Artist: Nordic Giants
Album Title: Symbiosis
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 4 February 2022
You’ve got to love a musical entity that’s shrouded in mystery, haven’t you? I mean, it adds to the aura that surrounds the music, and to an extent, stops the focus being on the people. You can therefore concentrate on the audible output 100%. Well, that’s the theory anyway. It doesn’t always work, as the constant speculation around who is or isn’t involved can sometimes get in the way of more important things. Nevertheless, whatever the pros and cons, it is a path that Nordic Giants have taken. Formed well over a decade ago, we still only know that Nordic Giants is a duo, who go by the names of Rôka and Löki. All else is just unconfirmed conjecture.
What isn’t unconfirmed conjecture, and what’s beyond doubt is that musically, Nordic Giants have crafted something rather special here. ‘Symbiosis’ is their sophomore studio long-player, following their debut ‘A Sèance of Dark Delusions’ and their subsequent documentary/soundtrack project entitled ‘Amplify Human Vibration’. Neither of these I am familiar with, but having now immersed myself in the work of Nordic Giants for the past week or two, I plan to change that very soon indeed.
I find it difficult to describe accurately the musical output on ‘Symbiosis’ because it encompasses many different ideas and genres. At the most basic, the music could be referred to as ambient post-rock I suppose, but when you then listen to the compositions on this album, you quickly realise that such a description feels too bland and one-dimensional. There are elements of classical music, cinematic film scores, pop, electronic, and a whole lot more besides. And all these elements collide in a glorious fusion that ultimately leads to a record that delights, comforts, entertains, and most importantly, has the power to make you feel. I cannot deny that I haven’t always found the music as easy to listen to as I would like, because some of its tenderness, and fragility has hit me hard, bringing me to tears along the way. But I’d prefer that than listen to something that leaves me unmoved and cold.
Interestingly, the record does not get off to the most auspicious start thanks to the discordant sound of wailing brass for a few seconds within the slow, dark opening of ‘Philosophy Of Mind’. Spoken word samples talking about what we do or do not know about the universe, as well as the power of the human mind quickly catch my attention, however. And the way that the composition builds is rather impressive, unfolding into an arresting piece of music that has rich piano notes and melodies at its heart. The drumming is both laid back and bold as the track ebbs and flows expertly, building up the tension as it goes. Initially not overly enamoured with the chosen central melodies, I have grown to love them; how could I not, as they swirl and eddy as the energy increases, and with it, the closest you get to a wall of sound from this duo. Instead, the urgency dies away yet again, toying cleverly with the listener. Strange electronic sounds emerge late on, giving the song an entirely new texture, as the spoken word samples return before a gloriously uplifting, almost euphoric section closes the track on a positive note.
‘Anamorphia’ follows and it’s a fairly different beast, although it maintains many of the elements of the opener, especially at the outset. The piano, once again, plays a central role, moving into jazz territory at the midway point. Delicate synths lace the piece with depth and richness of sound, whilst the ensuing build-up of power and potency is an utter delight, the melodies instantly gratifying and deeply emotional as it turns out.
If I thought that the first two tracks were good, ‘Hjem’ is even better. Translated simply as ‘Home’, it is one of the most stunningly beautiful and emotional songs I have heard for quite a while. In places it is not dissimilar to the works of Sigur Ros and their ilk, but the aching beauty in the melodies coupled with the minimalist, ambient soundscapes mean that I don’t think straight; the gorgeous piano notes, subtle guitar picking, and layers of serene synths captivate and suddenly my vision is blurred. Before I know it, tears are flowing freely as I sit in the dark, deep in thought, thought that’s both joyous and melancholy.
‘Faceless’ features the vocal talents of Alex Hedley, an English indie-folk musician predominantly. I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on his gravelly voice initially as it sounded like it could break at any moment. However, I was wrong. The explosive chorus that almost erupts out of extended introspective verses are magnificent, dripping with naked emotion, guitars wailing to the heavens in unison with Hedley’s powerful, pleading voice.
A second guest vocalist makes an appearance later in the album, namely Freyja, who adds her delicate ethereal vocals to ‘Spheres’. Again, like elsewhere, the minimalist approach carries a majestic and deeply powerful air, the melodies tugging at the heartstrings with ease. The drumming is slightly more pronounced, creating a bold backbone, but the swathes of synths and tinkling piano notes are the focal point for me, complimenting Freyja’s dreamy vocals perfectly.
‘Spires Of Ascendency’ is almost the twin to ‘Hjem’, a composition that is incredibly poignant and moving despite its apparent, overall simplicity. And the album comes to a close via the longer ‘Infinity’ which, just like its immediate predecessor insists on reintroducing an element of brass to its soundscape. However, also in keeping with ‘Spires Of Ascendency’ before it, the composition does not overly suffer from the inclusion of brass. Yes, I’d have preferred it not to appear, but you cannot question the quality of the track. I adore the opening sequence with its use of interesting sci-fi-like electronics, the way it compliments and enhances the more organic sounds that gradually appear as it develops. I feel like a broken record, but again, the melodies are strong and particularly bittersweet, building to an arresting and entirely fitting crescendo to see out ‘Symbiosis’, both cinematic and dramatic in equal measure, almost a final explosive outpouring of emotion upon which to end.
‘Symbiosis’ has definitely surprised me but in a very positive way indeed. When you’re suffering a deep personal melancholy, it might not be the very best idea to listen to music as emotional as this is. However, after a first impactful listen, I found myself magnetically drawn to the music, almost seeking it out so that I could deliberately let it move me. On that level, ‘Symbiosis’ has proven to be a rather cathartic listen as well as quite a profound one. I have since found out that Nordic Giants are playing a show relatively locally, so it would appear that I will be making a trip to see them. I suspect that live, this music will take on a whole new meaning and be even more moving. I’m braced and ready because I have to experience this beautiful music up close and personal.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
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