Many words have been spent on the blog thus far in regards to Skuggsjá, a project comprised of Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) & Einar Selvik (Wardruna). However, the music has always taken somewhat of a backseat as we focused on the cultural narratives which spawned it and gave it context. While these are obviously important it would do us well to remember that this is, first and foremost, a creation of music. It’s also a damn good at that, blending folk, folk metal and black metal into an energetic and cohesive whole. Even though many styles are utilized on the album, it doesn’t feel like a hybrid creation, a crossing of genre bounds. Instead, each musical element present speaks to and draws from the same place: a dark, oppressive, majestic place which invokes harsh environments, blistering cold and vast depths.
Naturally, A Piece For Mind & Mirror would be influenced by the two main style of its primary contributors. But instead of going back and forth between the folk/metal of Wardruna and the progressive black metal of Enslaved, these two influences are expertly fused into one. This achievement can be best evidenced on the track “Makta Og Vanæra, For All Tid”. Its first three minutes or so opens with an epic folk metal passage, a male choir over far apart and moving chords. This in turn gives way to a brief bridge but one which features a tremolo picked, clean guitar, an element which begins to hint at the black metal roots of plenty of the music on the album. Sure enough, the harsh, high pitched vocals of Grutle Kjellson (Enslaved) break the atmosphere, cutting clean through the blastbeats that ushers their arrival. While projects like this can often have an overwhelmingly self-aware quality with each artist trying to express their own version of the sound, Skuggsja avoids that by unifying the influences that helped create both artists instead of fusing their sounds. This is a project that exists not as a vanity supergroup, but as a way to convey a message, that of Nordic history.
In other projects, the appearance of these vocals and the accompanying instruments, namely fast guitars and blastbeats, would appear out of place. But here, the whole thing feels like one piece; there’s no clear divide between folk and black metal. Black metal often turns to folk elements for influences, but here we see the band leaning into that connection and exploring it instead of appropriating it. Both genres have their roots in the same place after all, and what Skuggsja have done is build a bridge bringing the sounds together. Even that bridge doesn’t really stop the pacing of the track, as it blends the two elements together: on one hand, we have a clean guitar sound that might be more at home with the folk elements before it.
On the other hand, the choice to use tremolo picking clearly places it with the latter, heavier influences. Thus, it is truly a bridge, with two points of stability in each bank of the musical river. Later in the track, these distinctions will be even fuzzier, with the black metal vocals being moved way back into the folk segments themselves. On “Bøn Om Ending, Bøn Om Byrjing”, for example, you can find vocals on the verge of growling within a weird middle part that reminds us of Opeth with its peculiar synth arrangements. The rest of the track explodes into an enormous outro which, once again, sets the momentous and historical context within which this album operates.
A Piece For Mind & Mirror then speaks very clearly to what happens when two artists have a solid, powerful vision and set out to make that vision a reality. With this anchoring element in tow, they are able to bring to bear their entire range of musical influences without sounding contrived, superficial or forced. Their specific and unique timbre stands as a genre on its own, broiling with the different roots that feed it but also standing as something new on its own. Coupled with the deep, moving and amazingly well written lyrics and concepts behind it, these facts make Skuggsjá much more than just a project. Hopefully there are many more albums on the horizon as these veterans of their respective styles continue to forge together a brave, cohesive and astoundingly rich music.