About three years ago, when I was really into international music of all different sorts, I ended up blindly ordering a CD off the internet after reading an editorial review on it. The album, which was from a band called Garmarna (the disc itself was named "Vedergällningen"), consisted of traditional Swedish folksongs to which the band applied a fair amount of modern instrumentation and production techniques: sampling, heavy drums, and distorted guitars were among the album's non-traditional elements. After a few spins it became one of my all-time favourite albums. Because the music was fairly dark and heavy to begin with (and it was augmented by the modern arrangements), the feel was somewhat like hard rock. But the disc also had something not found in most heavy rock music: it had a very dark, earthy sort of sound to it that was conjured up by the Swedish-style fiddles and the drone of the hurdy-gurdy...A very Nordic flavour; and the perfect musical complement to the snowy fjords found in my own home, Alaska.
Little by little I began to discover that there were many other great Scandinavian folk bands of all different sorts. Some of them incorporate modern elements (like Garmarna), others tend to be very traditional. All of the groups I'm familiar with (those below) are available in North America (usually through the NorthSide label). (Keep in mind that I know little about the specific Scandinavian folkmusic traditions themselves).
Probably the best-known Norwegian folk group, Bukkene Bruse was originally formed to perform for the closing ceremonies at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lilliehammer, Norway. Bukkene Bruse is very traditional, a piano being their greatest concession to modernity (the band does, however, write original folk songs). Bukkene Bruse includes vocalist/fiddle player Annbjørg Lien who is also well known for her solo projects.
Garmarna began as an instrumental folk music act, but their sound has evolved greatly since their formation, and is now quite rock-oriented. Garmarna is characterised by their dark, heavy sound, their extensive use of the hurdy-gurdy, and by their incredible vocalist Emma Härdelin.
See also, Garmarna
Gjallarhorn are from the Swedish-speaking area of Finland, and as a result their lyrics are sung in Swedish (as opposed to Finnish, as one might expect of a Helsinki-based band). Although fairly traditional, the band does incorporate ethnic percussion instruments (from all different areas of the world) into their music, and uses a digeridoo as their drone instrument (most bands use either hurdy-gurdy or Swedish bagpipes). This has gained Gjallarhorn some appeal among world music connoisseurs.
Hedningarna's music is largely planted in Finnish tradition (even though the band itself is actually from Sweden), and is among the most rock-influenced of the Scandinavian folk bands. Hedningarna has also been around for quite some time, having released their first album in 1988. Compared to Garmarna and Sorten Muld, the band usually has a brighter, more cheerful sound. Hedningarna has been substantially influenced by rock bands such as Jethro Tull.
Having a name that means something along the lines of "whatever" in Swedish, Hoven Droven is entirely instrumental, but have a very heavy drum/bass-oriented sound in most of their music. Floating atop this rhythm section, however, is a bright, melodic fiddle/saxophone soli. Despite this seeming clash in tonal colour, the combination seems to fit surprisingly well together.
Hailing from Denmark, the music of Sorten Muld is also based on traditional tunes. However, their synthesizer-intensive style is more modern than any other Scandinavian folkmusicband I've heard. Sorten Muld (which is Dansk for "black earth") has a very dark sound for the most part - at times big and dramatic, while at others subdued and mysterious. Like Garmarna (and Triakel), the band has a very powerful lead singer (Ulla Benedixen). Sorten Muld, however, are far more techno, incorporating elements of both jungle and trip-hop.
Triakel consists of the vocalist from Garmarna (Emma Härdelin), along with the two fiddle-players from Hoven Droven (Kjel-Erik Eriksson and Janne Strömstedt); who wanted to form a band that played traditional folksongs - in the traditional style. Triakel's music is slow and lyrical, usually concerned with mournful themes.
Other Scandinavian Folk Artists