I think what we can all agree on is that there just aren’t enough troubadours in the world today. At what point did we, as a society, decide that travelling minstrels weren’t cool or acceptable anymore? Why aren’t there entertainers regaling me and my compatriots with song and merriment as we feast and dance? If this is something that is causing stress in your life, fear not. Wudewuse, the forest boys themselves, are back with Northern Gothic, a celebration of the nature and the landscape of Northern Norway, old school rock, deep and contemplative moods, and the bardic spirit.
Wudewuse is the brainchild of guitar virtuoso, balladeer and existentialist SBM, who has been recording under the Wudewuse moniker for only a relatively short time, but his skillful fingerpicking and smart songwriting have left an impact on the folk scene around Norway. Ever inspired by nature and the woods of Northern Norway that SBM calls home, Wudewuse has always been a vehicle for celebrating the beauty of nature and the spirits that dwell within, but on Northern Gothic SBM expands both the central themes of the project as well as the members contained therein. Joining SBM on the album is a veritable who’s who of the prog, folk, pop and metal scene in Norway, featuring members of bands like Tusmørke (of which SBM is also a member), Superlynx and Wobbler. The overall sound of the album expands beyond the solo guitar works that Wudewuse is best known for, although there is still plenty of folky, fingerpicked wizardry here. It’s all rounded out with electric guitars, organs and synthesizers and various percussion. What this creates is a pretty wide variety in the sound of the album, with some tracks embracing a classic rock to an almost bluesy vibe, and others going for a more mellow, folky vibe. It’s easy to see here that the musical inspiration for this album runs from prog rock to classical to metal, all of which SBM drew from when crafting these songs.
Lyrically, Northern Gothic goes deeper, darker and more philosophical than previously. Written over the course of three years (where SBM lived in the forest and worked in a graveyard, no less), the album is heavily inspired by a bad trip SBM had in said graveyard while on “multiple substances,” which gave him much thought and inspiration about death and the hereafter. It should come as no surprise, then, that the topics the album covers range from Soren Kierkegaard wandering in a graveyard at night, to a journey with Charon the ferryman, to a ballad about Lucifer himself dabbling in natural magic. A lot of the album is focused on death, gloom and solitude, but the overall tone is quite light and mellow. A lot of the prog rock influence mellows out what could be a really depressing listen, and it feels quite hip, I think. There’s a lot more chill vibes and less abject bummers going on here, which I like.
Northern Gothic prominently features a retro feel that blends everything together very nicely. It helps to tie up all the different bits and hold them together thematically, but the real glue here is the masterful guitar playing of SBM. True wizardry is on display here, and easily my favorite tracks are the ones where the fretboard acrobatics get to shine, like “Bernard Herre” or the title track. It’s easily some of the most impressive folk guitar I’ve heard in a while, and it makes me wonder why SBM is not more of a household name. That’s not to say that when the full band kicks in it’s not good listening either. Tracks like the opener “Amaryllis” or “Halvganger” showcase the kind of cool, old-school arrangements that really lean into the prog headspace and give the album some depth. “Selene” features delicate synths and woodwinds that give a rich sense of beauty to the track, coupled with the gentle voice of SBM lulling you into a trance. Overall, the variety of the album keeps it interesting and there’s enough to tie everything together where it doesn’t feel too scattered.
I’m really happy to see Wudewuse pushing boundaries and expanding themselves. It’ll be interesting to see what, and who, the next phase of the project will include, but for the time being, Northern Gothic makes an excellent addition to a discography that is sure to fill up with a wide variety of interesting releases. Assuming no more graveyard death trips. Or hey, maybe just one more, seeing as this one at least led to some aesthetically pleasing results.