Once in a while you can come across an album that, in a good way, is a little tricky to create a review for. It may be because of a lack of familiarity with the act creating the music, it may be because of the spread of sounds produced by the various instruments, or the tenor of the lyrics or concept might have something about them that takes a while to gel for the listener. In the case of Symbiosis though, it is because the music is so multifaceted and fruitful that each time the listener returns to it, the album reveals another aspect of itself. Nordic Giants have created something here that almost demands a number of rewarding listenings.
Ostensibly, Nordic Giants are a post-rock band in a similar realm to that of Sigur Ros, with a variance that takes them close to the ambient aspect of Bjork’s output. They are in essence an instrumental duo, although there have been, and indeed remain, frequent guests often providing vocals. Symbiosis is the band’s second proper studio album, although they did release what amounts to a soundtrack album between the two. The band have quite an anonymous persona too, adopting masks on stage, and the two main musicians go under the names Loki and Rôka.
To say that the new album was multifaceted is an understatement. There is a lot going on. It is sinuous and textured. “We start with a pure idea, we take all the emotions that live inside us, that are buried deep within the sub-consciousness mind and give them the opportunity to shine through in musical form,” explain the band. “Much like our first album – Symbiosis is a multi-layered album. It’s going to be hard to understand the depth of emotion, or spirit of the album on the first listen or even the second. But hopefully even on the hundredth listen there may still be new layers revealing themselves to you.”
The opening piece, Philosophy Of Mind, begins with what sounds like a primal invocation with a horn before slipping into something more ambient, then the track becomes a series of urgent swells. The music is changeable and malleable, a feeling that transfers to the other music on the album. Anamorphia is a stronger more demanding piece, Convergence delves into electronica, Spires Of Ascendency reflects a more tranquil side of the band while Hjem perhaps hints at something far grander and more ethereal, the mixture of piano and electronics giving it a contemporary classical edge. Infinity provides an impressive end to the album, with loud brash emphatic guitars giving way to calming ambient refrains after the squall of noise. The intensity of the music will raise those similarities to Sigur Ros, but Nordic Giants steer clear of letting the music become euphoric instead seeming to prefer a more restrained, less strident end to their musical ideas. It is an approach that works well for this album. It is the nature of emotions to be amorphous and unpredictable. Symbiosis is an examination of the interdependent relationships of all life. It relates to the interweaving of complete opposites, how there is harmony when these elements unite. The album is both mysterious and blatant, subtle and powerful.
An important part of Nordic Giant’s ethos is the combination of the visual and audio. The band use masks and costume to create an anonymous character, and when live the use of film and lighting effects would seem to be as important as the music. But the music is in itself highly visual. The sound is very filmic and wide screen. There is a clarity to the sound, the production is sharp and clear. The music, although dense, does not become fuzzy, the occasional wall-of-sound elements retain a lucidity and power rather than an overwhelming busyness.
To achieve all this the duo draws on a plethora of sounds. Vintage analogue synths are favoured, blended with the less familiar Tibetan bowls and a Carnyx horn, a wind instrument used by Iron Age Celts. This lends the broadness of the sound an ageless quality that suits the subject matter. There are significant contributions from some of the guests too, principally the tellingly evocative and often ethereal vocals of Alex Hadley and Freyja.
This is a significant and important release for Nordic Giants. It maintains the band’s artistic integrity, but also proves that they are not about repeating themselves. It is a prepossessing album that allows the duo to give full reign to the artistic intent. The music is often boisterous but not showy, thoughtful but not dull. The album is by necessity quite intricate, with climactic sections giving the music momentum. At times it is graceful and moving. It would be perhaps impossible to form an opinion on this album with a cursory or single listen. It really rewards multiple listens, particularly to pick up on the detail involved. A rewarding dramatic listen then.
1. Philosophy of Mind (6:02)
2. Anamorphia (5:57)
3. Hjem (4:23)
4. Faceless (5:41)
5. Convergence (5:38)
6. Spheres (6:01)
7. Spires of Ascendency (4:28)
8. Infinity (6:01)
Loki – piano, synths, trumpet, horns
Rôka Skulld – cymbals & skins, bowed guitar
Alex Hedley – vocals
Chae Antony Winter – vocals
Freyja – vocals
Bill Merrick – guitars
Jack Cullimore – strings
Tim Laycock – cello
Release date: 4th February 2022
Formats: CD, vinyl