Urferd – Resan Review

Promotional material is magical. Often it’s a poorly written, exaggerated exercise in alternate realities. That’s par for the course when you’re talking about marketing, and everyone who reads it knows what they’re getting into, but it’s funny how sometimes it works anyway. In the case of Resan, the debut full-length from the Swedish Urferd, it almost worked too well. By suggesting that Resan is “a journey through dark and olden Nordic forests” suitable for fans of Heilung, Myrkur, and Forndom, sole band member Daniel Beckman (Twilight ForceAges) certainly caught my attention, but he also set the bar sky-high. And then… well, then he took me on a journey through dark and olden Nordic forests in a way I can only compare favorably to my 2020 Album of the Year. Well played, promo writer person. You’ve bested me again1.

Not that I’m complaining! Neofolk of this quality is rare, but Urferd has a definite knack for building cinematic soundscapes through traditional instrumentation. Many stringed instruments, bells, a hurdy gurdy, chants, and some serious percussion dominate Resan, deftly moving from the expansive (“Hymn”) to the subtle (“Gryning”) to the epic (“Envig”). With nary a hint of metal, Beckman builds powerful, intense, emotional songs that get better every time you hear them. “Avfärd” is the longest song and the best example of how a traditional tune can organically morph into a swelling epic in a way that really does feel like a journey. The aforementioned promo material uses the term “odyssey” to describe Resan, and, as much as it frustrates me to admit it, I can think of no better term.2 I’ve heard so many power metal bands struggle to reach the level of emotional intensity struck by the end of “Envig,”and Beckman makes it sound effortless, and without any of that distortion we’ve come to know and love.

The key, really, is that the songwriting on Resan is top-tier. Beckman has a lot of instruments at his disposal, a clear vision for each track, and the skill to express complex emotional content without strongly overlapping ideas. Each song on the album has its own distinct identity, which benefits the “journeying” feel of the whole. “Strövtåg” evokes quiet meadows and peaceful, glorious greens, while “Vaka” sucks you in with ritualistic, slow strings before exploding into a warlike frenzy. The two tracks could hardly be more different, but the journey from one to the other feels exactly right. That Urferd is able to use so many different sounds and instruments helps to keep things feeling fresh. Best of all, it helps Resan to feel like a confident album, one that knows exactly what it’s here to do and utterly assured of its ability to follow through.

At the heart of all of these nice things I’m saying about Resan is the production, which is, for the most part, stellar. With so much going on, so many subtleties in each track, a well-balanced mix is crucial, which makes it all the more impressive that Beckman apparently did all of that himself. “Envig” wouldn’t be half as amazing as it is if the traditional percussion didn’t sound so powerful, nor would the album hold half its mystical sway without Beckman’s vocal chants, shouts, and throat singing sensibly placed behind the leading instruments in each song. This gives Resan the feel of an instrumental album, which is probably the best choice Urferd could have made—to let the music speak for itself by using the stellar vocals as enhancements. This “rule” is only broken in “Dvala,” where guest vocals from Kirstin Starkey steal the show to wind the album down to its quiet, cathartic close. My only criticism for the mix is that the buzz from the hurdy gurdy is simply too loud on some songs. In “Avfärd,” it lends subtle texture; in “Strövtåg,” it takes away from the gorgeous melody.

I didn’t want to end that last paragraph with a criticism, but it’s really the only reason I’m not scoring Resan half a point higher—because everything about this album simply excels. Urferd is a project with a story, and I can hardly think of a better format, presentation, or style for it. To my thinking, Urferd has, with only one album under its belt, joined the ranks of their most successful influences. Resan is cathartic, beautiful, and powerful. Metal or no, what more could we possibly ask for?

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Black Lodge Records
Website: urferd.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: April 15th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. And for the first time. – Steel
  2. You are now on probation. – Steel
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