Review: Kati Rán ‘S​Á​LA’

In the nine years since the release of her debut album LYS, multi-instrumentalist Kati Rán has been busy embracing the concepts of dark folk music and creating for herself a whole landscape of sounds and textures, ready to commit to record when the time was right. Having released the tracks BLODBYLGJE, UNNR | Mindbeach and HEFRING as singles over a period of years, they have now found a home among ten beautifully crafted rituals on the second album, SÁLA, by the Dutch artist.

Kati Rán 'Sála' Artwork
Kati Rán ‘S​Á​LA’ Artwork

Focusing on feminine themes in Norse mythology, the album is an emotional ode to these stories, each created using sonic aural textures, a wealth of primal and authentic instruments, and a host of special vocal additions to layer the sounds and create an atmosphere which is absolutely otherworldly.

This is so much more than just a collection of songs and more akin to a spiritual journey. It is filled with mystique, trance like states and opulent rituals, which will leave you absolutely mesmerised by its overwhelming beauty.

For me, in my capacity as a listener, and not as a reviewer, the collection does things to me within my own psychic realms. With eyes closed, in a dimly lit room, with no distractions, this has a divinity to it, an opening of my spiritual self, and completely takes me away to a different realm entirely.

As a reviewer, it’s hard to contextualise just what an experience this is eloquently, without coming off as a bit of a nut. There are only a couple of other bands which make me feel this way, and one of those is Ulvesang. I don’t know if it’s the mystical Norse experience, or the openness to give myself to the experience, but with both Ulvesang and Kati Rán, it feels like being shrouded in an embracing darkness. Where taking away the visual sense accentuates the aural capacities, to thoroughly envelope me in its spell, and help me listen to my inner soul, where I feel weightless, and float outside of myself.

In total, the album comes in at just over an hour and a quarter in length, and over the course of the thirteen tracks, it will feel never ending, like it will play forevermore, and live within your subconscious, long after it does conclude. Guest vocalists, including Gaahl, Jaani Peuhu, Heilung and Napalm Death’s Mitch Harris work their magic over different points on the album, along with the Icelandic female choir Umbra Ensemble to create lavish vocal elements, that elevate the experience even further. With these contributing factors and the use of all matter of incredibly obscure instruments, the sheer scope and vision cannot be underestimated.

A beautiful album, beautifully imagined and beautifully created, quite simply, it’s divine…

The additional beauty is that even when it appears that nothing is happening, and that sound is at an ambient minimum, it’s those moments where the nothingness is used to perfection. Maybe for some respite, or a chance of introspection, and a reassessment of the environment, these minute details say so much.

There are a couple of shorter, more instrumental moments, and while most tracks average out at around five or six minutes, there are a couple which are vastly longer, and those in themselves are like a whole experience all on their own.

BLODBYLGJE for example, is a quarter of an hour and tells such an expansive musical monologue, that unless you are willing to give yourself to it and let it take you away, then you will be missing out on something truly magical. HEFRING too, with its chanted vocal and rhythmic catharsis will leave you intoxicated.

With STONE PILLARS there is a more vibrant feeling. Each sound is accentuated, and although it is minimal in its delivery, it is absolutely rich in sound.  There is something quite overwhelming, where you can’t help but feel yourself pulse in time with it all. In some weird way, it’s like an exorcism of negativity within, and a cleansing of the soul.

One thing is for sure, as the album plays on, I fall deeper under its spell, and by the time I hit track eight, UNNR | Mindbeach I feel like I am having some sort of out-of-body experience. It feels calm and warm, like an embrace from a loved one.

There are a few moments throughout where it reminds me of early Fever Ray, especially the self-titled debut. When I say this, I mean for the more spiritual sound, the chanty ambience. This is especially true on SEGIÐ MÉR, which showcases a different side to Kati Rán.

The last few tracks on the album feel like an elevation in ambient intensity, and while the first half is more tribally calm. By its climax though, I feel completely purged inside. The whole experience has been thoroughly incredible that it leaves me ecstatic inside. A beautiful album, beautifully imagined and beautifully created, quite simply, it’s divine.

Label: Svart Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Lee Beamish