I’m going to be brutally honest; until now I’ve never listened to Årabrot. Even though they have an extensive back-catalogue, clocking in at nine albums including Norwegian Gothic, they were a band that completely flew under my radar. They’ve been around for two decades, but I didn’t fully clock them. I was however aware of them. Back when I was in college, an acquaintance who hung around the post-grad office, who was always into interesting music and art, told me about Årabrot.
In describing his new favourite band to me I noticed that he didn’t really attempt to tell me about the music (apart from comparing them to Swans) but instead focused more on the dark aesthetic that lead vocalist/guitarist Kjetil Nernes conveyed. Pulling out his phone to present to me a portrait of a very serious looking man, heavily weighed down by a wide-brimmed, black, nineteenth-century vernacular hat, I shrugged; ‘Okay, cool. I’ll check them out’. I never did. Until now.
Norwegian Gothic (a play on Grant Wood’s celebrated American Gothic) is Årabrot’s latest album, releases this Friday on Pelagic Records who have rostered post-metal heavy weights Cult of Luna and Ireland’s own God is an Astronaut. When I did a little research on Årabrot, I was reminded of Nernes’ ominous black-clad portrait. ‘Oh yeah…the hat’.
Before I begin, Norwegian Gothic is my only representation of Årabrot. I haven’t dived into their back catalogue, I’m not a fan, and unfortunately after listening to their newest offering, I don’t think I will be. On first listen, it is clear that Årabrot’s primary concern is atmosphere. Through sixteen tracks they attempt to create a foreboding and gloomy presence, and for the most part they execute this well. The song’s opener, Carnival Of Love is a melodic, post-punk love affair with 90s grunge that will immediately catch your attention. This affair brings strange but welcomed influences as Årabrot’s synth-pop sensibilities introduce an interest in what sounds like eastern pop music.
Moving forward into The Rule Of Silence, Årabrot’s percussion begins to sound electronic, mimicking an 80s sound that I feel a lot of current post-punk bands try to replicate these days. However, that is where my problem with Årabrot lies. I alluded to the saturation of post-punk revival in modern noise rock in my Dead Mammalsreview. Årabrot are clearly influenced by the likes of Swans, Killing Joke, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party, but these days, who isn’t? It feels like every release in the past five or six year that can’t be (thankfully) pigeonholed into one genre or another, go for the whole ‘post-punk’, ‘goth/synth’ or even ‘dark country’ vibe. However, this feels more like aesthetic than anything of real substance, and unfortunately, this is the trap I feel Norwegian Gothic has fallen into.
melodic, post-punk love affair with 90s grunge…
For the most part, Norwegian Gothic bored me. There are a few cool moments here, and I will admit that Nernes, Karin Park and the impressive list of musicians that Årabrot are comprised of are accomplished in their trade and possess true talent. Some stand out tracks include The Lie, who’s powerful and abrasive opening chords feel like a badly needed thump (not punch!) to the chest and is reminiscent in nastiness to God Bullies.
Alongside this, the 70s disco ambience of Hailstones For Rain is at first fascinating, however is ultimately let down by its own self-awareness of how cool it is, or something? Honestly, sections of Norwegian Gothic made me feel like Årabrot wanted to be the background band during the disturbing bar scene in Twin Peaks. With that, there runs a real sense throughout this album that Årabrot themselves are conscious of that want.
Finally, much of Norwegian Gothic feels like something that was written for a lush HBO or FOX mini-series. That may sound ridiculous, but I’m serious. Remember between 2008-2012 when there was an endless barrage of ‘sexy but provocative’ television à la True Blood or True Detective? Remember the soundtracks and scores to a lot of those shows being a cavalcade of dark, broody folk, with post-punk and delta blues influences? Sure you do, and I know you remember it being cringey too. After a couple of listens you too might wonder what exactly Nernes and company are trying to actually do here.
So much of Årabrot’s sound on Norwegian Gothic I personally feel relies on their image; the image that’s been grafted onto them, the image that they self-fashion and the image that they perpetuate. This image is the core selling point of Norwegian Gothic. This is an album that sits atop an ivory town, but offers little beyond the surface. Consequently, I fear that this album will be the type of product to attract a pseudo-intellectual crowd who will simply write a critical listener off as being closed minded, or worse, too stupid to get it.
And you know what? Maybe I am too stupid to get it. Maybe I’m the wrong person to review Norwegian Gothic and my music taste is too stunted. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who will always want something ugly in art, but sadly, I just don’t see it here. With that being said, art is subjective, and this could be a masterpiece that I’ve completely misunderstood. See for yourself and check out Årabrot’s Norwegian Gothic on Pelagic Records.
Scribed by: Mark Louth