Wudewuse – Northern Gothic Review

From the forests of Norway emerges Sondre Bergersen Mæland, a man of many talents and of many names. Known largely for his work in Tusmørke and Wudewuse, the multi-instrumentalist of Scandinavian folk and rock circles certainly seems to live an interesting life. According to my liner notes, for example, he wrote most of Northern Gothic, the sophomore full-length from the latter band, “over a period of three years while [he] was living in the forest and worked at a graveyard,” a journey that involved a “cosmic psychosis, following a death trip [he] had while on various substances.” So… that got my attention. As Wudewuse, Mæland writes and performs a strain of neofolk he describes as “gothic forest folk,” with inspiration as honest as it gets. This isn’t quite a solo release – he recruited several other musicians to supply additional instruments – but the music is written by and largely performed by Mæland.

Most of this review could probably be summarized by me saying that Northern Gothic feels like a very organic, natural sample of neofolk. It evokes the image of a single musician by a campfire in a forest, playing and singing to his heart’s content. At times, it feels almost improvised, swaying to the emotion of the player. At times, this means it’s achingly beautiful; at others, rough, and meandering. While other instruments, like the langeleik, synthesizers, and percussion, occasionally join in the fray, this is, for the most part, the expression of one man and a guitar, about as stripped-down and emotionally honest as it gets. As well, none of the lyrics are written in English1, and the unfamiliar sounds only enhance the otherworldly nature of Northern Gothic, an expression of Wudewuse, written for Wudewuse, and shared with the listener.

Opener “Aaryllis” is an interesting start to Northern Gothic, as it heavily embodies the organic, improvised nature of the album. Volume on the guitar ebbs and flows throughout, and the song’s loose structure, combined with quiet vocals, gives it a sort of haphazard feel, as though its many embellishments are being added in the heat of the moment. While this adds to the authentic feel, it also makes it a strangely difficult song to follow, considering that it isn’t a very long or complex number. These are themes that crop up across the album here and there, accentuating the “musician by a campfire” feel, at the cost of easy memorability. As I sit here, I actually can’t quite recall how the first two songs on Northern Gothic go.

I could tell you a bit about the third one though; “Kharon” is where the album begins showing its strengths. You see, for the most part, I think that the vocal melodies on Northern Gothic are a weakness. Wudewuse is quite a bit stronger at inventive fingerpicking and creating artful soundscapes than at weaving voice and music together. But when said weaving does happen, the tapestries are beautiful. “Selene” and “Lucifer” also carry this strength, lifting up the listener and gently carrying them on a wave of peacefulness and contentedness.2 On these tracks, Wudewuse feel like a more relatable neofolk group than a campfire improvisation. Both sides of the album feel genuine, but the differences do lead to stark differences in quality that ultimately have led to this rather mixed review. Instrumental pieces like “Northern Gothic” and “Halvgangar” similarly differ in how structured they feel, but forced to focus on the playing, it feels easier to keep up with the artists’ intentions. It’s all affecting on some level, mind – again, this is emotional and honest music – but it certainly comes through better on some parts of the album than others.

While my affection for Northern Gothic waxes and wanes through its runtime, I cannot call it a “bad” record. Certainly I’ll be looking into Mæland’s past releases, because when this album clicks, it really clicks. At other times, the style doesn’t feel right to me, but rather haphazard and disjointed. I’m a bit surprised that this album is the work of three years, but then, every time I listen to it, it seems that Wudewuse have added in another subtle detail, another magic moment to tip the scales on my opinion. So I walk away from Northern Gothic, conflicted, yes, but also not unhappy.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Apollon Records
Websites: wudewuse.com | wudewuse.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wudewuse
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I assume they’re Norwegian, though I don’t have the frame of reference to know for sure.
  2. Too poetic?
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