“Instrumentation and structures are engrossing… A deep delve into Nordic mythology and soundscaping which absolutely bleeds passion and integrity”: Kati Rán’s Sála

Dutch artist presents a folk masterpiece years in the making with help from Kristian ‘Gaahl’ Espedal, Mitch Harris and others

Kati Rán – Sála
(Image: © Svart)

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Like The History Channel set to music, the last decade has seen a wave of Nordic folk that, if not quite blinking in the mainstream light, is at least peering out towards it from the elf-woven shadows of a sacred cave.

Wardruna were the first – coming to wider attention via the semi-historical drama Vikings – paving the way for Heilung and their ilk. More recently, Kati Rán contributed to 2022’s flashy sequel-of-sorts Vikings: Valhalla, as well as working on videogame soundtracks.

There’s no question of the Dutch multi-instrumentalist being a mere tourist or bandwagoneer, however. Sála is a deep delve into Nordic mythology and soundscaping, which absolutely bleeds passion and integrity.

For a start it’s been a long time in the making, with the first lyrics dating back to 2015 – the year Rán released her last album, Lys, with her former band L.E.A.F. While ostensibly treading similar ground, that album had a shinier, surface- level beauty but lacked the depth found on Sála. She probably couldn’t have made this follow-up without the years of research, collaborations and artistic growth that followed.

She weaves themes of her namesake and sea goddess Rán alongside a mystical concept of soul retrieval

Unlike Lys, this isn’t an immediate album. There are stirring and dramatic moments certainly, but it also features a number of lengthy compositions that need space to grow and breathe. Blodbylgje clocks in at a little over 15 minutes but doesn’t outstay its welcome. It ebbs and flows with oceanic swells and features an outstanding duet with black metal veteran Kristian ‘Gaahl’ Espedal. The former Gorgoroth and Wardruna vocalist appears sporadically throughout the album, but on this track in particular the juxtaposing voices conjure a beautiful primal power.

Stone Pillars – one of the few songs delivered in English – again features Gaahl alongside Mitch Harris of Napalm Death. Slow and mysterious, it’s another ritualistic trip that’s easy to lose yourself in, with wonderfully layered vocals and captivating percussion performed on a rediscovered lava stone marimba – a lower-toned cousin of the xylophone played with mallets.

The instrumentation and structures are engrossing throughout as Rán and her collaborators – also including members of Heilung, Sígur Rós, a vocal choir and more – conjure the sounds and atmospheres needed for the breadth of the album’s mythmaking.

Sála is old Norse for both ‘sea’ and ‘soul,’ and the Dutch artist weaves themes of her namesake and sea goddess Rán alongside a mystical concept of soul retrieval. The result is an album that flits between mythology and the singer’s own reality in a unique and breathtaking style.

Sála is on sale now via Svart Records.

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer