Reviewed: April 2022
Released: 2022, By Norse Music
Reviewer: Kieron Hayes
Nordic folk music isn’t something I’m overly familiar with outside of its use as an accent or addition by some bands. Nanna Barslev’s debut full-length Lysbærer does an exquisite, entrancing job of showing just what this sort of music can do in the right hands, driven by sincere passion.
The whole album is a truly immersive experience. There are melodies and rhythms, but they call to the listener like a siren song echoing through the trees, demanding they join with the sway of the wind and the leaves. The album works to paint huge, sweeping landscapes, where every note is another brushstroke on the canvas, and those landscapes are full of vibrant character.
Every moment of Lysbærer paints such a clear and cohesive picture in the mind. It’s the sound of a homeland full of beauty but also a sense of ominousness. There’s much to admire and marvel at, but there’s also a certain aloofness to it: this place doesn’t care if you live or die. It’s cold, distant, powerful and dangerous. It must be respected as much as it is admired. The only sources of light are small campfires across the landscape, brief respites from the chill. All this is conjured by the music here, with each track leading you through another part of this land’s history and life: an icy wind blows through “Sten”, the tingling of chimes and the creaking of wood the only other sounds left on a desolate landscape, and that layered, haunting singing speaks wordlessly of absence and loss. “Skjoldmø” makes you truly feel the steady, sombre march into battle, or ritual, or both. And on, through each piece.
The album name itself means “light bearer”, and it’s a fitting title for Nanna’s voice here. There’s a darkness ever-present in the music. It’s an ancient, natural part of the land itself, and while none could banish it, nor want to given the respect it demands, Nanna’s siren song provides a temporary path through the gloom, speaking of and showing you all that matching beauty to be wondered at in awe. She herself seems to affirm this feeling:
“Through the process of making this album, I’ve been diving into the melancholic roots and energies with a fire torch in my hand, searching in the dark for what could be healed. I crossed all boundaries from what I thought I was capable of as an artist and put my feelings and soul in it. My wish is that the listener can relate to themes and feelings in this album and carefully be lead through the misty fields and the sunny meadows.”
I’d say this wish has been achieved in spades.