If Lindy-Fay Hella hasn’t been the face of the Norse musical revival that has been bubbling away for the past decade (it’s probably best to let Einar Selvik and Maria Franz duke it out for that title), she has certainly been the voice of it. Her work with Wardruna imbued Selvik’s compositions with both earthy gravitas and an ethereal sense of airiness, and 2019’s solo venture Seafarer was an ambitious and deeply moving work in its own right.
Teaming up with Dei Farne, who consists of Roy Ole Førland and Ingolf Hella Torgersen, it’s tempting to expect more of the same primal, raw beauty that she has always delivered so well, but Hildring (Norwegian for ‘mirage’) is nothing if not full of surprises.
One of its most intriguing facets is that it takes much of its inspiration from a decade that isn’t immediately associated with experimentation. That’s right, Hildring has the 90s written through it like a stick of rock. From the pairing of rhythmic, primal percussion and electronic textures that bring to mind Orbital and Massive Attack at their most daring, to a wilful disregard for genre and a focus on vocal melodies that would make a young Björk’s heart sing in joy, there’s an embrace of old and new that feels oddly nostalgic.
Combined with a very fluid, intuitive approach to songwriting that stresses mood over narrative, there are times when Hildring can start to feel overly busy, trying to cram too much into too brief a timeframe, but it’s testament to the players’ restraint that it mostly errs on the side of caution. Only Insect really pushes the experiment too far, letting the density leave Hella’s voice buried in the mix, but even that has its moments where it works. The stuttering, dreamlike Brising takes a similar approach but here, the result is a euphoric surge of noise and light, and its surging, percussion-led climax is one of Hildring’s more striking moments.
a completely unique take that seamlessly straddles folk, pop, electronica, rock…
Dei Farne’s presence is felt and appreciated throughout these nine compositions but it’s inarguably Hella’s voice that truly commands the most admiration, these songs truly demonstrating the range and she is ‘Hella‘ capable of. On pieces that are sparser on accompaniment, like the brief Kjetto, her effective breathy lightness feels closer to birdsong than to anything bound to the earth, but on the more expansive cut Los there is a more adventurous exploration of range.
The lighter passages have a ghostly vibrato that feels truly unique, and as the piece picks up in pace and urgency, her voice comes firmly back down to earth and gains a strident sense of power. Penultimate track Otherworld is even more potent as Hella shifts between a piercing head voice and throat singing that pushes itself confidently to the forefront of the undulating, synth-led melodies.
There’s a lot of heavy world-building that goes on throughout these songs, yet they make it seem effortless. While much of it seems to be down to intuition, the players now locking into a framework where they can explore sounds and, most importantly, focus on what works rather than simply jamming it out, there is also the fact that there is no one making music quite like this. It’s a completely unique take that seamlessly straddles folk, pop, electronica, rock and even if a little editing wouldn’t go amiss at times, Hildring is capable of summoning lush, mystical vistas that deserve hours of exploration.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes