Årabrot – Norwegian Gothic
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Running Time: 56:58
Review by Steven Hooke
Couples, that sing about sex and death over waves of hedonistic gothic noise rock together, stay together – is I’m sure how that phrase goes! The husband and wife duo of Kjetil Nernes and Karin Park have comprised the core foundations of Årabrot since 2001, with a litany of musicians circling the pyre, in the form of Ted Parsons (ex-Prong/ex-Swans), Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O)))), and Erlend Hjelvik (ex-Kvelertak), with Lars Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist), Jo Quail, and Anders Møller (Ulver) just some of the guests making an appearance on “Norwegian Gothic”.
Starting life as an abrasive, noise-heavy sludge metal outfit, Årabrot has been exploring its identity and adapting to changes over the last 20 years, with marriage, the purchase and repurposing of a church, battles with cancer, starting a family, Eurovision, all shaping the new face of the band. What that results in is a marvelous mixing pot of goth, post-punk, electro rock, and noise which will lull you into its weird miasma and that you won’t be able to look away from.
The slow, layered build of opener ‘Carnival Of Love’ will do this straight from the off. The mirrored guitars that lead into the delicate swell of synths, buffeting Nernes’ haunting croon, before the song kicks off proper, with a simple-yet-effective slam of drums. There’s a great vocal trade-off in the chorus, as Park goes from backing vocalist to lead in one line thanks to Nernes’ positioning. Then, just before the breakdown, we hear the first glimpse of Årabrot’s reverberated vocal effect. Heard more prominently on ‘Kinks Of The Heart’ and ‘Hounds Of Heaven’, the effect adds a wonderful occult feel to the album’s identity. Already bathed in gothic imagery – from music videos, how the pair dress, the album art, the fact they bought a church and repurposed it into their home/home studio – that extra little oomph in the production really does enlist visions of chiromancy, alchemy, and strolling barefoot along a woodland brook in search of crow skulls.
Away from the mysticism that delightfully plagues “Norwegian Gothic”, there are a hearty amount of songs on this album that simply go off. The Connect-4 of ‘Feel It On’, ‘The Lie’, ‘The Crows’ and ‘Kinks Of The Heart’ is particularly outstanding. ‘Feel It On’ sounds like Scissor Sisters’ twisted younger siblings that gets forced out of their room for family gatherings; Nernes possesses a near-bipolar execution to ‘The Crows’, easily switching from disarmed and tame, to an imposing howl at the snap of a finger. ‘The Lie’ and ‘Kinks Of The Heart’ though, are where the album just hits another level.
The crushing bassline to open ‘The Lie’, building to the incredible chorus, with a vocal relationship between Kjetil and Karin in the same realm as Will and Hannah from Creeper (shoutout to any pop punk homies reading this). The swirling guitar lines in the back add an orchestral-esque layer for extra theatrics, and then there’s the lead single ‘Kinks Of The Heart’, delicately tinged with punk rock and again, full of massive swells on the chorus to make you feel like you’re being summoned to an unholy congregation. It is a gorgeously sultry song that will earworm its way into your head for days on end.
Whilst the first half of the album is undeniably stronger, the latter half still boasts its fair share of bangers. ‘(This Is) The Night’ is a high-energy rager that will shock you back into life following the gospel-like ‘Hallucinational’, ‘Deadlock’ has a certain Nick Cave quality about it, ‘Hard Love’ pairs a catchy chorus with great tag team vocals between Park and Nernes, and ‘The Moon Is Dead’ is a horrifying 7 minute crawl, harkening back to the band’s more avant-garde days.
This is an astounding and gorgeous album. Brilliant hooks and melodies that could break its way into a mainstream setting, with enough fuzz to still gurn your face to, the blending of all the different musical ideas and genres that then lends itself to the general look and disposition of the band is musical identity at its finest. There is a bit of filler in the middle of the album, even outside of the spoken word interludes. ‘Hailstones For Rain’ feels like it’s trying to do what ‘The Crows’ perfected earlier, ‘Hounds Of Heaven’ is a glimpse back at Årabrot’s sludge metal past which feels the most out of place, given all the different things happening on the album, and ‘Hallucinational’ is a beautiful track, with an incredible performance from Karin Park, but similarly to ‘Hounds Of Heaven’, just felt a little out of place. Have this as an intro track though and it’d be a different story. Opinions may be split as well of Kjetil Nernes’ vocals, a veering, hypnotising croon that often takes centre stage, but by this point, we’ve all heard Serj Tankian, Eddie Vedder, Brian Molko, et al. so I’m sure people will manage.
A staggering album, and another win for 2020s goffs everywhere.
‘Kinks Of The Heart’ (Official Video)
01. Carnival Of Love
02. The Rule Of Silence
03. Feel It On
04. The Lie
05. The Crows
06. Kinks Of The Heart
07. Hailstones For Rain
08. The Voice
09. (This Is) The Night
10. Hard Love
11. Impact Heavily Onto The Concrete
12. Hounds Of Heaven
14. The Moon Is Dead
15. You’re Not That Special
Kjetil Nernes – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Karin Park – Piano, Backing Vocals
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