Band – Årabrot
Album – Norwegian Gothic
Country of Origin – Norway
Genre – Noise Rock
Release Date – April 9, 2021
Label – Pelagic Records
Author – Schultzie
Fresh off the heels of E.P. The World Must Be Destroyed, released at the tail end of January, Norwegian rock band Årabrot is back with their ninth full-length release Norwegian Gothic, an exploration into the very tip of the roots of rock ‘n’ roll with a hearty nod to everything from philosophy to poetry to surrealism. 2021 has already been such a fantastically creative year for Årabrot, and Norwegian Gothic is the perfect hallmark for such a marvelous output of art spanning well over a decade. The figureheads of this band are Kjetil Nernes (guitars, vocals) and Karin Park (keyboard, vocals), respectively known as “Tall Man,” and “Dark Diva.” This release sees them collaborating with Lars Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist), cellist Jo Quail, Tomas Järmyr (Motorpsycho), Anders Møller (Turbonegro, Ulver), and Massimo Pupillo (Zu), with studio production done by Jaime Gomez Arellano (Black Eyed Peas, Paradise Lost, Hexvessel, Oranssi Pazuzu).
“Carnival of Love” is the opening track off of the album. It begins with a theatrical opening I couldn’t help but instantly find a parallel to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” with its engrossing guitar riff, driving bassline, and dramatic instrumentals creating a powerful backdrop for the vocals. A fascinating synth line billows out with imposing grandeur. The heavy riffage briefly gives way to electronic glimmers, but quickly picks back up into a deep stomp as a layer of vocals whisper out a dreamy “carnival of love.” An instant classic, somewhere between desert fuzz rock, psych metal, and progressive art rock. The next song, “The Rule of Silence,” begins with urgency. It’s brimming with unexpectedly shifting tones on the guitar, clanging notes, and a hasty cello line. The drums keep an awfully steady pulse going while a chorus of dramatic vocals comes to the forefront. There’s a line of notes that seem to endlessly ascend a scale that deceives the ears in the background during the chorus of the track while Nernes sings, “I abide by the rule of silence.” The end of this track builds up for a brief moment until it drops out with just the thumbing of some strings. “Feel It On” picks up right where “The Rule of Silence” breaks off. The fuzzed-out riffage and light touches of crystalline keys lead into a gritty crooning. The chorus is catchy and if the heavy, distorted riffs were stripped away, it might sound like something released by a ’60s folk rock group with the steady groove, layered “ooh’s” and easy-to-pick-up lyrics. “The Lie” immediately throws the listener into a tumultuous sea of roving riffs and heavy-loaded bass crunch. Thick, hollow keys ring out in the third minute of the song, and Park’s sorrowful vocals ease out. The guitar in the chorus lets out a string of peculiar notes (I can’t decide if it sounds hopeful or hopeless) as the mix of voices cry atop the layers. “The Crows” is a short haunt of a track with its heavy-hitting thuds and swirling synthesizer intro. Park brings about an air of mystery when answering the end of Nernes’ lines. This track sounds as if it may have some Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds influence injected into it, specifically that of the No More Shall We Part era. Though relatively shorter than other songs found on the record, the impact is all the same: hard-hitting and undeniably enjoyable. “Kinks of the Heart” starts with panicky vocals over gritty throbs of a delightfully crunchy bass tone and a repetitive ring of the guitar. The wonderfully catchy chorus is joined by synth that exacerbates an established feeling of disarray. The bass-heavy sound and solid flood of fuzz quite honestly rekindled my long-lost love for Kyuss. “Hailstones For Rain” begins with the wind-up of the guitar that evaporates into a mystifying repeated synth line that instantly adds intrigue and mystery to the piece. There’s a subtle layer of fuzz over the swagger in the voice saying, “The sun is scalding. My body is burning, but I feel nothing.” The harmony in the chorus is flat-out chilling. There’s a steady beat from the bounce in the bass line and a tinny scuttle of the drums that rounds out the track and makes it feel as though it’s moving quickly along train tracks. The instrumental section that occurs near the 3:00 mark is sublime and wholly unanticipated. The track nears astral heights with sci-fi-esque synth noises, and the song closes with a cacophony of these individual layers coming together while Park sings atop them all. “Hailstones For Rain” bleeds into the first interlude on the album, “The Voice,” which is fifty seconds of a fuzzy testimony of a woman explaining her experience of hearing a powerful, disembodied “voice” asking her how she will serve the world with her voice (I later found out the woman speaking to be none other than the Karin Park). The next track, “Hallucinational,” starts with an increasingly eerie atmosphere of what sounds like dripping rain thudding off of the roofs overhanging a closed-off corridor, or its an electronic shudder of a slow, mechanical