A deep dive into the Nordic Dark Folk world of Sowulo
Release Date: 9th September 2022
Label: By Norse Music
Formats: CD / Vinyl / Limited Edition Grey Vinyl / Download / Streaming
Sowulo is the brainchild of Dutch multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Faber Horbach. The project takes its name from the Proto-Germanic name for the rune of the sun, of guidance, goal-setting and success. Readers who aren’t scholars of Proto-Germanic culture may be more familiar with the rune’s Icelandic or Old English names, respectively Sol, or Sigal. The music of Sowulo is deeply rooted in pagan Nordic tradition and is recreated using a mixture of early medieval and contemporary instruments. In Faber’s own words, the music is intended to “invoke archetypal wisdom and express the cyclical nature of existence.”
Sowulo has been around for a while – in one incarnation or another, but always with Faber Horbach as its driving force. Wurdiz is the fifth album to be released by the project and it follows the 2013 debut album, Alvenrad and the most recent product, 2020’s Grima.
It’s heavy stuff, definitely not the sort of thing that I’d recommend to anyone looking for a relaxing piece of background music whilst they read the Sunday paper, but, for those with the patience and will to discover new musical boundaries, it certainly has its rewards. Wurdiz is not an album that can be broken down into sections or separate tracks – it requires concentration from the listener and a desire to become involved – from beginning to end.
For a start, the lyrics are almost entirely presented in the Proto-Germanic tongue, a reconstruction of the language spoken during the pre-Bronze Age era in Southern Scandinavia and northern parts of what are now Germany and The Netherlands. The album’s press release explains that “[Wurdiz] is about fate as the unfolding turning of events and the journey of becoming aware of one’s own threads within the tapestry of life. As the twelve songs unfold, the replicas of historic instruments, in combination with modern-day instruments and production techniques, confer to Wurdiz a powerful and cinematic sound that takes you on a journey within. While the carnyx, lyre, nyckelharpa, Irish bouzouki, Celtic harp and blow horns create echoes from the distant past, throat singing, spoken incantations and powerful vocals tell the stories on a deep emotional level, accompanied by bombastic percussion and strings.”
And, to be honest, that’s Wurdiz in a nutshell, albeit a somewhat commodious model of one… The tunes are dramatic, atmospheric, evocative, primitive (sometimes almost primeval) and, yes, bombastic. Indeed, it’s tempting to imagine this music being used as film soundtrack material – if you can imagine an army of Tolkien’s Orcs on the march, or an invading horde of Sontarian warriors, then you’ll start to get an idea of what Wurdiz ia all about.
But Wurdiz goes a lot further than that… In amongst the bombast and the Viking imagery, there’s also a surprising amount of melodicism. Cello, violin, viola and nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument, similar to a hurry-gurdy) combine wonderfully to add depth and richness throughout the album, on tracks such as Ӕ Wega Ġelætan, Mīn Bān, Đæs Webben Cræft and, particularly, the beautiful Slæp nū Sōfte (the title of which, I’m guessing, is a reference to sleep.) The vocals, also, can be surprisingly gentle and harmonious in between the bursts of macho aggression; there’s a softer choral part to just about every song and there’s lots of unexpected tunefulness hiding amongst the bombast.
I’m a fan of Nordic folk music; I love the combination of instruments and I’m used to the rhythms but Wurdiz was a step beyond anything I’d previously encountered, and, surely, that’s a good thing! Indeed, perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Wurdiz is that engagement with the music becomes progressively easier with the listening – always a good indication of a durable album – and I found that my enjoyment of the album increased as my expectations became established and my ears became tuned to the sounds.
If you’re a fan of Nordic Dark Folk or, if you’re looking to expand your horizons beyond the music that you’re comfortable with, then Wurdiz might just be the album for you. It’s certainly well worth a listen!
Get a taste for the flavours of Wurdiz – listen to Wyrd Webba, the album’s lead single, here:
Sowulo online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
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