Of the many elements of a successful record label, perhaps one of the most difficult to achieve is a unified aesthetic. While it’s not a prerequisite for success – and certainly, the larger the label, the less feasible or desirable that sort of uniformity may be – any label that can foster and cultivate a shared artistic vision is well-positioned to have an impact larger than its size or reach may suggest.
Sweden’s Nordvis Produktion is one of the finest contemporary examples of a label bringing together artists from different styles with a similar spirit. Label founder and owner Andreas Petterson played in several bands prior to founding Nordvis, most notably Armagedda and Leviathan (the Swedish band responsible for the brilliant and underrated Far Beyond the Light). Those bands helped to establish some of the musical vision that his Nordvis signings (which include several of his own bands) would maintain and further develop.
Although Nordvis’s site suggests the label aims “to work with musicians who build their musical creations around old native traditions, folklore & the great outback,” most of the acts with material on the label concentrate in variations on black metal with some excursions into folk metal and neofolk. The epic, Bathory-inspired heavy metal of Sons of Crom and the sprawling, atmospheric post-metal of Izah are likely the biggest outliers on the label to date, but even then, each has a certain core focus that’s not terribly far removed from the more “typical” Nordvis sound.
Several of Petterson’s own projects, including Lönndom (whose debut album was Nordvis’s first release) and Saiva, have anchored the label’s aesthetic as one interested in the patient exploration of naturalistic and contemplative sounds, often flecked with an almost implicit undercurrent of Nordic primitive folk. In this sense, Nordvis has a clear spiritual affinity with and American counterpart in Bindrune Recordings, with whom Nordvis has cooperated on a number of joint releases. Anyone familiar with the styles pursued by American bands like Falls of Rauros and Nechochwen will recognize the sympathetic Scandinavian perspective of Nordvis.
2019 is already looking like a pretty big year for Nordvis. The label has already released a small handful of worthy releases (detailed below), and is gearing up for the release of new albums from Bergraven (full review to follow on this humble site) and Waldgeflüster. One of the remarkable things about the diversity of human cultures and societies is that folk traditions (whether in music, visual art, or myth and narrative) nevertheless often invoke so many of the same ideas and archetypes (this, of course, was the main thrust of Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series). In Nordvis’s particular instantiation, then, you may just hear the same old song that you’ve always known from some bone-deep place of unreconstructed mystery.
Örnatorpet – Hymner Fran Snokulla
Much of the so-called ‘dungeon synth’ sound that has gained (relative) prominence in recent years is more or less a direct outgrowth from Burzum’s landmark 1994 song “Tomhet” and Mortiis’s earliest darkwave excursions (the hour-long 1993 demo “The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost” and the utterly classic debut Født Til å Herske), although the mid-90s explosion of symphonic black metal certainly contributed as well (see key tracks like “Sorgens Kammer” from Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast, Cradle of Filth’s many interludes, and so forth).
Although eschewing much of the dankness that typifies many dungeon synth artists in favor of a cleaner and slightly more cosmic-leaning new age feeling, the debut album from the Swedish project Ornatorpet aligns nicely with this movement. The sole Swede behind Ornatorpet spun out four fully formed demos in 2018 in advance of this official debut, which is evident in the confident, unhurried sophistication of these compositions. Celestial synth tones predominate, but the main rhythmic thrust is provided by chimes and lower-toned xylophone-like sounds, so that the impression is one of blinding sunlight refracted off of pine-dappled snow.
Undantagsfolk – Den Ondes Fingrar
Springing from the mind of another Nordvis frequent flyer, Erik Gärdefors of Grift, and vocalist Êlea of the ethereal, dark ambient folk project NOÊTA, Undantagsfolk’s Den Ondes Fingrar is a tantalizing debut. These two songs are primarily unassuming but almost impossibly beautiful, with lovely, plaintive vocals and some excellently melancholy harmonium blended with acoustic guitar. Êlea’s vocals are multi-tracked and punctuated with ululating cadences sure to recall Lisa Gerrard’s work in Dead Can Dance, while Gärdefors’s deliberately picked guitar carries the songs in a more earthbound neofolk direction. Eight minutes is almost criminally short, but this 7” certainly whets the appetite for any future material from this project.