breath, or maybe its footprints picking up the muck of slick city streets after dark. The unusual soundscape meets and surrounds a cello line as well as Park’s highly emotive voice, which takes center stage on this track. She sings, “There’s a future on the rise; Places no one’s ever been to.” The romanticism of her voice is picked up by a striking orchestral section. This particular track shifts the album in a totally unexpected, but warmly welcomed direction. The drama it gives off feels as though it is a track that would be highlighted in a musical (think “On My Own” from Les Misérables, specifically the theatrical nature of the tenth anniversary) with a single spotlight cast upon the solo singer appearing on the stage, yet the somber otherworldliness turns it into something I might expect to hear performed under a wash of pale pink light at the fictional Bang Bang Bar in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, especially with those plaintive-sounding yet optimistic lyrics such as, “We are shining without light. We are flowers without blooming.” There’s a brilliant rush of chills that escape around the 2:25 mark of the five-minute track that genuinely halted me in my tracks. With all of that being said, near the closing of the track there is a mournful droning of what sounds akin to a steel guitar (which was later confirmed as lap steel guitar in the interview below) and it, to me, resonates with the achingly beautiful sounds of singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør’s Music for People in Trouble. This track is a very brief, but bewitching departure from the roughness of the tracks it is cradled between, and I feel as though it shows the fantastic versatility that Årabrot brings to the table; they can easily tackle any mood or style they’d very well like and take it up several notches. “(This Is) The Night” breaks the tender moment Park has lovingly provided and escorts it into something much more dirty, dark, and gritty. The drums rumble like a motorcycle kicking to life, and the guitar trickles up and down a short-range. Nernes’ gravel-embedded voice sings, “I am howling into the silence.” “(This Is) The Night” is a high-energy zip of a track that calls to mind the hard rock of the ’70s, making it rather difficult to not want to move about to this one. Track 11, “Hard Love,” again includes that wonderful tone the synth provides. The bass line is jittery beneath the clacking of the drums, and the song moves along in jaunty stride. This song captures the rebelliousness of rock ‘n’ roll while incorporating a deep heaviness into the mix. Park’s piercing warble and Nernes’ gritty shrieks play well off each other. The two sing, “You pay with hard love,” as the bass grinds out a hefty, distorted line and the synth circulates a hypnotic riff around their voices. “Impact Heavily onto the Concrete” is the second out of three interludes found upon this record. It’s one minute of a distorted questioning wobbling in and out into a wall of static. “Hounds of Heaven” starts with a rocking back and forth between swelling, bouncing pulses like that of a heavy heart and a quick round of military-esque tapping. The lurching bass line propels the song forward from the intro into the chorus where the post-punkiness of this track shines. Here, the carnival-like keys being played in the background make this song feel as if it is spinning the listener around incessantly into a light-headed daze, colors flying. The constant pick-up and slow down in tempo make for perfectly imperfect uneasy listening. This track is so, so good, it’s as simple as that. “Deadlock” draws one’s attention in immediately with its bright, poppy keys playing around bursts of sighs. The intro, despite sounding quite joyful, has a near-threatening quality to it that comes from the steady hammering of the drums and Nernes’ deep, monotone lull of a voice. Any shred of light is pulled away as the piece erupts into heavy thumps with laser-like sounds bursting through the mix. The drums continue to tumble and roll around, and everything is a frenzied heap of sound until it all comes to a complete halt. It’s like zoning out to the drone of the endless highway, only to come to in the middle of a car crash. If The Doors were a thriving Norwegian band in 2021, they’d definitely be the ones to make this track. “The Moon Is Dead” is one of the absolute highlights of the album, in my humble opinion. It’s a horror show playing out at a jazz lounge. It’s the deconstruction of standard song structure. It’s an anti-pop anthem, if I’ve ever heard one. The stuttering mix of chopped up sounds creates a spine-chilling, abnormal beat. The hasty bursts of saxophone and the haunting swirls of sounds make for a genuinely creepy track. There’s a crying out: “The moon is dead. The moon is dead.” The synth heaves back and forth like raggedy breath leaving the body, only to be sucked right back in with a gasping inhale. The track closes out with high-pitched squeals, quick-moving sax, and atypical drum beats spilling out into silence. Finally, we arrive at “You’re Not That Special,” which is the close-out interlude ending the record with just that… the crackle and pop of the end of a record.
