both depth and immediacy, with a war cry of a chorus chorus to boot. ‘The Crows’ shifts the of the album slightly with a raucous rabble rousing folk / post punk / prog (is that even a thing?) workout. ‘Kinks of the Heart’ plunges the listener back into a rock groove courtesy of a hefty riff and thumping drums. It sounds wonderfully meaty, and yes, there’s another one of those epic choruses. Next up is my album highlight ‘Hailstones for Rain’. The infectious shuffling rhythm is unrelenting and provides the backdrop for an utterly wicked saxophone hook, which will be difficult for any listener to forget in a hurry.
By this stage we’ve already witnessed enough sterling content to convince me that this is classic stuff and we’re only seven tracks in of sixteen. A short spoken interlude herald the arrival of ‘Hallucinational’, throwing quite the curve ball. A dingy soundscapes preludes a soaring vocal by Park. The orchestration is lush and deftly composed and the result track sounds like it has been lifted from a surreal moment in a Lynch film. Very darkly beautiful. Årabrot then provide a sonic headbutt with the snarling ‘(This is) The Night’ which is about as punk as the album gets. ‘Hard Love’ takes a more measured approach, a swagger rather than a sprint. The dual vocals work a treat as the track menacingly and suggestively thrusts hips forward. Another interlude of voice and soundscapes opens the gates to ‘Hounds of Heaven’, a filthy sleazy sounding beast of a song, all heavy sludge and insidious hooks. ‘Deadlock’ begins in a more subdued fashion but exudes no less quality than evident through the entire album. It soon builds up to a thunderous close before ‘The Moon is Dead’ slithers funereally into being. The track works it’s magic by drowning the listener in an audio morass then throwing subtle lines to safety with melodies and solos that emerge from the mire throughout the seven minutes plus duration. The album plays to a close with the brief and creepily spoken ‘You’re Not That Special’ , stuttering to a halt in the broken groove of an LP.
‘Norwegian Gothic’ is a great Årabrot album, possibly the best, and considering the band previously lifted a Norwegian Grammy for their efforts this is saying something. I urge anyone with a penchant for the alternative to seen this out. Årabrot are the best band most of you have never heard of. Essential.