Väsen

Essence

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AllMusic Review by

If you did not already realize what a gothic place Scandinavia could be, listening to this folk trio's 1993 French-released album will set you straight. Mixed in with the solemn wedding marches and rollicking hoedowns are dark pieces of music like "Pennknivsmördaren" (The Penknife Killer) and "Sugghugg" (Pork Slash). All are instrumental, but you don't need to read the liner notes to pick up on what's going on. Olov Johansson's nyckelharpa is unmistakably eerie and Mikael Marin's viola and Roger Tallroth's guitar act largely to reinforce its mood. The nyckelharpa, by the way, is the hallmark of Väsen. It is a variation of the fiddle, held across the chest like a guitar. Instead of stopping the strings with one's fingers, one depresses long wooden keys that hang from the neck of the instrument like growths. It also has drone strings that play an unvarying note when bowed and resonance strings that vibrate with the main strings. The overall effect is a bit like a hurdy-gurdy or like crossing a fiddle with bagpipes. The tunes are a mixture of traditionals and originals, and not all are creepy, although they all have that same otherworldly ambience. "Amanda," an original by Roger Tallroth, is a tender yet upbeat tribute to a close friend. The notes about the traditionals provide a fascinating look at Swedish musical lore. The originals can be very intricately constructed, as in "Trollpåsen" (Magic Bag) by Olov Johansson, which offers a Baroque counterpoint. The mixture of styles and complexity levels, of rhythms and the rest, keep the album interesting, despite the fact that it dwells in a fairly narrow sound world throughout. This is folk music, but it is not mummified and served up museum style. Rather it is alive and inventive.

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