Garmarna have a unique sound: firmly based in Swedish traditional music but influenced by the rock tradition they've all grown up with. They ignore the unwritten laws of how traditional music should be performed; they know no boundaries. The music is half new - and newly-written - and half traditional with ancient instrumentation next to sampled drum-loops, suggestive mouth harps, tender violins and distorted guitars.
Garmarna started in January 1990, just a week after a performance of "Hamlet" which contained very strong, old Swedish music. Stefan, Gotte, and Rickard were inspired by the show, and they began searching for old tunes and instruments. After a year of playing together, just before their appearance at Sweden's biggest rock festival, Jens Höglin joined the band on drums. Autumn 1992 saw the band in the studio recording an EP. They realized that female vocals would provide a light contrast to the naturally dark moods of the music. Emma Härdelin (a longtime friend of the band) guested on that record, then joined the band in early 1993, completing the lineup. The debut EP sold well in Sweden, and helped the band tour in Scandinavia. (These recordings have been remastered and expanded to full-album length and are now available from NorthSide as Garmarna [NSD 6056]).
The following year, the band decided to add samples and sequencers to the mix, giving the old tunes a modern musical foundation. Still, the heart of the music remains the harsh Swedish harmonies created by acoustic instruments, topped off by Emma's intense vocals. The album Vittrad ("crumbling away") was immediately hailed by the press, calling Garmarna "probably the best folkmusic band in Scandinavia." In the deep winter of 1994, Omnium released Vittrad in the US, with full English translations of the dark old songs. The band made the cover of Billboard and the CMJ World chart.
1996 started with a long German tour closely followed by the album Guds Spelemän / Gods Musicians (named after a poem by Swedish poet Nils Ferlin.) The Swedish press went wild over it, the album made it to the Swedish sales charts, and it was released by Omnium in September 1996. Again, the band appeared on the cover of Billboard with rave reviews in Wired and Playboy.
In 1998, in-between recording sessions for their new album, Garmarna toured with a 900-year old nun! Well not really, but they did a series of concerts in churches in the North of Sweden presenting their interpretation of the medieval works of Hildegard von Bingen, together with actress Felicia Konrad. It's not exactly a Hildegard von Bingen concert; more Garmarna's interpretation of her work placed in a 21st century environment. The reviews were great, the shows sold out and the audience was very enthusiastic. One local magazine gave Garmarna five beavers (!) out of five.
In 1999 the band took a giant step forward with Vengeance. It's truly a breakthrough record for the entire genre of Nordic music. This masterpiece brilliantly fuses the ancient with the modern, traditional murder ballads with rock and trip-hop production techniques, the transcendent with the subterranean.
Emma Härdelin's work on Vengeance is sure to enhance her international reputation as one of the most compelling female voices on the planet. She delivers Swedish medieval songs about evil spells, deceit and violence with sweet, sensuous seduction. The rest of the band have risen to the task of providing real substance behind The Voice. Produced by Sank and recorded with HDCD processing, the production and sound quality are breathtaking.
If you've been feeling at all cynical about the state of modern "popular" music, one listen to Vengeance will restore your faith. The second listen will convince you to help tell the rest of the world about this amazing record.
Following Vengeance, the band returned to the studio to complete the full-length Hildegard von Bingen album. After extensive study of the source material, the band created new instrumental arrangements to surround the lyrics and von Bingen's original melodies. Layers of strings, guitars, hurdy-gurdy and percussion swirl around the traditional vocals of Emma Härdelin. Emma is at the center singing the old lyrics and melodies while the rest of the band create a new, electronic environment around her. Their collaborator is 900 years old. The programming is from the 21st century. The lyrics are in Latin. The interpretation is distinctly Garmarna. The love and care they lavish on thse songs is obvious.
1993: Garmarna Massproduktion (Sweden) CDS 54, NorthSide (U.S.) NSD 6056
© 2003 East Side, Inc.