In 1930 Grant Wood painted one of the most iconic and scary pictures of the 20th century – American Gothic. 90 years later, that picture was at the basis for the artwork to the ninth full-length by Årabrot from Norway. Karin “The Dark Diva” Park and Kjetil “The Tall Man” Nernes took some inspiration from Wood’s picture as well as some from the horror stories about sects in the American midwest, the latter being clear when watching the two terrific and terrifying videos for the songs “Kinks Of The Heart” and “Hailstones For Rain / The Moon Is Dead” which form the short film “Norwegian Gothic”. The video shows a cult follow their leaders – Park and Nernes – and in the end both seem to tower over them with the audience not knowing if the followers are still alive or not. The latter of course quickly reminds one of the massacres in Waco and Jonestown where hundreds of people lost their lives.
Now the artwork to Årabrot’s new record shows the same kind of pointy windows that Wood displayed in his picture – thus the masterminds behind Årabrot take up the position of the persons in the painting who display a kind of cruel inattentiveness and sheer emptiness which again is more threatening than anything else. Which murderous thoughts might be lurking behind the empty, everyday faces of the man with the pitchfork and the woman who might be his wife, his younger daughter or – even worse – his youngest toy. To show up a clearer comparison – Hitchcock’s “Psycho” will still give you the shivers even if you watch it for the tenth time, “Saw” on the other hand can only scare you once. The horror hidden in plain view is much more effective than the brutality on display in some post-millennium movies.
But these references are only one bit of the intrigue this record emanates. The Dark Diva and the Tall Man have once again come up with so many effective songs that calling them workaholics might be the understatement of the year – they have only just released a complete EP a few weeks ago with five tracks none of them are on the new full-length and this is their ninth release in the last five years! That efficiency and productiveness might also be connected to them living outside in the wild Scandinavian countryside where they also rehearse and record their stuff inside an old church.
The sixteen (!!!) tracks combine for roughly an hour of music and you can find nearly all styles of music in it – industrial beats, soul, noisy bits, hard rocking riffs and brilliant alternative metal tracks. You can hear Park singing for her soul with all the drama of an old Motown vocalist who tries to seduce the dead. You witness Jaga Jazzist’s Lars Horntveth administer some seriously sinister saxophone lines. You will be seduced by the vocals of Karen Park who is once again as charming as Shirley Manson but with the “sorceress’” background of Siouxsie Sioux. Nernes might be the best Nick Cave-version of Jaz Coleman that ever graced the needle of a record-player. The music is a crossover between the Melvins, Killing Joke, the Birthday Party and Wovenhand.
It is really hard for me to pick a favorite song from this record, because here that old cliché of a record that functions only as a record is so true. Even though “Norwegian Gothic” is not a record conceptualized like “Songs for the Deaf” with tracks flowing into each other, the whole record just makes sense in this particular order. To find out what holds all these songs together one should mention the awesome work by bassists Dana Schechter (Swans, Insect Ark, American Music Club) and Massimo Pupillo (Zu, Caspar Brötzman). Their earthy, raw, distinct bass lines really form the bridges between the tracks.
Park and Nernes call this record the culmination of all their previous work and one couldn’t agree more. After “The Gospel” many thought that this would be Årabrot’s peak and yet here we are, five years later and the band has arrived at new heights with a record that might not be matched this year for all its seductive darkness. Which horrors lie behind the multilayered “Norwegian Gothic” will only be discovered in due time – but on can admit that the record is demanding your full attention at every second or otherwise it might crawl up behind and attack you. Just like the guy with the pitchfork in Wood’s picture.