Review Summary: "A Piece for Mind and Mirror"
Skuggsjá is the brainchild of Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik which is performed by each member’s bands: Enslaved and Wardruna. Originally “Skuggsjá” was to be a live presentation that would be performed in celebration of the 200th Norwegian Constitution where both members originate from. However after the success of headlining two European festivals and a hunger to reach a broader audience, Selvik and Bjørnson decided to record the piece in its entirety for a studio release.
In Old Norse, “Skuggsjá” translates as ‘mirror’ and not only does this term forge the conceptual depth of Norse tradition of the album but also reflects the musical content whereby ancestral elements and modern technology bond with enamouring results. “Skuggsjá” also represents the history of Norway from the beginning to present day which is sung featuring Scandinavian, Norse and Norwegian lyrics to narrate this historic adventure.
The impression of mirroring is resonant throughout “Skuggsjá”. The opener, ‘Ull Kjem’, is a short introduction that displays various moments of fragility and sadness through some pensive guitar melodies and innocent vocals from Lindy-Fey Hella (Wardruna). In turn, the album closer ‘Ull Gjekk’ mirrors this atmosphere by using similar inclusions; Hella returns and Ivar’s guitars remain rooted in tranquillity however the song makes an abrupt stop-as if the timeline of the album has reached to the present day. There are more moments of contrasting elements that establish the mirrored effect of past and present eras. ‘Makta Og Vanæra (I All Tid)’ has a conflicting behaviour as it is the first track on the album to establish the metallic template of Enslaved where Ivar also snarls viciously over the top of these violently executed rhythms but in contrast, Selvik provokes a storm of passionate chanting. Its textures like these where you realise this collaboration isn’t just a formulaic Wardruna + Enslaved= Skuggsjá; instead this is two minds connecting under one, new, visionary idea.
When you dedicate a record to your homeland’s ancestral past through the medium of traditional musical instrumentation and native language of that era then there are going to be moments of compelling visualisation aplenty. Whether it’s the slower pulsating dynamics of ‘Tore Hund’ or the unexpectedly quirky ‘Skuggeslåtten’-with both dancing fiddles and celestial climaxes, each extra piece breathes life into these songs that makes them all the more touching; none more so than the title track. Some songs even paint specific pictures: the lonesome violins and group chants in ‘Kvervandi’ conjure a sense of humble acceptance from an unavoidable fate: like welcoming Death with open arms.
There are no flaws in talent or production to “Skuggsjá”. In fact the only noteworthy ‘negatives’ are that this kind of art is such an acquired taste. This record demands total immersion and rewards you with a sensational listening experience. But, again, this experience honestly seems primarily based around a live performance (strengthened by the fact that it originated from live concerts) where you are more in touch with a like-minded audience and setting around you. “Skuggsjá” is a transcending album but can only fulfil complete enlightenment to those that give it the respect that it requests to portray the depth of artistry it contains, otherwise it’s significance is lost.