Saiva – Finnmarkens Folk (Reissue)
Saiva is a project of Nordvis owner Andreas Petterson, and this new version of Finnmarkens Folk is a reissue and major expansion of that project’s debut EP from 2013. The two original songs are beautifully haunting and intensely focused pieces of folk-tinged but methodical black metal psalmistry. “En Förliden Tid” is the more melancholy of the two, with abundant clean vocals that resonate with the same expansive richness of early Ulver, while “Höst” blasts away more aggressively, like Petterson’s work in Armagedda with a bit of the downcast hue of Gorgoroth’s Antichrist.
This reissue improves on the already excellent EP by more than doubling its length with the addition of two new songs. The nearly fifteen-minute long “Strofer ur ett Fjärran Skogsland” sounds much more akin to Petterson’s work in LIK, but the twisty guitar lead backed by roughly snarled vocals that kicks in just after the 4:00-minute mark is entirely its own. Even when the song ratchets up the intensity around halfway through, the production is almost entirely clean, with distortion only hinted at. The contrast with the songs from the original EP is striking, despite clearly springing from the same well of inspiration. The somber, droning sounds of the new album closer “Rusakko” (possibly from accordion? Harmonium?) radiate an odd warmth that nevertheless evokes a stern, ageless landscape.
This Particular Idiot’s Top Five Nordvis Releases
Although Grift does not feature Nordvis’s Andreas Petterson, the project feels in many ways like the apotheosis of the Nordvis vision. Grift’s 2015 debut full-length Syner is simply breathtaking, despite the relative simplicity of its construction and its grey-scale, unadorned tones. The production on Syner feels slightly muddy at first encounter, but as you sink into it, each piece reaches out to greet you as a friend. From songwriting to melodic construction to the sheer conviction of its execution, Syner is Nordvis’s finest moment to date.
This particular project has gone through several transmutations, and while 2005’s Besvärtade Strofer is likely its finest album overall, The Second Wind is where LIK embraces most forthrightly the trend toward a dejected rock and roll burnout’s impression of black metal. The vocals are a perfectly goth-inflected strangeness, and the songs, while seemingly straightforward, glow with a wayward spirit that isn’t miles away from the intentionally outre vibes of Ved Buens Ende and Virus. LIK rules; go get likked.
Nechochwen’s fiercely melodic black metal and neofolk saw its most successful and sustained examination in the nearly flawless Heart of Akamon. Despite its strictly American provenance and topical focus, Heart of Akamon resonates with the same reverence and rage of Nordvis’s most stridently Old World artists.
Boutique labels don’t always benefit as a whole from having an obvious flagship band, which is how I will countenance and justify my exasperation that Sweden’s Stilla is, after four excellent albums, still such a relatively unknown name. Call them Nordvis’s dark horse, if you like, but the band’s fourth album, 2018’s Synviljor, is an impeccable and surprisingly diverse album of black metal syncretism. Twisty, avant blasting, winter-chill synth excursions, mirror universe drinking songs, and off-kilter time driving riffs all beat as one. Really, why aren’t you listening to Stilla?
Nordvis released the (sadly) sole full-length from The Crevices Below, a project of Australia’s Dis Pater (also of Midnight Odyssey, Tempestuous Fall, and probably a half-dozen other bands). Below the Crevices (no, you shut up) is a dark sort of atmospheric black metal marked by Dis Pater’s idiosyncratic and easily recognizable production and vocal style. Does it sound like The Cure working through a hangover of infatuation with the golden age of mid-90s black metal? No, of course not! But, well…
What about you, friends? Any particular Nordvis albums that have tickled your fancy? Any artists not affiliated with the label that you think are walking the same ground?