The latest release from Pelagic Records continues their drive to cement themselves as the destination label for post-rock and metal, releasing albums from a smörgåsbord of talented bands such as God Is An Astronaut, BISON and A Burial At Sea, all wrapped in their now signature lavish packaging that makes owning the vinyl versions a delight that almost makes you ignore the current price of buying it. With a seemingly endless pipeline to the world of all things post, they boast a roster of bands that seek to challenge convention and push the envelope of what music can be, looking as much to cerebrally excite the listener as well as sonically indulge their passions.
Instrumental Norwegian sextet Spurv have settled into their twelfth year of existence on the back of three albums, the last of which 2018s Myra was well-received as a complete piece of ambitious music. It flowed through a myriad of emotional peaks and troughs to create a singular piece of art as the band continue to draw on influences that lie more in the realm of classical music than the hard-hitting ferocity of some of their roster mates.
Instead, they opt for an approach that has more in common with the likes of Russian Circles and the aforementioned God Is An Astronaut, both fellow instrumental and progressive bands who create pieces of music that rightly get described as compositions, rather than songs. Much like their kindred spirits, the Norwegian’s continually evolving mission statement is to redefine and push themselves in terms of the scope of their musicianship and writing to create a dense, symphonic experience.
Such bold descriptions should come as a slight warning note to new listeners. The post-rock field is increasingly crowded and covers all manner of variations, so if you are looking for music that is going to leap out of the speakers, grab you by the scruff of the neck and punch you in the face until you pay the attention it demands, then Brefjære (Google Translate tells me it’s Norwegian for ‘Leaf Spring’) is not the album for you.
Inspired by Greek Mythology and journeys through a wide-ranging and decade-long grind to transform the loftier aesthetic ideals of music into a very real piece of craftsmanship that lasts for the ages. The album itself was recorded in Oslo’s Paradiso Studios and features a vast array of musicians, including many noted classical performers in order to stretch the band’s sonic palette. This is immediately evident on Krokete, rettskafen as it opens with a string section performed by Norwegian Grammy Award-winning players Kari Rønnekleiv and Ole-Henrik Moe. Fittingly, the track begins slowly like an orchestra tuning up as the weeping strings grow in clarity, swelling the air with anticipation before the chanting choir welcomes you in, setting the scene for the dramatic journey that is about to unfold.
Utilising numerous additional instruments that include lap steel guitar, glockenspiel, trumpet, and later vibraphone, cello and violin, Spurv look to construct an album that flows seamlessly from one shifting mood to the next as they tell the story. As the first striking guitar notes peel from the second track, En brennende vogn over jordet, the underlying toms build and usher in that swirling, densely robust mid-paced post-rock feel that Russian Circles perfected on Gnosis. At times slamming and yet somehow airy and detached, the nine minutes of exploration might be the best thing Spurv have committed to tape as it builds and releases the shifting moods that are at once distant and light, then crunching and infused with tension the next.
fans of the band will find they have built on the solid foundation of Myra and raised the bar on their own ambitions to loftier heights…
Som skyer looks to take this groundwork to a more cinematic level as the elements combine to strike a delicate balance of interplay and depth that features subtle callbacks to previous motifs. The driving drums guide and propel the track, establishing the open expanse of the songwriting vision. As the closing moments wind down, the choir returns to sing the melody and it is a deft tool that adds to the mysticism of the conceptual tale.
Before the striking centrepiece of the album that is Til en ny vår, the short interlude Under himmelhvelvingen, is a simple drone featuring vocals, synth and bass like some mournful funeral lament that brings down the mood and focuses the listener in its comparative simplistically.
The following epic, once again, begins with a quiet subtlety that follows the more traditional post-rock build-up towards the drama and climax of powerful rise and falls. From the delicate shimmering, ethereal guitar and simple drums to the break-out washes of synth-layered spiralling melodies, Til en ny vår never approaches the heavy end of the scale, but when the band compare their work to towering architecture such as cathedrals and this is exactly what they have in mind.
Å vente er å endre shakes off this beauty instantly with stabbing noise before a lone female vocal courtesy of Tåran Reindal (Leonov) intones pleadingly with stark, tender and sorrowful beauty which is shattered by the darker crunch of Urdråpene that offers a violent counterpoint highlighting the dichotomy of nature. As the brass section riffs off the core instruments, there are moments that recall the soundtrack like the works of Anima Morte, particularly as the album draws to a close looping back from the triumphant conclusion to the choral sounds of the opening track.
Movements can be plucked from Brefjære that will function in isolation, but it would miss the whole point of immersing yourself in a piece of art for forty-five minutes. If that fails to sound appealing, then Spurv’s latest release is bound to miss the mark by a country mile. However, fans of the band will find they have built on the solid foundation of Myra and raised the bar on their own ambitions to loftier heights and on the strength of this album, they may have just succeeded.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden