With the explosion in popularity of the Vikings TV shows, Wardruna and Norse culture in general, it is amazing how many of these Norse pagan folk acts have appeared in the past decade. I spent a lot of the pandemic listening to this style of music, and immersing myself in the culture of my forefathers, even if it still can feel like an alien world to get to grips with. SKÁLD, a French Nordic folk group who have been going since 2018, have release their new record, Huldufólk that’s out now through Decca/Universal and looks to retell tales of Scandinavian legends in the most authentic way.
The Huldufólk of the title are the ‘hidden people’; creatures like trolls, elves and the like whose tales are told throughout this record. First mentioned in the sagas of Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda, their legends make up the mythology of Viking culture that still pervades even to this day.
Producer/composer Christophe Voisin-Boisvinet has gathered a large group of contributing musicians to the SKÁLD collective, each bringing traditional instruments, or styles, to give each of these tracks as authentic a feel as possible. This results in a haunting tribalism, where ritualistic drumming tethers every song to a frozen ground, while the rest creates a perfect skaldic atmosphere. The ancient balladry of Då Månen Sken, the pounding Ljósálfur, the powerful loneliness of Hinn Mikli Dreki, each track has its own magic to weave into the rich tapestry of its influences.
meticulously created and performed in order to create the most legitimate Norse folk experience possible…
Ríðum, Ríðum is a favourite of mine, a menacing yet anthemic piece that starts off full of subtle threat but evolves into much more majestic and sombre tones. The songs are performed in a variety of Northern languages; Faroese, Icelandic, Old Norse, Swedish, Danish, each giving its subject matter that extra taste of authenticity. It is then enhanced by use of lyre, hurdy-gurdy, nyckelharpa and other traditional instruments. You could of course argue that authentic feeling is shattered by the appearance of Rammstein and The Cure covers at the end here, but when Du Hast changes from martial industrial stomp to shamanistic battle song, and A Forest becomes a dark warning about the woods, it is a testament to the group’s approach that they don’t necessarily break the spell.
I suppose it very much depends on your interest in the subject matter here, but Huldufólk is a record that is meticulously created and performed in order to create the most legitimate Norse folk experience possible. SKÁLD do so with emotion, with what feels like an intimate understanding of what these stories mean and how their place in mythology, and indeed current day belief systems, are intricately tied to the skaldic performance tradition as well.
Huldufólk just FEELS right you know? It feels authentic in a way that a lot of these Viking groups struggle to. SKÁLD aren’t quite Wardruna level, but outside of Nytt Land, they may be the best attempt I’ve heard so far.
Scribed by: Sandy Williamson