On their website, Årabrot states they are for fans of Swans, Killing Joke, Wovenhand, Chelsea Wolfe, but also Queens Of The Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails. As someone who enjoys all of these musicians and bands separately, I can’t help but agree. Norwegian Gothic nearly has a little pinch of something for everyone. In case I wasn’t clear enough, I love this record!
After familiarizing myself with the album, I called up Kjetil Nernes in Norway to talk through the background of Årabrot and to bring a shred of insight into how some of the tracks were crafted. Here is that conversation:
MoshPitNation: Hey! I just had some questions regarding your upcoming release Norwegian Gothic. How do you feel having created such a solid album?
Kjetil Nernes: Yeah, it’s already been going quite well. We’re really happy about how it’s turned out. We actually got it done before the lockdown, which was quite an achievement in itself. We just finished it before they closed down the borders, and we recorded it with [Jaime] Gomez [Arellano] in the UK, and then also here in the church where we live. I think what we aimed for we got and even more. Gomez did a fantastic job with the production, and it just came together real nice. So, you know, really happy about it.
MPN: Definitely. I’m glad you guys got it done before the pandemic started. That’s, like you said, an achievement.
KN: Yeah, if not, we would have – even at this point – it would have been really hard for us to have done anything at all because of the travel restrictions because Årabrot is a Norwegian band, but there’s so much going on. We recorded it in the UK, and then we have players and collaborators that live in different parts of Europe, so it would have been impossible. I’m really happy that it’s done and that it’s now about to be released.
MPN: Absolutely. Could you possibly go through some of the inspirations for the sound you guys have? I was amazed to see how many genres were fit into this album. Was there anything you were aiming for?
KN: Yeah, to tell the full story, a few years ago we released an album called The Gospel (2016), and that album was, for me, very personal because I was really sick at that time, and I described the illness in that album. It felt like an explosion, that whole thing. That whole album was like, yeah, a big explosion. After an explosion there’s this silence, this kind of ringing silence. I had to figure out in the time after what to do with this silence. So, either I keep it silent or decide in the end to fill it with what I love the most, which is rock and roll music, you know, to put it really simply. We did that as a start with Who Do You Love (2018), but I think with [Norwegian Gothic], it was even more of taking it to the next step. When I started out writing these songs some years ago, I just wanted to make songs that sound like the classic rock stuff. You know, like Iggy Pop and the Stooges – bands like that. Obviously it’s evolved, and I’ve brought in newer influences, and through those years working on this album, we’ve been pulling in influences. Basically, what I wanted to do was to make a rock album. I think I kind of pulled it off in an, if it’s possible to say, “Årabrot” way. I feel, in many ways, this album sums up what we have been doing for the past, at least, ten years.
MPN: Speaking of which, can you go through the backstory of the band? I was reading that the band has been around since 2001, so twenty years? That’s insane!
KN: Yeah! Yeah, that’s pretty crazy, isn’t it? But, I mean, it’s been a long… in 2001, we were kids who just started the band back in my native town called Haugesund; it’s on the west coast of Norway, just south of Bergen. We released a 7-inch at that time, but we didn’t really start off with anything professional. The band we had at the time were just local punk kids getting together, naming ourselves after the local garbage dump.
MPN: I love that!
KN: It’s actually the name of the – they call it something else now – what would that be in English? Renovation? Recycling area?
MPN: Okay, yeah.
KN: Garbage place. The city dump, I guess. In those years, I think I can say we started properly some years later. But yeah, we had that first ten years from 2001 and onwards of being a local punk band, basically. We did some European tours in the punk scene, but then things changed; some people left the band, some people got kicked out of the band. Eventually, even from the beginning, I was writing all of the songs, and I was singing and playing the guitar. I was trying to develop naturally into becoming my own project. We did really well with some albums there around 2010-2011; one of those albums got the Norwegian Grammy Award for Best Metal, actually.
MPN: That’s incredible.
KN: Yeah, it was pretty insane and really nice, too. But then that was really where “phase 2” started. We’ve developed since then, and I think you can say that from The Gospel that came out in 2016, it’s really become something else. Now, the band is me, and it’s my wife and partner in crime, Karin Park. It’s the two of us, and in a live situation, it’s the two of us plus a drummer. So, yeah, that’s Årabrot in 2021.
