GARMARNA, AN ELECTRIFIED Swedish folk group, make American folk music seem awfully down-to-earth. Where are our trolls, knights, and werewolves? Such subjects are among the pleasures of the group, whose ominous melodies are carried in Swedish with glorious enunciation by Emma Härdelin (whose voice sounds a bit like The Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan, though far less annoying). Fretful violins and viola wind through the album, along with jew's harp, lute, hurdy gurdy, samples and synth bleats, and powerful drums that conjure images of ragged warriors rounding the horizon.
It took a while to click, but within 10 minutes of listening to the group's sophomore effort I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, sketching a stone castle overlooking a barren sea. Later I found out that the CD's first song is in fact about a princess who escapes to sail away with her pauper lover. Coincidence? Latent D&D urges unsatisfied in junior high? Sure, sure. But this is potent, insinuating music. Critics have made much of the group's use of distorted guitars and samples to perform what are often ancient songs. But what's really striking is how subtly they integrate them. Not one instrument sounds strange or out of place; not one is used ironically. And Garmarna are equally serious in singing about haunted forests and women dying of broken hearts. If they make you suddenly feel that it is a deep and mysterious thing to be human, it's no accident. This is folk music at its best. (Kate Sullivan) CP