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Written in Folk Roots issue 115/116, 1993


Silence SRSCD 4717 (1993)

Already featuring in the European radio DJs' chart and re-pressing to meet demand, Hedningarna's second album must surely be the big breakthrough for Swedish-rooted music into the wider world. Like the band's live show (seen, in less than ideal staging and lighting circumstances, in London in November'92 at the "Tender is the Nørth" festival), the CD reaches out and grabs attention with wildly exciting singing, menacing drones and subtly-accented heavy percussion. The urge to dance is upon us; meanwhile the tunes sidle into the memory. Production (by Ulf Gruvberg, Dag Lundquist and the band) is upfront and refreshingly immediate, even sudden.
    Most of the instrumental sounds are controlled by electrified acoustic instruments including Anders Stake's fiddle, hardingfele, ethnic flutes, Swedish bagpipe and a range of instruments he invents and builds, including a sort of fusion between a bass hurdy-gurdy and string drum which provides both bass rhythm and drones; Hållbus Totte Mattsson's driving lute, often treated with fuzz and wha-wha, and Björn Tollin's percussion. (See him if you thought tambourine was a feeble instrument; in his hands it's deep and driving.)
     The songs are actually largely in Finnish, not Swedish, because since the first album the band has completely transformed itself by recruiting two wonderful Finnish singers, Sanna Kurki-Suonio and Tellu Paulasto. What the strong wind from the north-east is bringing us, with Sanna, Tellu, and also in the work of fellow-Finn Liisa Matveinen, Sweden's Lena Willemark, Sámiland's Mari Boine and others is a completely fresh angle on women singing. It stems from deep understanding of traditional vocal styles but is in no way a slave to them. Combined with the new developments in instrumental sounds and rhythmic explorations, it's making a whole new category of European music, a fiery coming-together of ideas whose time has come; as was, for example, rhythm and blues...
    There are plans for Hedningarna to tour the UK, and elsewhere, in '93. I suspect that strong will be their influence.

© 1993 Andrew Cronshaw

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