MPN: Absolutely wonderful. What led you guys to becoming musicians? Did you always know that you wanted to be a guitarist and a singer?
KN: Ooh, yeah, no. I think if you asked Karin, it would be a completely different answer. She knew when she was, like, two years old that she wanted to become a singer. For me, it was totally different. I mean, I was in my mid-thirties and Karin just told me one day that “you know, you’ve been doing this for so many years and this is what you are doing; you are an artist, you are a musician. This is what you do.” Even at that time, I’ve been sort of thinking – I didn’t know what I was thinking. It depends on where you grew up, how you grew up, and what your parents told you to do when you were a kid, and what society told you when you were a kid. I think me growing up in a small town on the Norwegian west coast really affected me, and I always had this idea that you… at least in the back of my head, there’s my dad saying “you have to get a proper job.” But then there was that time where Karin was just like, “you are an artist, you are a musician. This is what you do.” You know, just snap out of it. From that time on, I’ve been pretty sure that this is what I’m doing.
MPN: It’s great that you have someone right there next to you saying, “this is what you’re going to do, this is what you love doing.”
KN: Yeah, it felt good to come to the conclusion eventually. I guess for some people it might be hard their whole life trying to figure out what the hell they want to do, or what they are doing… yeah.
MPN: So, I found that the album cover was very interesting. Is there a story behind that?
KN: Yeah! It is interesting. Here in the church where we live in Sweden, they have a very strong tradition of celebrating midsummer. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that film that came out a few years ago?
MPN: I actually haven’t.
KN: It’s not exactly like that film, though. It’s a very big thing here. It’s like the national holiday in Sweden; it’s summer solstice. This year, we did an acoustic performance in our church that we filmed and used as a livestream. Because it’s light all day and all night, there’s no darkness, so we had to start really late doing the shooting. We did the whole thing, and by the end of the whole process, which was, like, three in the morning, all of the camera people, everyone, were really tired. Karin was like, “we need some stills. We need some photos, please.” And we forced the camera man, who was getting pretty sour at that time, took these pictures at the end of it all, and we were just standing there in that circle of skulls and stuff that we found that we have here. The very last picture, when we looked at it the next day, it was just like, “woah, this picture is phenomenal!” We felt that it was a very nice feeling, and also, Karin is five months pregnant, which I think adds some extra layers to it.
KN: So, that’s the story behind that one!
MPN: That’s lovely. I have some questions about a few of the songs, if you don’t mind?
KN: Absolutely, go ahead.
MPN: So, one I found to be rather peculiar, but very intriguing was “The Moon Is Dead.” Can you please tell me about that track?
KN: Yes. Some years ago, we had this session here in our church with the Italian band Zu, they used to be on Ipecac, I think, and they were here and we did some songs together. Most of that didn’t work out, but there was one little section that we started working on a little later on, which was the base of that song, and we just made it as a loop. We developed this quite long and intriguing song, and I felt like it had so much atmosphere and such a nerve then. I really, really liked it and I wrote lyrics inspired by the Spanish poet [Federico García] Lorca. He also lived in New York for a bit, I guess. He was killed by the Franco people in the thirties. He’s one of my favorite poets, Lorca. He very often uses the moon as a symbol, and he writes about the moon in his poetry, and very often for him, the moon symbolizes death. So, I wrote this song with that in mind. Yeah, the moon is dead.
MPN: That’s really interesting! I was also really taken aback by “Hallucinational” because, to me, it sounds like a slower song you’d find in a musical. I thought it was interesting how it kind of slows the pace of a the album down just a bit, but it’s very beautiful. Was there something specific behind that track?
KN: Yeah, so that track is written by Karin. So, she would have to tell the full story. It’s one of my favorites on the album. It’s funny you pick out those, too, because those are kind of my favorites, too. Those two are also the ones that are kind of slower and different than the rest, which are more up-tempo. To me, it feels very Ballard-ian, like J.G. Ballard. It feels slightly sci-fi, and the lyrics kind of go beyond normal perception; it goes into this other space and place. It’s Karin playing all of the instruments, except the cello, which was Jo Quail. It’s her song, and it’s fantasti, in my humble opinion.
MPN: No, I agree! It’s beautiful.
KN: Yeah, I think so.
MPN: Do you two write the lyrics together?
