The Norwegian instrumental trio Lumen Drones call themselves a "psychedelic drone band." The lineup pairs Norway's celebrated Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland with guitarist Per Steinar Lie and drummer Ørjan Haaland of the Low Frequency in Stereo. The Hardanger is a traditional Norwegian folk instrument made of thinner wood than a violin. Four of its strings are set in standard tuning while four more are "sympathetic" or "understrings" -- i.e. passive droning ones. Though the group claims Durutti Column and the Velvet Underground in their pool of influences, the one not listed is the one impossible not to hear: Australia's Dirty Three. Like their Down Under counterparts, the music is similarly orchestrated, and their compositions often open ended. But there are key differences too. The Hardanger's droning qualities add many harmonic, textural, and color dimensions to the palette. Lie is a sonically aggressive, experimental, and rhythmic guitarist while Haaland is a formalist rock drummer. Their sound is raw, live, slightly distorted, and heavily reverbed. Økland comes directly from the Norwegian folk tradition. His previous offerings on Rune Grammofon and ECM are rooted in lineage music. The 12-minute "Ira Furore" begins with a crescendo: Manically strummed open-tune chords, jagged, stinging six-string fills, furious rolling snares, and tom-toms create propulsion as the Hardanger wafts mournfully. A couple of minutes in, the layers peel off and a "song" emerges amid droning guitar and accented backbeats, as multi-tracked violins create several simultaneous melodies. Wah-wah pedals erupt in the margins, cymbals whisper in and out, a bassline rumbles, and space itself becomes a bridge of translation between instruments. In its last third, it's all-out stun, blurred colors, and brute force. "Echo Plexus" is clearly built on a folk melody with Økland playing a reel as a whirlpool of sound begins to develop. Lie's biting leads answer the fiddle while Haaland's tom-toms do a circular dance underneath, and eventually it becomes a full-fledged musical storm. "Keelwater" is slightly abstract and skeletal. Even so, it offers several tonalities at work in a modern song frame that lingers between folk and improvisation. The beginning of closer "Svartaskjær sounds as if the recording engineer only decided to hit "record" once things got cranking. Oscillating reverb and distortion color Økland's solos, while Lie's guitar and Haaland's kit create a hypnotic groove as the trio erects a whirling altar to darkly driven, post-psych rock -- think Loop with a violin. With its loose, rugged, spontaneous feel, Lumen Drones might seem a curious choice for ECM, but not really; they've taken chances for nearly five decades. This trio's debut juxtaposes droning harmonics, labyrinthine melodies, and fluid yet dynamic force in a manner that openly reflects their influences while delivering an original take on them.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek