Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik’s Skuggsjá is a musical collaboration that came together as a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution. In 2014. But after positive reception at the Eidsivablot festival in Norway and then later at Roadburn 2015, it was decided that the piece needed to be recorded; to be made available for a the masses. And am I ever grateful this… experiment, I suppose, reached this point. Centered around traditions and tales of their Norse background, with A Piece for Mind & Mirror, Skuggsjá have created what is undoubtedly the most mesmerizing collection of sounds so far in 2016. Nestled somewhere in the intersection of folk, black metal, and post metal, it is a true masterpiece that is capable of enticing audiences of all genres.
It would be incredibly easy, and I would say unwise, to go into this album viewing it as a collaboration between Enslaved and Wardruna. Of course, these are the primary projects that these two musicians are most known for, and the influences from these respective projects abound within the lines of A Piece for Mind & Mirror. But we would be better served to go into this with an open mind, listening to this as the standalone project it is intended to be. It was written for a specific purpose, in celebration of a specific event, and it should be experienced in the same light. Which, I will admit, is difficult to keep in mind at times.
Early on, with opening tracks “Ull Kjem” and “Skuggsjá”, we transition from the uplifting repetition of wind instruments and folk percussion to an aggression and pace that include passages not unlike Vertebrae-era Enslaved highlighted with Ivar’s gargling shrieks and tremolo picking — and it all features an incredibly impressive echoing quality to it. In short, within the first couple of tracks we are already offered a glimmer of the immense range of sounds and emotions this collection of tracks covers. And as we work through the middle stages, it becomes more apparent that each song maintains its own personality and structure to it. For example, the chants of “Makta Og Vanæra, For All Tid” layered over traditional Norwegian instruments (kraviklyre and horns) compares curiously to the electric guitar passages of “Rop Fra Røynda – Mælt Fra Minne”. Each song feels a little different, as if telling a different tale, allowing us to become fully engaged in the Norwegian culture that these musicians call their own. Becoming lost, rather… becoming one, with this diverse sonical environment is inevitable.
Once you’ve pulled yourself out of the state of hypnosis inspired by these intoxicating sounds, you can start to look at the piece from from a broader perspective. And one of the most impressive aspects of this is just how fluid it is throughout. Yes, the style can deviate from one song to another and the range of instruments and vocal sounds is ambitious, but when you look at this performance on the whole, it all comes together seamlessly to create an overriding atmosphere of peace and inward curiosity. It offers a time of reflection as the soothing Proto-Norwegian words cascade over us in waves of sound as diverse as the instruments behind them. It is a definitive tribute to the ability of the musicians and the care that went into this composition. The creativity is still very much cohesive, allowing A Piece of Mind & Matter to listen as linearly as the stories that compose its structural foundation.
The only thing I can really knock A Piece of Mind & Mirror for is its duration. 10 tracks covering well over an hour of music is certainly a commitment in time, and spoken passages on tracks like “Vitkispá” or the horns on the closing stages of the aforementioned “Rop Fra Røynda – Mælt Fra Minne” tend to feel more elongated than perhaps necessary. But it is light criticism as this feels as though it was intended to be listened to as a journey through history anyway. These moments of deliberation should be expected, even if they not entirely appreciated.
Those minor critiques aside, in all, this is probably the most impressive collection of sounds I’ve experienced in some time, metal or otherwise (and this could fall into either category). It is a complex yet logical sound that both sparks and satisfies a desire for culture within its sound. Furthermore, it is inspiring in the introspective qualities that are driven by the diverse landscapes of sound and atmosphere. A Piece of Mind & Mirror is an extensive and thought-provoking album that can be appreciated by all; a journey in sound well worth exploring.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”