KN: Eh, no, we haven’t done that, but we kind of… when we write, lyric-wise, I write lyrics and I let her look at it, and she might change a few little pieces, and then vice versa. The lyrics are quite personal on this one. Personal as in it’s me writing them, or Karin writing them. With the music, it’s a bit more of a collaboration, especially with the arrangements where, at an earlier point, we are working on the structures of the songs. It’s more both of us writing it in one way. But, “Hallucinational,” that’s all Karin’s lyrics.
MPN: Very, very cool. You mentioned being a fan of poetry. Do you find that that leaks into your work a lot?
KN: I guess it does, directly or indirectly. Obviously it’s a theme with all the books I read, really. And also films that I see. Some poetry, yes, absolutely. It really gives me something, and it seeps into the lyrics, for sure.
MPN: Yeah. Alright, one more question on one of the songs I found to be really cool. “Hailstones For Rain” I thought was really interesting, especially the synth line and the harmonies during the chorus were super cool. Do you two come up with the harmonies together? Who comes up with the vocal lines?
KN: I came up with the vocal lines for that one, but it was Karin who came up with all of the harmonies and all of that stuff, and also the synth line. Basically it’s me hammering away at that bass riff, and then I have the basic vocals and lyrics, and then I show them to Karin and she adds the synths and also those vocal layers. She’s phenomenal with that stuff. She’s very good at creating these atmospheres. Eventually, it was Lars Horntveth of Jaga Jazzist – he played a lot of stuff on this record – who plays the saxophones and synth and lap steel guitar. He’s a musical magician. He’s very big and famous in Norway, so I’m very happy that he’s a part of this, too. “Hailstones For Rain” is actually coming out with a music video… I think it was supposed to be this week, but I believe it was delayed until next week. It’ll soon be out with a music video.
MPN: Very cool. Yeah! I saw the one you guys recently put out, I think, was it last week? For “Kinks of the Heart.” What a cool concept!
KN: Thank you.
MPN: I also have a question on the interludes. Where did the audio for those come from?
KN: So, we were off on a tour with the Japanese band Boris and it ended up in the UK. That was two Christmases ago, and we just stuck around: me and Karin, and our kids. We traveled around in a van and we met up with friends, and I basically had a conversation with several people in the UK at that time. It was very loose; I just recorded a conversation, usually at a kitchen table with a cup of coffee. I started the conversation with, “why do we keep on doing what we do?” And it just went from there. So, the people talking there is writer John Doran, who is also one of the co-founders of The Quietus in the UK; and the other guy by the end of “The Moon Is Dead” is Andrew Liles, who is a sound artist who works in Current 93 and Nurse with Wound; and also there is a conversation with producer Gomez and Karin that’s before “Hallucinational.” It’s describing how she came to a conclusion, I guess. Yeah, she’s sort of hearing a voice in her head. I had these recordings and I thought it would be nice to add them to the album, too, to make it more of an experience, I guess.
MPN: Yeah, totally. I feel like you don’t really see a lot of interludes today in music other than maybe rap and hip-hop.
KN: Yeah, exactly. I was thinking about that, too. It’s kind of… there was a time where there was more of that, but now it’s more of songs that are thrown together on Spotify, or Bandcamp, or whatever. But it’s true, hip-hoppers are very good with those interlude sections. If you listen to people like Kendrick Lamar or Danny Brown, they always have very interesting things going on either before or after songs that make the whole thing come together in even more cool and interesting ways.
MPN: I agree. I feel like sometimes it’s almost voyeuristic with peering into a private conversation. I think that’s super, super cool. Do you guys have anything in the works for live streaming? Any virtual concerts?
KN: Yes, we do. There will be some more live streams coming up. I can’t give you the full details of it just yet, but it’s going to come out really soon. We are in a very fortunate position during this pandemic time because it’s me and Karin under the same roof, but we also have the church room which has a stage with all the equipment to actually make these live streams. We have one specific thing in the works and it will be as an album release show. I think I can say that much.
MPN: For a final question I would like to ask what is something you are looking forward to? It can be anything.
KN: Oh! I’m looking forward to traveling and meeting up with friends again. Having a drink with friends and with Karin. I’ve been in the countryside for so long now that I just want to get back to the city and feel the city life. I think a lot of people would save that nowadays.
MPN: Well, thank you for talking with me! I’m excited to see what you guys do in the future.
KN: Thank you very much. I’m glad you liked the record.
Norwegian Gothic is an album that explores so many genres, it’s truly difficult to tack it under any one label. It’s an exploration into previously uncharted territory more than anything else. Set to release April 9th on Pelagic Records, this is certainly something not to be missed out on.