Back I go to the land of my fathers, Norway, for my next review. As I have mentioned more than once, the rock scene in Norway is alive and well – in fact producing a bigger and better variety of bands than ever before. So time to see if Savn should be added to that ever growing and impressive list. Before I get on to the musical side, a little background on the band, and interesting it is too.
Norwegian goth Metal legends The Sins Of Thy Beloved have been dormant since 2000 - following the release of their second album Perpetual Desolation - and after years of a rumoured reunion, Stig Johansen and Anders Thue have instead risen from the ashes with a new band, SAVN, and a new vision.
The seeds for Savn (translated: Deprivation) officially took root when multi-instrumentalist Stig contacted Midnattsol vocalist and long-time friend Carmen Elise Espenæs about singing one song for the planned SAVN album. Carmen agreed, and Stig and Anders (keyboards) were so pleased with the final result they invited her to sing on the entire record. With Midnattsol rendered inactive for the time being due to personal commitments within the band, and her new role as a singer, as well as a mother of an adorable daughter, the Norwegian powerhouse found herself with enough time and refueled with energy to take part in this new musical journey.
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And, how did all this come together as a band?
"In the beginning they just wanted me here and there in parts of the songs", Carmen reveals, "but I became more and more involved as we worked. There were some parts that I asked if we could change them because I had a chorus or melody line that needed to be in there. They decided that it would be best to say that I'm part of the band. I loved the music when I first heard it, and working with them in the studio was a great experience."
Did you get all that? Time to get to the hub of the matter, the music. If you are expecting some goth Metal (or fearing it, depending upon your viewpoint) then you will be in for a surprise. Naturally there are elements of it, but the sound is a lot more in the heavy rock direction so classic metalheads will have something to sink their teeth into, or shake their hair at. Right, down to business.
As if to prove my point, the album kicks off with 'Musical Silence', and a riff about as classic rock orientated as you could wish for, pounding drums pulling it along. But add in another layer, some strings (and I mean fiddle ones, not guitar ones) from Dag Bjørkedal and Lillian Hodne the whole feel of the music takes on a transformation and I have to say, a transformation for the good.
As you know the name Savn is Norwegian for desperation and all the songs touch on the subject – that melancholy, sorrowful feel is accomplished beautifully with the tones of strings. The subject matter of this one is losing a part of yourself due to lack of music and then rediscovering it through taking your music in a new direction.
When the vocals kick in, the song takes on an even more melancholic theme, Carmen's voice full of passion, truth and feeling. More fiddles where a lot of bands would put a guitar solo and the fiddle being a fiddle, there is even a touch of the Irish feel about it. Chorus is a very catchy little affair, a nice hook to it, keys interspersed without going over the top and taking over. A fine way to start proceedings.
As a footnote, perhaps Coldplay could take the concept of musical silence, but take it more literally (you knew it was coming...).
Next up is 'Hang On', which is about someone who has lost all hope and wants to end their life, whilst those close to them are begging them to hold on to life. Musically it starts off with just vocals before the drums and guitar pound in, keyboards beautifully catching the mood. Middle section featuring strings, fluttering keys, adding to the feel, ironically uplifting vocal mood giving the sense of reprieval.
So to 'The Demons In Me', well not actually me personally or we could be here for a very long time. The track is about struggling with anxiety, voices in your head wearing you down. Michelle Darkness (End Of Green) makes an appearance on this track, adding vocals. Musically, again the fiddles adding a lot of depth, this one has more of a sombre feel to it, the contrast between the two voices working well, fiddles again in the space between.
The difference in the vocals is the stand out part of this track, almost anger and sorrow being depicted by each separate voice. The melody chugs along at a rate of knots, again an underlying feature of their tracks, proving you don't need to go into vegetative depressed mode to get that feeling across.
'Longing For Love' has for its subject matter wondering where the love has gone after a long time in a relationship. Personally I still love West Ham, however much they continue to upset and disappoint me. Back to the music... piano beginnings, with the kind of feel you would probably expect. Again the keyboards are impressive, especially how they fit on top of the heavier drum and guitar sound. Melody full of soul, feeling and more than a little catchy grabs you on this one, before the tone gets a little more sombre as the strings arrive again before going back up to the catchy melody. A good track, nothing overly complicated, but very well crafted.
'I Am Free' has another guest appearance and this time it is a family affair with Carmen's sister, Liv Kristine (Leaves' Eyes). It is the first time the siblings have recorded one of Carmen's songs together and Carmen is particularly proud of this one. Interesting keyboard intro, melodic before we get a first taste, mild though it is, of some growling (more about that later), emotional vocals from the sisters, softness in the voice before going more uptempo. Once again the strings add more than a little to the track, replacing the tried and tested guitar solo but again it works well. Quickening keyboards towards the end on top of the drums mixed with more strings make for a stirring end to the song.
The Lingua Mortis Orchestra make an appearance on the next one, 'Sorrowful'. The track itself deals with being left alone after a break up or other life changing event, kicking off with more riffery, keyboards and belting drums, the orchestrations layered in behind it giving it the sense of sadness right from the get go. There is the contrast between the rock instrumentation and the orchestration but they fit well together, harmonising and expanding the sound, choral chanting adding an even deeper layer before the melodic verses. A very well written one, and not the simplest to weave together but they have succeeded.
'All I Want' deals with wanting to do what you want and being happy, rather than the drudgery of life which seems a waste of time and effort sometimes. Yes ok, more than sometimes. Keyboards again overlaying drums and guitar, with strings again used to great effect. More upbeat this one – this lot aren't all about being lachrymose. Musically, the customary good quality songwriting and melodies are in evidence with the familiar pounding in the background.
'Now Or Never' is the next one up, so clearly more a case of now. This deals with a subject you have no doubt already worked out, but in case of any slowness it is basically a question of life being too short and you only having one of them.
Fiddles again, vocals uplifting, Stig Johansen's injection of growling vocals adding urgency to the track, Carmen's harmonising sitting intriguingly alongside.
'Lengselens Hand' is the last track on the album, bonus tracks aside that I will get to in the course of time. Translated from Norwegian, it means 'Longing's hand' and is about when someone close to you is lost for whatever reason. You still have the memories and the hand of longing just won't let go. This one again features The Lingua Mortis Orchestra and is also sung in Norwegian.
Sad, minor key piano with vocals, strings coming in alongside restrained drums, keeping the feel, no upbeat feelings to this one – but as much as it portrays sadness, there is no depressive feeling. Orchestration on its own gives a beautiful effect in the middle before the song moves uptempo, drums crashing in although still with some restrain, a well delivered piece. And this song actually fades out unlike most on the album that finish quite abruptly.
That is the basic album but there are a couple of extras on the digipak, namely growling versions of 'Hang On' and 'The Demons In Me'. They are as you would expect more on the heavier side, vocally, at any rate of songs heard on the album. They are interesting although musically stick to the same path as the standard versions but it can be looked on as an alternative sound, giving you an option and possibly for them to gauge reaction to this format.
So there it is. As I mentioned at the beginning, if you were expecting some gothicness, then you will be disappointed, surprised, reticent (delete as applicable). This album may require some clever marketing so people know what to expect but if it is given the right push in the right direction then there is no reason it shouldn't be successful. It is a shame that bands and music get pigeonholed as their former identity may put some people off before they even get to hear the music but marketing is the record company's job so let's hope they are at the races.
As someone more leaning towards the classic rock end of the spectrum, it impressed me so there is a definite cross appeal – it has all the elements that go to make up good albums and bands. The masterstroke is the use of strings in the way that they do and the orchestration as well. Whilst fiddles in rock aren't a new concept, it is not usual to use them to this extent – one of the first things you will notice is the lack of any guitar solos, that space generally being used for the fiddle parts,and why not, it works.
Some more used to the classic end of rock may not be enamoured with the relatively standard guitar and drum parts, but Savn don't pretend to be doing an album like that.
Bad points? There always are (even I am not perfect – yes really, I know, surprising eh?). Carmen Elise Espenæs is a very fine vocalist and she has a very distinctive quality to her voice but it is not one filled with extreme power and at times her voice does disappear into the mix. The mix generally is a little tame for my ears although the presence of the fiddles are never dumbed down, a definite plus point.
The variety of songs on offer could perhaps be greater but given the name of the album, there is always going to be the melancholic feel and there is only so much you can do with that – plus they are all songs about personal experiences.
That aside, it is an impressive album and whilst not quite unique as the PR claims (PR is... well...PR), it is different and they should all be congratulated on the direction they have taken and the way they have done it.